Using Your BJJ Performance to Gauge Your Nutrition

When the body is properly fueled, performance will go up. When the body is starving, performance will drop. The goal of this article is to teach you how to gauge and fuel your performance.

“I was up, then all of a sudden I got tired. I could not feel my legs and got swept.” I hear these stories all the time from students either during class or at a tournament. Brazilian jiu jitsu requires a tremendous amount of skill and technique, but without the energy to perform none of that will matter.

Techniques require precise movements at a precise time. A few seconds too late and an opportunity may be lost. The difference between passing someone’s guard and getting swept can be the difference of one grip. Brazilian jiu jitsu is not about a specific look like bodybuilding. It’s about performance. When the body is properly fueled, performance will go up. When the body is starving, performance will drop. All too often at tournaments I see a highly skilled competitor lose a match because of fatigue. The goal of this article is to teach you how to gauge and then fuel your performance.

The Best Diet in the World

The best diet in the world is one you can stick to. You could pay a large amount of money to a skilled nutrition coach to design your best diet, but if you cannot follow it, then you are wasting your money. Any diet or training program needs to be one that you can follow. And regardless of the types of food you choose to eat or not eat, there are some basic rules that apply to all methods of eating.

The Best Diet in the World: Rule #1: Eat until you are full, not stuffed.

Athletes tend to live in extremes. Either they eat too little or they eat too much. Eat too little and you have no energy to train. Eat too much and you are so full you will not want to train. Your goal is to stay somewhere in the middle.

The Best Diet in the World: Rule #2: Don’t worry about meal frequency. Just get your calories.

How many times a day you eat should be determined by you. Some like intermittent fasting. Others need to eat six small meals a day. The new information coming out tends to show that meal frequency does not matter as long as you are getting in your calories. For performance, you need to eat. If you find it hard to take in the necessary calories in two or three meals a day, then add a fourth.

The Best Diet in the World: Rule #3: Think about when you eat your carbs.

Exercise changes everything. The way your body responds to carbohydrates changes when exercise is involved. The best time to intake the bulk of your carbohydrates is around your workout time. If you are the type that likes heavy carbohydrate foods like breads and pastas, then save them for after your workout. If you are training hard, a carbohydrate and protein drink that you sip on during your workout can also help.

Ultimately it comes down to calories. You need to eat enough to fuel your performance. There are various calorie calculators available. I am not opposed to using them as a starting point, as some people do better with a goal number in mind. And if you have never tracked your calories before, doing so for a few days can be an eye-opening experience.

Using Performance to Gauge Your Nutrition

Performance gives us instant feedback as to how well a nutrition program is working. In the weight room or on the mats, performance is what matters.

First, let’s look at assessing your performance in the weight room. The three variables to look at are intensity, density, and volume:

  • Intensity is the most common performance state people track. Intensity is how much weight is being used. If you are able to bench press five pounds more than your last training session, then you have made a performance improvement. It does not matter how many more pounds you improved from your previous week. What matters is that there is improvement.
  • Density refers to the amount of volume over time. An example of density would be doing as many chin-ups as you can in one minute. If your number goes up, then you are on the right track.
  • Volume refers to the amount of work done – weight x reps x sets. For example you shoulder press 100lbs for 5 reps of 5 sets. Your total volume is 1500lbs.

Depending on your workout, one method of tracking may fit better than another. If your workout requires you to do bodyweight squats for time, then you would choose density as your method of tracking performance. For a strength workout, intensity or volume work better as markers of performance.

Start by keeping performance numbers for three to four weeks. Everyone has a bad workout from time to time, so if for one day your performance numbers drop, then do not worry. However, a steady drop in performance may require a change to your nutrition.

For those who do not strength train, Brazilian jiu jitsu leaves performance clues. Take a look at how you feel during rolling. Are you sluggish? Do your movements just seem slow? Pay attention to your recovery between rounds. If you went from recovering in one minute to needing five before you can roll again, that is a decrease in performance. Finally, how many rounds are you able to roll? Let’s say you normally roll four rounds without a problem. If you are struggling to roll two, that is a good indicator of a drop in performance.


Brazilian jiu jitsu is all about performance. Nutrition is just one piece of the performance puzzle, but some would argue it’s the most important. Everything you put in your body is going to do one of two things: it’s going to help or hurt your performance. The most important aspect of nutrition is having a plan that you can follow and a way that you track progress. It’s your body, and no one knows your body as well as you. Eat to improve your performance, not hurt it.

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.