Is A Powerlifter Diet Any Good in MMA?
A few years ago, Hafþór Júlíus “Thor” Björnsson, the professional strongman, best-known for playing the role of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane in HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones, caved into fan requests and shared the diet he stuck to while preparing for World’s Strongest Man 2016. As you might expect, the pile of food this huge man devoured an incredible quantity of food while training, enough to make the fans of The Game Changers movie to pale: well over 10,000 calories a day!
“Thor” Björnsson is not your average man, though, and not your average athlete. He is a powerlifter and professional strongman. He stands 206 cm (6 ft 9 in) tall and has a weight of around 180–200 kg (397–441 lb), and he’s the third strongest man in the world – he won a bronze medal at last year’s World’s Strongest Man competition where he squat lifted 340 kg (750 lb) seven times in 75 seconds and deadlifted and held 320 kg (710 lb) for more than 45 seconds, among others.
Before you start wondering, his insane calorie input is not his everyday diet – it’s the one he adopts while training for competitions (on “normal days” he “only” consumes around 8,000 calories of carefully selected foods to maintain his muscle mass). And most importantly, his craft – that is completely different from that of a fighter – requires a completely different diet from that of a fighter.
Strongman competitions have weight classes, too, but those are far less strict than in fighting sports: there’s a “lightweight” class (up to 175 lbs for men and 140 lbs for women), a “middleweight” class (up to 231 lbs for men 180 lbs for women) and an “open” or “heavyweight” class that covers anything above middleweight. There are far more divisions in MMA, which means it’s easier to slip into a higher one if a fighter is not careful. Thus, the diet of an MMA fighter will have to be much more balanced and carefully planned to allow keeping the strength and endurance needed for the fight night (or sparring in the gym) while maintaining their weight at the desired level.
Short bursts vs endurance
While competing (and training, for that matter), professional strongmen exert a lot of force in short bursts (see the squat lifting event above). MMA fighters, in turn, have to “work” the other way around: while they need to land strong punches, too, they have to maintain their energy levels for much longer in the ring. This calls for a completely different approach both in training and in their diet.
Lifting in MMA
Training for a powerlifting or a strongman competition is very different from training for any combat sport. Generally, it’s not recommended to mix the two – except when the goal is building muscle mass. The three powerlifting staples – deadlift, bench press, and squats – can be very useful in MMA training. The goal of training these muscle groups (and the diet adopted during training them) should not be the same, though – MMA fighters rarely need to exert their maximum strength. They need resistance to the demands of a fight, though, and lifting has its benefits in this area.
Overdoing it will, in turn, do more harm than good: even though lifting will improve a fighter’s strength, it may harm their endurance. And when in the ring, it’s usually endurance, not strength, that wins the fight.