As the sport of Brazilan jiu jitsu grows there are going to be more opportunities to train full time, but the majority of students must try to balance work, school, family, and training. Everyone wants to train like they are getting ready for the black belt division at the Mundials, but thinking like this can lead to injury and overtraining.
It is not easy to balance all the elements in our lives. That does not mean you should not train hard, but in order to improve you need to train consistently. When training time is limited your goal is to get as much as you can out of every training session. The key to getting the most out of each session is actually what goes on when you’re not at the academy, dojo, or gym. If you have not recovered from a previous training session your current one will suffer. To improve your recovery (and your training) you need to focus on nutrition, mobility, and sleep.
Tip #1: Nutrition
If you ask the average Brazilian jiu jitsu student what their diet looks like you will get some scary responses. Some students eat very little, thinking starving themselves will help them drop weight for a tournament. Others eat everything, thinking they are going to burn off the extra calories.
Your number one priority when it comes to nutrition for Brazilian jiu jitsu is performance. You will submit no one if you are not able to perform. One of the hardest things is trying to balance performance and weight. Eat too much and you may not make weight for a tournament. Eat too little and you will not be able to perform your best. To make up for this people cut out food groups – fats and carbohydrates are the two most common. The problem with this is that carbohydrates are needed to replenish glycogen and fats are needed for healthy hormone production. Cutting any of them out completely will not help your performance. You can find all different types of calorie calculators on the Internet, but the average person does not have time to weigh and measure every drop of food he or she eats. A simpler way to keep your nutrition in order is to match your activity to your food. On the days you train hard eat more, on the days you don’t eat less.
Brazilian jiu jitsu training sessions can be as hard on someone’s body as a killer session in the weight room. It’s one of the few sports that is a mix of anaerobic and aerobic. There are periods when you are sprinting and there are others when you are jogging. There are positions that look similar to strength training movements. Framing away from side control to get your guard back looks similar to an incline press. The physical demands of Brazilian jiu jitsu are enough to deplete glycogen and damage muscle tissue. Most people understand that after a weight training session they need to have some type of recovery drink or meal. Yet after a Brazilian jiu jitsu training session few people take the time for a recovery shake.
You will find all types of recovery drinks out there with various ratios of protein to carb. Do not worry about ratios at first. Just get some protein and carbohydrates in your system within an hour of your training session. A scoop of whey and a banana works great, or some lean protein and white rice or sweet potato. An hour or so later eat again – some more protein and carbs. If you are trying to drop body fat, then eat fewer carbs in your second recovery meal. If you want to gain weight, you should eat more carbs. Try to limit fat during the two post workout meals. Fat tends to slow absorption after you workout and we want to get nutrients back in the body fast.
Tip #2: Mobility
Brazilian jiu jitsu can place your body in some strange positions. On top of that repeating the same movements over and over again creates asymmetries that will eventually lead to injuries. The concept of mobility goes beyond increasing range of motion. Mobility is an amazing tool for recovery and injury prevention. When time is limited, mobility work tends to get pushed aside. I would argue mobility is just as important as your nutrition. Spend fifteen to twenty minutes every day on mobility work.
Mobility work can be done at home, before class, or after training. It does not need to be done all at once. When time is limited try this routine:
Foam roll the thoracic spine, lumbar spine, latissimus dorsi, quadriceps, and hamstrings. Spend 1 to 2 minutes foam rolling each area.
This is a great time to perform mobility exercises that look similar to stretches. Using a Jump Stretch band focus on the hips and shoulders. For the hips, attach your band to a stable surface at the level of your hip. Step through the band with one leg and raise the band until it is at the height of your hip. Step back with the leg that you placed through the band and drop your back knee to the ground. This position will look similar to a lunge. Spend 3-5 minutes holding this position on each hip.
For the shoulders attach the band to something so it is located above your head. Facing away from the band reach back and place your elbow so it is resting on the bottom of the band. Reach back and grab the band with the same hand slowly start to stretch your shoulder. Spend 3-5 minutes on each shoulder.
For the knees, door handle squats work great. Use a door handle or anything that can support your weight. Drop to the bottom of a squat keeping your hands on the door handle and hold that position for 3-5 minutes.
If doing mobility before or after class is not an option, then do it in the morning before work or at night before bed.
Tip #3: Sleep
The cheapest and easiest thing you can do to improve your recovery is sleep. Since the majority of students work or go to school, the bulk of their training takes place at night. Training at night can cause some to have trouble sleeping. Sleep is essential for proper recovery. Without proper sleep, performance and health will suffer. Studies have shown that after one night with less than four hours of sleep, blood sugar levels are elevated the following day. Studies have been done on basketball players showing a decrease in free throw percentage after a night of limited sleep.
To improve your sleep, first look at your nutrition. If you just got done training your post workout shake should contain some carbohydrates. The carbohydrates will spike insulin and lower cortisol. High cortisol at night will keep you awake. Second, take some high quality magnesium. Magnesium calms down the nervous system allowing for better sleep and recovery. Make sure the magnesium you purchase is chelated.
In every Brazilian jiu jitsu class you can find students of all different ages, skill levels, and professions. Some work full time, and others train full time. The amazing thing is that everyone trains together. Some students do not have the ability to train every day. Some, if they can, train twice a day and need to get everything they can out of each training session. Nutrition should be taken seriously, mobility should be done everyday, and sleep must be a priority – for all of these athletes. As you get older and life gets busier, what you do outside of the gym becomes just as important as what you do inside of the gym.
Photos provided by David Brown Photography.