To Fight MMA You’ve Got to Eat, Train…Sleep!

This is a guest post by P.R. Cole, MS, RD.    One of the most common complaints I get from the athletes I work with…

By: Bloody Elbow | 12 years ago
To Fight MMA You’ve Got to Eat, Train…Sleep!
Bloody Elbow 2.0 | Anton Tabuena

This is a guest post by P.R. Cole, MS, RD.    

One of the most common complaints I get from the athletes I work with is the inability to fall asleep and maintain a restful sleep. This is particularly common in my clients who have intense late evening workout sessions. Getting enough sleep is an essential part of an athlete’s training regimen since it promotes recovery and helps to control appetite.  

Quality sleep is vital for competitive athletes since it supports the immune system and reduces the risk of illness. This is also a great time for your body to continue with all necessary repairs to prepare you for more intense training. Muscles get a chance to rest, and your blood pressure is lowered to relax your heart and cardiovascular system. The body takes this time to restock glycogen stores in muscles and memories are also consolidated in the brain. During a deep sleep the body also decreases its production of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to restore balance. 

Getting enough sleep is also an important aspect of weight management. Lack of sleep causes an increase in hunger hormones and a decrease in those hormones that tell you that you’re full. Since prescription sleep aids can be addicting, I encourage my clients to seek out more natural remedies to enhance sleep.

I recently started working with Jared Hamman (Follow Jared on Twitter) who is preparing for his upcoming fight with CB Dolloway in August. Jared is an incredibly hard worker with a busy schedule so one of the first things we discussed was the importance of getting on a more solid sleeping pattern and strategies to healthfully induce sleep. Here are some of tips we discussed after the jump.

Foods rich in Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many animal and plant based proteins. The body uses it to make the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is famous for its ability to create a calm and sleepy state of being. For the desired effect, you need to combine tryptophan rich foods with carbohydrates. You see when you eat protein all amino acids are in competition for uptake. However when you eat carbs, they signal the hormone insulin that tells your body to move all the other amino acids into muscles and the tryptophan is free to cross into the brain to produce serotonin. Here are some light bedtime snacks that can help bust through insomnia:

Fruit and Yogurt

6 oz nonfat yogurt & ½ cup sliced fruit (especially fruits like mangoes, bananas, grapes, papaya, oranges, grapefruit, and plums)

 Pumpkin Smoothie

¾ c skim milk

¼ c pure canned pumpkin

¼ c nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt or pudding

pinch cinnamon/nutmeg


PB & Banana Toast

1 slice toasted 100% whole wheat bread topped with 2 teaspoons natural peanut butter and half a sliced banana

Limit Caffeine

Caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, sodas and energy drinks can exert their effects for up to 5-6 hours. Stick to caffeinated beverages in the earlier half of the day, or consider giving them up entirely.


Avoid large meals before bed

Eating too much too close to bedtime can cause difficulty falling asleep. Plan your meals so that you’re well fueled before an evening workout. This will curb your appetite after training so that a light recovery snack just before bed will be sufficient.

Chamomile Tea

Also known as “scented mayweather,” the dried leaves of the chamomile flower are used to make a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea that acts as a mild sedative. Brew yourself a cup before bed.


Choline is a “vitamin-like” factor that the body produces in small amounts. It’s also a neurotransmitter that’s important for a variety of functions, one major one being sleep. Some of the best sources include: milk, peanuts, walnuts, kale, oranges, tomatoes, wheat germ, oat bran, Brussels sprouts and eggs. (Choline may also help reduce chronic inflammation.)

Herbal Supplements

It’s always recommended to ask your doctor before trying herbal remedies for sleep like melatonin or valerian root.

The valerian herb enhances the neurotransmitter GABA (gamma amino butyric acid), which has a calming influence on the body. If you want to try valerian, look for an extract standardized to contain 0.4 to 0.6 percent of valerenic acid. Try a dose ranging from 400 to 900 milligrams per day, two hours before bedtime.  Research shows that this dose is likely safe, however it’s not advised to take it for longer than a month.

Melatonin is a neurohormone. Some people with insomnia may benefit from taking it but its not effective for everyone. It seems to be safe to take for a month or two with minimal side effects. Most common complaints are nausea, headache, and dizziness. The recommended dosage is 0.3 milligrams per day. In stores you’ll see an immediate-release form and a sustained-release form. Immediate release is preferable for people who have trouble falling sleep. The sustained release form is more suitable for being who have trouble sleeping all the way through the night. 

PR Cole is an accredited Registered Dietitian (RD) with the American Dietetic Association. She holds a masters degree from Columbia University in nutrition and applied physiology. Cole is the founder of Fuel the Fighter LLC and is the nutritionist at the TapouT Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Follow her on Twitter @FueltheFighter.

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