COMING from a boxing background, I have first hand experience of what boxers need from their training and nutrition. Having gone through the pain of making weight myself, having been in the ring; and having seen my punches bounce harmlessly off opponents, I’ve been able to modify strength and conditioning programmes for other fighters based on their strengths and weaknesses. Importantly, having more of a hands-on role with my clients’ training helps me more accurately tailor their nutrition to their specific needs. Some athletes will put on lean mass more easily than others, some will suffer more with soreness, others may have muscles that seem stubbornly rooted to their genetic predisposition; be his explosive power or endurance. As with all aspects of training, however, the correct nutrition at the right time can help a boxer adapt in the desired way. So, with the recent expansion of strength and conditioning into even the most reserved and traditional of boxing gyms, how should a boxer eat to support this type of training?

For power training, most S&C specialists would advocate plyometrics and a heavy emphasis on “eccentric contractions”. This is the name given to movements where you contract your muscles, but fail to overcome an opposing force that causes movement in the opposite direction; for example as you slowly try to lower a dumbbell from a bicep curl, or lower yourself during a squat. The weight makes you move against the direction your muscles contract, causing a lot of trauma and tearing of the muscle. In addition, you train a muscle in specific movements where you store and then release energy – like coiling and releasing a spring. This helps remodel your tendons and muscles, increasing their ability to transfer power, but obviously causes a lot of pain and soreness in the following days…

Optimise adaptation

Strength and power training is dependent on protein to be effective. Eating protein will provide the building blocks to build bigger and stronger muscles, but also will aid the modification of your muscle fibres as they adapt to your explosive power training. Protein is made of smaller “amino acid” molecules, that combine to form the extremely complex structures and molecular machines within exercising muscle, which also include the enzymes used by your muscles in the anaerobic, aerobic and phosphagen systems to release energy. So protein is about more than just size, as it mediates the various components of strength and power. Optimal intakes for muscle growth (hypertrophy) are relatively low – only between 1.4-1.7 g/kg of body weight per day (see p). Studies on the effect of single recovery-meals show that as the amount of protein increases, the benefits to protein synthesis seem to tail off, meaning that consuming 40g will only have a marginally better impact than 20g. However, these amounts are dependent on body weight; aiming for 0.3g of protein per kilo is a safe bet when it comes to meeting your requirements (about 20g for a 70Kg fighter). Although these amounts are easily obtainable, high-quality proteins need to be prioritised. “Quality” refers to the amount of protein that is actually incorporated into newly synthesised muscle and is dependent on the amount of essential amino acids present. Research by Kevin Tipton, one of the “big guns” in protein science, would suggest that essential amino acids (EAAs – those that can’t be produced in the body) are the limiting factor to growth, and that 6-12 g of EAAs are required around training to maximise protein synthesis. Alternatively, some recommendations focus on the anabolic amino-acid leucine, with 3-4g being the recommended amount. Good sources of high-quality, fast-releasing proteins to aid protein synthesis after weights-training could include:

  • Dairy, meats, eggs, mixed vegetarian sources (e.g. beans + bread + couscous)
  • Pint of milk: the original source of both (fast releasing/high-leucine) whey- protein and casein. Go straight to the source and add additional carbohydrates with food and flavourings to tailor your nutrition.
  • Whey protein. Convenience sports foods may help with frequent feeds

Carbohydrates for power training

The immediate response to weight training and protein intake (within minutes) is when the greatest amounts of growth and repair take place. This is largely independent of the effects of carbohydrate, and the release of the hormone insulin that this causes. It is often banded-about that an athlete needs an “insulin spike” to maximise this hormone’s ability to stimulate growth. However, although carbohydrate and insulin do have a long lasting impact on protein metabolism, these effects are mostly involved with preventing beak-down over the longer term. The amounts of insulin needed to prevent muscular breakdown are very small – small enough to be present even throughout sleep, hours after having eaten. The real “muscle” of your nutritional strategy should revolve around maximising the protein synthesis that occurs in response to a training session.

However, strength and conditioning sessions are usually intense and explosive – and require sufficient fuel. To adapt you need to train hard, and to train hard, you need carbohydrate.

A catch 22 situation emerges when we consider the fact that, although these sessions are often high-intensity workouts, damaging, eccentric exercise has been shown to impair glycogen storage. Large intakes of carbohydrate will be less effective than normal at replenishing muscle glycogen. To adapt and recover from eccentric exercise, carbohydrates may be less effective, and so focusing on quality protein sources would seem the sensible option.

Guidelines for Strength and Conditioning training

  • To really feel the burn (and benefit) you should aim to cycle your carbohydrate intake relative to your training – harder longer sessions being a great excuse to get stuck into some whole grains (which will incidentally increase your intake of glutamine and essential amino acids). If an athlete is focusing on shorter, sharper sessions of weights training, then dropping down the additional carbohydrate calories can help you control your body fat.
  • Compromise according to your weight goals. A good start would be to have the recovery-snack following training contain about 0.3g/Kg carbohydrate and 0.3g/kg protein (about 20g of both carbohydrates and protein), or double this for a full meal. Tailor this according to how fast/slow your body weight and levels of body-fat respond.
  • The most effective way to recover from muscular damage is to ensure there is a plentiful supply of protein or amino acids in the muscle to aid repair as soon as any damage occurs.
  • Liquid, fast-acting proteins will be most effective at aiding recovery and have also been shown to aid tendon repair; whey protein and milk are fast acting proteins with a high content of branched chain amino-acids, shown to help rehabilitation and tendon repair.

Increase protein intake

Pre/during training:

Liquid protein (milk/shakes)

* Regarding carbohydrates, compromise between recovery (longer sessions to replace energy used) and the consumption of excess carbohydrate calories. Protein is the more important nutrient in this situation.

Certain supplements may also help reduce soreness and improve recovery in the absence of normal glycogen re-synthesis… Collagen has also been shown to be an effective supplement for increasing the strength of tendons. This can be obtained from food:

  • Home-made stocks/soups
  • soy/substitute-meats, and Jelly
  • Include Jelly for harder sessions
  • Fishoils – may reduce inflammation and symptoms of overtraining

As always, you need to ensure you’re taking the correct doses and optimising your supplement strategy by considering all foods and supplements you may be taking. Also ensure you’re using batch-tested, safe products. Do this under the guidance of a qualified nutritionist.

 Freddy Brown is now part of the Elite Sport Science team, working with motorsport drivers and boxers throughout the country. Make an appointment for a comprehensive performance screening by getting in touch on 07746075161, or visit our website;