I interviewed respected nutritionist Freddy Brown who works with combat athletes from a variety of disciplines and martial arts. His work can be found in fighting fit magazine on a regular basis and I am a big fan of his stuff. n the interview, we covered supplements, superfoods, key points in cutting weight, how much protein is needed, and much, much more.
If you are interested in contacting Freddy for a consultation or for more general info you can do so through his and Matt Lovells website sportsnutritionvlog.
Tell us a bit about your background, how did you get to where you are now?
I did a 4-year biochemistry MSc at Oxford, knowing that I found this interesting, but not where it would lead me! I enjoyed learning about the fundamental processes of life. I thought possibly of going into finance or some such career typically seen as “successful”, but university put me off the culture and environment involved in that kind of job. I’d done martial arts and muay thai throughout school and on my gap year in Hong Kong. That lead to boxing just before I started Uni, and then it was the boxing club where I felt at home and with like-minded people when in Oxford. After a year or two, with my struggles with weight and interests in metabolism and boxing, it finally dawned on me that sports-nutrition was what I wanted to do. I did another MSc in Sport Physiology, with my dissertation on the GB Wrestling squad (fish oil supplementation and weight-making). I harassed, badgered and pleaded my way to get as much experience as possible, also helping other boxers I worked with. I worked for 18 months for a fish-oil company, in “medical information”, while still boxing at a Pro-Am gym in Manchester (Northside) and getting more experience with fighters, and through contacts at the English Institute of Sport (EIS). Eventually I had enough contacts to make the move full time – the RFU Head Nutritionist Matt Lovell took me on, initially for a few days a week, and I moved down to London. I now work with England RFL through Matt’s company, and GB Badminton through the EIS.
What are the biggest mistakes you see fighters making on a regular basis with their nutrition and general dietary habits?
Chronic Dehydration and low-carb diets. “Sweating-down” pre-weigh in is one thing, but dehydrating and restricting fluids for every session means you can’t train with the intensity that would be better suited to burning fat and losing weight. Similar issue with carbs – cutting them out completely prevents high intensity, explosive work required by fighters.
Are you an advocate of ‘diets’ like the atkins etc what’s your philosophy on this?
Different stroke for different folks! Generally I think fad-diets miss the point and can undermine the achievement of good dietary practises. However, for some people, they find the adherence to a simple set of rules easier to achieve and can have short term successes with them. Low carb diets aren’t suited for combat athletes, but if someone’s messed up their preparation then they can offer a last-minute “quick fix” for weight loss… just don’t think they’re going to perform to their best!
In terms of improving your nutrition, what’s phase 1? Where do people need to start?
Simple government guidelines – 5 a day (minimum – really should be aiming for 7-10!), drop junk food, consume mixed, “balanced” meals containing all the food groups. Stay hydrated
Let’s talk about Fats, everyone seems to think that fats are bad, saturated more so than others and we need to cut them out of our diets. Where do you stand on this?
You need some good fats, but the amount needed for good health is quite low. The European legislation underestimates this amount, but even an athlete could get a performance advantage off only a few grams of polyunsaturates per day. Particularly for a weight-making athlete, you should aim to minimise fat by removing the excess from meats and avoiding ready-made foods with high levels. Eating oily fish, or consuming fish oils if you can’t stomach it, really is a must. A lack of good fats is associated with everything from dyslexia, to depression, to the collapse of the Greek economy…
Superfoods have come onto the market recently, can you explain the concept of these to us, and should everyone be eating them?
Again, a bit of a marketing term Their just foods marketed as having an unusually high content of nutrients, or containing novel nutrients that are rarely found in other places. For example, tart-cherries are high in melatonin and antioxidants and may help sleep and exercise-recovery. A varied diet will give you all you need, but these founds shouldn’t be discounted. Follow your nose (or your taste-buds!)
What are 5 of the best in terms of dietary value?
Oily fish, jumbo-oats, tart-cherries, Indian spices, and Liver – my own, un-trendy superfood!
Fighters obviously need to cut to make weight. How do you go about this with your clients?
Find their own triggers and pitfalls and work out how to overcome them. Enforce habits of eating specifically for each session to provide nutrition only for their needs.
What about the modalities that are commonly used such as sauna and salt baths etc. Where do these fit into your programmes?
If a fighter is familiar with “sweating down”, then a little last minute dehydration has been shown to be useful; you can maintain more muscle throughout your diet and be “big for the weight”. However, you must consider time between weigh-in and fighting as 3Kg dehydration has reduced the overall volume of the brain and surrounding fluid by about 20-30%!
Let’s talk performance nutrition and recovery now since most of our readers are involved in this area in some way.
How much protein do strength and power athletes really need?
Studies show no benefits for strength/power/size above 1.7g/Kg. However, some may find it easier to stay lean by consuming larger amounts, as protein is not as an efficient fuel as carb – it consumes calories during digestion and processing. In addition, weight-making athletes may want to increase their intake to avoid catabolism –2g/Kg per day is the advice from the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
What are your go-to supplements for improved performance and recovery and why?
Fish oils – they have an anti-inflammatory effect which will help recovery and muscle-preservation. Recovery drinks are useful, but you have to know the fighter. An undisciplined fighter will just get fat, but I’ve had some recent successes with a boxer who included recovery drinks in his routine. He had a healthy respect for them (he was worried about the weight issue)and replaced other food sources with the products, allowing him to get in carbs and protein immediately post-training. He trained harder, recovered better, and lost weight faster with no additional calorie-cutting!
In terms of recovery drinks, which carb:protein ratio is optimal, and will this vary from person-person or between activities?
Depends completely on your goals, the fighter’s habits/likes/dislikes, and the demands of session. I often use Kinetica 100% Recovery as it’s a higher protein content, but the CNP products have also given me great results. Higher heart rate? More carb. More muscular trauma? More protein. Adjust according to weight-loss/gain and feelings of recovery
Do athletes need any supplements that the general population don’t require such as vitamins/minerals?
Most athletes do not have far greater micronutrient demands. Some will have a greater demand for iron due to increased turnover with exercise, while most athletes seem to have low levels of magnesium and vitamin D. Their need for anti-inflammatory foods and protein is generally greater due to the stresses of training and needs for recovery and repair.
What foods or supplements are best for boosting the immune system?
Vitamin C and polyphenol antioxidants as well as vitamin d, probiotics, and good fats. Get as many colours on your plate as possible from fruit and veg, don’t cut out dairy (good for glutamine, leucine, vit D… everything!), and keep eating your oily fish!
Is there a strategy to adopt for this do you think?
Lots of sashimi salads!
Lastly, what’s next in the nutrition field, what can we expect in a few years from now?
The biggest need is for something to help with recovery and rehab. Athletes can push themselves so hard now, that if one component of food, training, or recovery is out of balance, they will have a very short career. There will be a massive focus on this area, but the arms race will escalate – as fast as we put athletes back together, the faster they will break themselves!