Why Martial Artists Should Not Follow “Fad Diets”

Sammy Smith

Sammy Smith, CISSN is a world champion sport karate competitor for Team Paul Mitchell who is also a certified nutritionist. Her expertise has helped her, and now her students, win numerous prestigious titles.

A misconception in the "dieting" world is that all it takes is one simple regimen to follow and you'll get the results wanted in little time. The truth is that everyone's body composition is different. Some foods that work for some won't work for all to provide optimal sustainability. There isn't one simple "formula" to follow, especially for martial arts instructors who can be on the [studio] floor teaching for hours without a break, or martial arts athletes who are training sun-up to sundown. Diet is very crucial for this special population in order to achieve success. For this sport in particular, fad diets could become more detrimental to our health than purposeful.

Ketogenic Diet

ketogenic diet


One of the more well-known diets is a keto/ketogenic diet. This diet focuses on high fat, sufficient protein, and low carbohydrate intake. This diet is mainly used for people who wish to lose weight, since it forces the body to release ketone bodies (stored fat) instead of relying on carbohydrates (blood sugar/glucose) for energy. Nutrient-dense foods are encouraged on this diet, however some drawbacks arise due to its reliance on fat and protein, which creates an abundance of both unhealthy fatty foods as well as red meat. This can eventually lead to cholesterol problems and later heart disease. This diet is also hard to adhere to since it lacks an adequate intake of carbohydrates, which should ideally consume 45-65% of the human diet. Without enough carbohydrate intake, the body quickly becomes functionally malnourished and fatigued. Martial artists need to rely on the quick energy source carbohydrates gives us for explosive movements and techniques we use during practice.

Paleolithic Diet

Another popular diet is a paleo/paleolithic diet. This diet is meant to resemble the diet that our ancestors ate back during the hunter-gatherer times. This is another diet that does in fact encourage very healthy eating, (meats, fruits, nuts, healthy fats and oils), but again is low in carbohydrate intake. On the paleo diet, rice or pasta (which are sources of quick energy) are replaced by extra vegetables (low carbohydrate intake). Dairy is also not consumed, which can lead to a calcium deficiency and cause brittle bones. Additionally, no sugary foods are allowed on this diet. Contrary to popular belief, (as long as you're not eating a whole pack of cookies) you can use sugar as a pre-workout for a boost of energy since it will be used during exercise. Sugary foods (in moderation) can also be helpful after a workout as the body metabolizes foods quicker after exercise, as well as in between sessions if there are more than one throughout the day.

Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent Fasting


A diet that I find very interesting is intermittent fasting. When following this diet, it is not so much about what you eat, but when you eat (timing becomes extremely crucial as there is a specified window of time to eat). The usual time frame consists of fasting for sixteen hours, and then eating all your meals and supplemental snacks in a window of eight hours. The main objective of this is to lose weight since there isn't constant food going into the body all day long. However, there are drawbacks to this theory, too. For example, after not eating for hours the body becomes starved, a person may consume larger portion sizes than they normally would because they know they will not eat for some time- they continue to eat after they are full in foresight of being hungry in the near future. When you're hungry, you'll eat whatever to satisfy the feeling as quickly as possible not realizing that your body doesn't need any more food. This diet is not ideal for women since prolonging eating over a significant time can disturb hormonal imbalances. This is also not ideal for athletes who need to eat a pre-practice meal as well as post-practice meal to get depleted nutrients back into the body (athletes are known to train more than one time a day).

Taking a look at just a few "popular" diets (there are more), the main take away is one and the same: there is not a one size fits all. It is important to remember that these diets are meant more so for the general public who do not exercise to the extent martial artists or athletes do. Martial arts training combines multiple exhausting tasks that each require different energy from the body. We should think of food not just as breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but fuel for a successful training program. Having a healthy balance of lean protein (turkey, chicken, ground pork, fish), incorporating fruits and vegetables, as well as a snack of your choice will make eating healthy (and smarter) more sustainable over time, providing the necessary nutrients needed for long duration training sessions and optimal success.

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