Boxing Nutrition 101: A Dietitian’s Guide to a Boxer’s Diet
If you’ve tried to hit a punching bag, you know it requires force. Do it for long enough and you’ll quickly realize it also requires conditioning. Whether you’re training to fight or training to get in shape, you get two-for-one with boxing: aerobic exercise (aka cardio) and whole-body strength. Having proper nutrition is crucial for fueling a boxer’s tank in order to have the energy, strength, power and conditioning to perform well in the ring. Eating the right foods is also essential for proper muscle recovery and replenishing nutrients lost in practice or in a fight.
Fuel from a whole-food, nutrient-dense, and balanced diet will not only benefit your workout and your training, but also your overall health. First thing first, what do we mean by whole foods? Whole foods are foods that are minimally processed, consumed as they came from earth -- in their whole form, such as a baked potato, rather than in a processed form, such as potato chips. Second, nutrient-dense foods are foods that provide high concentrations of vitamins, minerals and health-promoting nutrients such as fiber and antioxidants. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, nuts and seeds.
BUILDING A BALANCED DIET
Here’s where the three amigos (aka macronutrients) come into play. Carbohydrates, protein and fats are all essential for everyday bodily functions, especially when exercising. Generally speaking, a balanced diet consists of:
- 50-65% of calories from carbohydrates
- 20-35% of calories from fats
- 10-35% of calories from proteins
But don’t get too caught up in the numbers--counting macronutrients is certainly not necessary for healthy eating. Nutrition should be simple, so you can go ahead and put your calculators away. Instead, focus on including all three (3) macronutrients in your main meals, and at least two macronutrients in your snacks (see examples below).
CARBOHYDRATES FOR FUEL
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the brain and the body. Excess carbohydrates are stored in the muscle and liver as glycogen, which can later be used for energy and regulating blood sugar levels.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat products, farro, oats, etc.) and legumes (beans, chickpeas, soybeans, peas)
PROTEIN FOR STRENGTH
We’ve all heard it: protein is essential for building muscle. But protein is also needed for growth and repair of body tissues, oxygen transport, and for countless reactions in the body, in which they function as enzymes.
Lean sources, such as plant-based proteins (beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds), fish and seafood, eggs, poultry and Greek yogurt*
Boxers should opt for whole food sources of protein to meet daily requirements, although supplemental protein, such as bars and powders, can also be used as a practical way to ensure adequate intake.
*Consumption of red meat and processed meats should be limited due to their link to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Processed meats, including deli meats, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, beef jerky, and others, have been classified as carcinogenic to humans by the World Health Organization. (Source)
FATS FOR SUSTAINED ENERGY
Fats are essential for cell structure, surrounding and protecting your organs, maintaining proper temperatures, and long-term energy in the absence of carbohydrates.
Nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil and fish
These foods contain mostly unsaturated fats, known to reduce inflammation and decrease the risk of disease. Saturated fats, on the other hand, are associated with increased levels of cholesterol and decreased blood flow, leading to cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. Saturated fats are found in most processed foods, tropical oils (such as coconut and palm oils) and animal proteins. (Source)
Given their crucial roles in the body, macronutrients should never be eliminated from one’s diet, especially a boxer’s diet. A balanced diet is inclusive of carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats in their appropriate amounts, and from a variety of food sources. Wholesome, nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean proteins, nuts and seeds should make up the majority of one’s dietary intake, as these have been associated with improved health markers, lowered risk of disease, and overall well-being. If you want to train like a boxer, you have to eat like one too. A key part of any boxer’s training regimen includes a balanced diet. Any athlete knows that for peak performance, careful meal planning is just as important as the workout.
The Author: Carolina Schneider, MS, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based nutrition and wellness. With a Master of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics and a background in Journalism, Carolina is passionate about evidence-based nutrition and educating individuals on how to eat well for good health. Her favorite boxing move? Uppercut. Favorite food? Sushi (unless you count chocolate as food). Her Instagram is @TheGreenRD.