If you watched the BJ Penn vs. Kenny Florian bout from a couple years back, you heard the phrase “testing the gas tank” mentioned more than once by the commentator. The question being raised was about Penn’s conditioning. He had undertaken a new cardiovascular conditioning program prior to that fight and he didn’t look as energetic in the second round as he usually does. The commentator’s point was that Penn’s gas tank was being tested…..he looked a little sluggish…..did the new training leave him with enough gas in his tank? Had he overtrained? Penn went on to win that fight, but I thought the commentator raised a great question. It’s a question that all fighters should ask themselves constantly: Is my conditioning program putting gas in my tank or am I overtraining and actually running on empty when it’s fight time?

Doing your cardio (whatever that may be) harder and faster for longer does not necessarily produce BETTER conditioning. The conditioning training is not just about training muscles to do work at a certain intensity or duration, but also training muscles to store FUEL at an optimum rate. This involves:

  • Eating enough carbs, protein, and fat DAILY to fuel all  components of your training
  • Proper timing of your eating: Before, During, and After exercise
  • Proper hydration

Total daily intake MUST be adequate if you are going to preserve muscle and stay lean. If you aren’t eating enough carbs, then you are potentially making up the shortage by breaking down some muscle to use as fuel. You will also be limiting the body’s ability to burn fat, making it more difficult to get and stay lean.

Let me say it again. You HAVE to eat carbs, protein, and fat for everything to work correctly. If you are short changing yourself on the carbs so you can eat more protein, then you are short changing your muscles’ ability to store fuel. There are no short cuts here. Eating lots of protein DOES NOT get stored in the muscle as fuel. It also doesn’t magically create big, beautiful biceps. Carbs are stored as fuel in muscle. Carbs fuel exercise that builds big, beautiful muscles.  Protein repairs and synthesizes new muscle. Careful here. Listen to what I said. Muscle is made of protein and needs protein to repair, not enlarge, it.  If you are eating more protein than you need, it is important you understand that the extra protein is a source of extra calories. Extra calories only have a couple of fates. They can be broken down and excreted to some degree or they can be stored as fat. Some of the extra protein is broken down into amino acids and then excreted through the urine. (bummer!) The rest of it is actually stored as fat—–a bigger bummer. A lot of times this is the very reason why a guy can be working out like a dog, taking the protein supplements, and can’t seem to get really lean.

Some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but don’t you know that carbs cause water gain? You actually look leaner when you don’t eat them.”

My reply? Yep, carbs attract water. We all know that’s why you don’t eat them before weigh in. That’s a short term strategy for a short term goal.  So what? Training is LONG TERM. It’s a terrible long term strategy. Guys that hold to that theory are the ones that don’t go 3 rounds. They definitely don’t go 5 rounds. Their only prayer is to submit in round 1. Longer than that is a crap shoot. So, the take home message? You gotta have carbs.

Let all of that digest, and next week I will talk about timing of food.

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