Doug Kalman: Diet and Nutrition for Fighters | Episode #120

Doug Kalman PricePlow Podcast #120

Doug Kalman joins the PricePlow Podcast to talk about his experience co-founding the ISSN and how he helps professional fighters prepare their diets

Doug Kalman joins the PricePlow Podcast to talk about his experience co-founding the ISSN and how he helps professional fighters prepare their diets.

We run through everything from regulatory, Doug’s appearance on the UFC reality TV show, macro breakdown, hydration and electrolytes, nutrient timing, the ISSN’s position stands, and so much more — most of it geared towards performance.

This episode was so good, it spanned the course of two days because the first hour just wasn’t enough. Enjoy!

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Video: Doug Kalman Explains Diet and Nutrition Prep for Combat Athletes

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Show Notes: Doug Kalman on Diet and Nutrition for Fighters

  • 0:00 – Introductions

    Mike and Ben welcome Doug Kalman, a clinical associate professor at Nova Southeastern University and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), to Episode #120 of the PricePlow Podcast. Doug shares his extensive background in nutrition and sports science, including his experience as a performance coach on Ultimate Fighter and his involvement in combat sports like BJJ and wrestling. He discusses the importance of martial arts not just for physical training but also for personal development and learning about oneself, emphasizing that it’s not just about violence but self-discovery and community building.

    Doug also recounts his early career in patient care and lab work at Rockefeller University Hospital, where he gained valuable experience in analytical biochemistry and developed an appreciation for the interplay between science and nutrition. He then delves into his professional sports nutrition work, starting with the 1996 Olympics where he assisted the French track and field team with recovery nutrition, weight management, and adapting to new environments.

  • 7:07 – Resistance and skepticism

    Doug shares his journey in sports nutrition, highlighting his early challenges in establishing sports nutrition as a respected field within the broader scientific community. He discusses his involvement in the mid to late ’90s in publishing research related to sports nutrition, body composition, and weight loss. He faced resistance and skepticism from the academic community, especially at conferences like the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Dietetic Association, where sports nutrition was often dismissed.

    This resistance fueled the foundation of ISSN, born out of a need for an academic society dedicated solely to sports nutrition, free from biases against nutritional science and supplements. Doug reflects on the uphill battle of legitimizing nutrition as a science, not a belief system, using creatine research as an example of objective data that demonstrates the impact of nutritional supplements on physiology and performance.

  • 15:46 – Information and misinformation

    Doug discusses the history of sports nutrition and the challenges faced in establishing its legitimacy, highlighting the skepticism encountered from established scientific communities. He shares the story of how ISSN was born out of frustration with the lack of recognition for sports nutrition research and the need to translate scientific findings into practical advice for athletes, coaches, and the broader community.

    Doug also addresses the recent New York law regarding the sale of certain supplements, expressing concerns about over-regulation and the potential impact on businesses. He emphasizes the importance of companies being active in political advocacy to protect their interests. Doug further explains the misinformation surrounding dietary supplements and eating disorders, clarifying that there is no substantial evidence linking the two.

  • 26:03 – UFC

    Doug shares that he initially got involved in the UFC through his work at Miami Research Associates, where he met Glenn Robinson, the founder of the Blackzilians. Robinson invited Doug to work with UFC fighters like Vitor Belfort, Rashad Evans, and Anthony Johnson, focusing on their nutrition for weight management and fight preparation. Doug then talks about his involvement in Ultimate Fighter Season 21, where he was responsible for overseeing the fighters’ nutrition, including managing the food stock at the house where they lived.

    He faced challenges like food sabotage by opposing teams and educating fighters on the importance of nutrition tailored to their sport rather than general fitness goals. Doug emphasizes the importance of specific training and nutrition for the athletes’ needs in their sport, sharing anecdotes to illustrate common misconceptions among fighters about the best ways to train and prepare for their matches.

  • 33:46 – Personalized nutrition

    Doug Kalman discusses his approach to working with athletes like Ben, focusing on personalized nutrition and weight management strategies. He emphasizes the importance of gathering objective data, such as body composition, hydration levels, metabolic needs, and physical stress responses, to tailor dietary plans effectively.

    Doug highlights the significance of understanding an athlete’s preferred fuel source and adjusting their diet accordingly, especially in sports that demand high levels of anaerobic activity. He also mentions the necessity of considering gender-specific factors, such as menstrual cycles in female athletes, which can significantly impact carbohydrate storage, fat burning, and overall endurance.

    Doug’s method involves not only helping athletes achieve their target weight but also ensuring their cellular recovery and maintaining their performance levels by avoiding excessive catabolism caused by overtraining, under-eating, or improper hydration management.

  • 41:38 – Weight cutting

    Doug discusses the process of weight cutting for athletes, particularly those in combat sports. He explains that a 6.25% weight cut, like the one Ben is considering (from 240 to 225 pounds), is feasible with the right approach. Kalman emphasizes the importance of having detailed information about an athlete’s body composition and hydration levels to tailor a specific strategy. He prefers having athletes within 5-7 pounds of their target weight about a week before the event to minimize drastic weight cuts.

    He also highlights the difference in nutritional strategies for heavyweight athletes who need to gain weight, sharing his experience with a seven-foot-tall fighter who had to consume 8-10,000 calories a day. He touches on the challenges of balancing solid and liquid food intake, reminding that food should be seen as fuel for performance rather than for enjoyment.

  • 47:19 – Objective data

    Doug emphasizes the need for objective data, such as body composition and hydration levels, to develop tailored nutrition plans. Kalman suggests that athletes should eat two to three hours before training, rehydrate with electrolyte solutions after training, and have a solid meal within two hours after a session. He also stresses the significance of post-weigh-in nutrition, which involves strategic rehydration and refueling to prepare for the event.

    Kalman highlights the challenges of balancing food volume and calorie density, especially for athletes who need to consume large amounts of food. He advises against a high intake of fruits and vegetables during high-volume training due to their high fiber and water content, which can take up stomach space needed for more calorie-dense foods.

  • 1:03:30 – Carbs

    Doug addresses the misconceptions combat athletes often have about carbohydrates, noting their tendency to associate with bodybuilders or physique athletes and consequently cut carbs to achieve a certain look. He emphasizes the importance of carbs for intense workouts and educates athletes on how to use carbs effectively.

    Addressing a personal question from Mike about early morning training, Kalman recommends consuming adequate carbs in the 24 to 72 hours before training. For those who can’t eat before a very early workout, he suggests “topping off the carb gas tank” the night before. He debunks myths about consuming carbs before sleep, clarifying that it doesn’t necessarily lead to fat gain.

    Kalman also advises having a carbohydrate-based drink or a small carb-rich snack, like Ezekiel bread with honey, before heading out for training, especially if the athlete won’t eat upon waking. The type and amount of carbohydrates should be tailored based on the intensity and duration of the planned workout.

  • 1:10:00 – Eating strategies

    Doug discusses the importance of carbohydrate type and timing in athletes’ diets, emphasizing starchy, long-lasting carbs for rigorous training and simpler carbs for immediate post-recovery. He highlights the benefits of including carbohydrates in rehydration solutions, as sodium follows glucose into cells, aiding rehydration. Kalman also notes the importance of a balanced electrolyte ratio in these solutions.

    He addresses practical eating strategies for athletes like Ben, who train multiple times a day, suggesting foods like oats with honey and fruits for mid-afternoon snacks to provide quick energy without gastric upset. Kalman emphasizes that sport nutrition focuses on performance rather than health, highlighting the distinct goals of performance enhancement versus long-term health.

  • 1:18:54 – Misconceptions around fructose

    Doug explains that health issues often arise not from natural sources of fructose like fruit, but from processed foods and drinks high in fructose, particularly high fructose corn syrup. Kalman emphasizes that active, healthy individuals who avoid processed foods are unlikely to face these problems. He also delves into the role of carbohydrates in hydration, explaining that for each gram of glycogen stored, about three grams of water are also stored. This relationship is crucial for muscle hydration and recovery.

    A hydrated cell is anabolic, essential for muscle protein synthesis. Kalman points out the importance of maintaining muscle hydration to prevent muscle protein breakdown, especially in athletes undergoing weight cutting or caloric restriction. He stresses that strategies to minimize muscle loss during such periods are vital for athletes to maintain optimal performance up to the day of their event.

  • 1:25:30 – EAAs and Hydration

    The group discusses strategies to avoid muscle breakdown during peak athletic training periods. He mentions using a combination of essential amino acids (EAAs) mixed into electrolyte or recovery drinks for the athletes. These drinks are consumed throughout the day, helping with hydration and reducing muscle catabolism.

    Doug highlights the benefits of EAAs, such as aiding hydration, reducing muscle protein breakdown, and decreasing the perception of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), which can psychologically impact an athlete’s performance. Kalman emphasizes the importance of a customized approach to nutrition, as different athletes have unique needs based on various factors like height, weight, and the intensity of their training.

    He also suggests a mixture of carbohydrates and electrolytes, often using Vitargo and coconut water, to replenish nutrients lost during training. This mix can vary in carbohydrate content and includes essential minerals like sodium and potassium to aid in recovery and hydration.

  • 1:31:30 – Tracking hydration

    Doug emphasizes that for each pound of body weight lost during exercise, an athlete should drink about 20 ounces of water to rehydrate effectively. He also highlights the need for a balanced intake of electrolytes and carbohydrates, such as through the combination of coconut water and carbohydrate supplements like Vitargo. Doug shares that he occasionally checks his weight before and after practice to monitor hydration levels, but he mainly relies on experience and intuition.

    He also notes that while the body can naturally rehydrate to a certain extent, proactive rehydration immediately after exercise sets the stage for early recovery and better performance in subsequent training sessions. Additionally, Doug touches on the significance of calcium for muscle function and vitamin D for overall health, underscoring the interconnectedness of various nutrients in athletic performance.

  • 1:39:00 – Macronutrients

    In this podcast segment, Doug Kalman discusses the importance of macronutrient balance for athletes, particularly those involved in sports like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and weightlifting, which are carbohydrate-dependent. He suggests a general macronutrient breakdown of 50-65% carbohydrates, 20-25% protein, and 15-20% fat for such athletes.

    Kalman emphasizes the importance of not fearing fats and carbs, noting that carbohydrates are crucial for intense training sessions. He points out that fats, including those from foods like avocados, are essential for joint health and can positively impact hormones during competition.

    When dieting down, Kalman advises against reducing protein intake, as proteins are vital for the immune system and neurotransmitter production. He also mentions that protein has a thermogenic effect, making the body work harder to burn energy, which can be advantageous for dieting. Overall, Kalman highlights the need to tailor nutrition plans to individual likes, dislikes, and habits, ensuring that athletes receive the necessary nutrients for performance and recovery.

    1:45:25 – Supplements

    In this segment, Doug Kalman discusses dietary supplements and their use among athletes, particularly in combat sports. He highlights the ISSN’s role in providing position stands on various supplements, emphasizing their commitment to evidence-based recommendations. The foundational supplements Kalman often recommends include creatine, beta-alanine, multivitamins, fish oil, and protein.

    He notes that protein is sometimes not considered a supplement because it’s a macronutrient. Depending on an athlete’s injury history, he might also recommend a combination of glucosamine, chondroitin, MSM, and hyaluronic acid for joint health. Kalman also addresses the common inquiries from athletes about supplements that claim to boost testosterone or other benefits, emphasizing the importance of being skeptical and well-informed.

    Additionally, Kalman touches on the topic of caffeine consumption for athletes, suggesting a general guideline of 200-300 milligrams per day, with a limit of 400-600 milligrams, to avoid potential negative side effects like sleep disturbances or anxiety. He advises against habitual use of high-caffeine energy drinks, advocating for moderation and awareness of cumulative caffeine intake.

  • 1:53:00 – Personal preferences

    Doug emphasizes the importance of adapting dietary plans to suit an athlete’s personal preferences, such as incorporating favorite foods like McDonald’s or pasta while still maintaining a balanced diet to meet performance goals. He also touches on caffeine intake, advising moderation and emphasizing the importance of considering the individual’s specific needs and reactions to caffeine.

    Kalman notes that genetic factors play a significant role in an athlete’s capabilities, estimating that genetics account for about 95% of an athlete’s potential. The discussion also includes anecdotal experiences, such as working with a lawyer from the O.J. Simpson trial and managing the diets of distance runners in Nike’s Oregon Project, where altitude training played a key role in enhancing performance.

  • 2:05:00 – Communication in sports

    In this segment, Doug Kalman discusses the communicative aspects in different sports. He shares his own experience in boxing, noting that unlike sports like jiu jitsu or wrestling where there is some communication with your partner, in boxing, there is generally no talking except for occasional trash talk. He recounts an incident from one of his own boxing matches where an opponent committed a foul and then attempted to talk to him during the match, which he found inappropriate.

    The conversation ends by touching on Kalman’s work with the International Society of Sport Nutrition (ISSN), where he encourages listeners to visit the ISSN website for resources like upcoming conferences and the Journal of ISSN for position stands and new research. He also discusses his personal social media preferences, suggesting LinkedIn as a good platform to follow him for updates and insights in the field of nutrition and supplements.

How to Follow Doug and the ISSN

A few other links:

  1. Doug’s first appareance on PricePlow: How Many Calories are in BCAAs? The ISSN’s Dr. Doug Kalman Knows
  2. The high-dose caffeine + taurine study in elite boxers study:
  3. List of ISSN Position Stands

About the Author: Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto

Mike Roberto is a research scientist and water sports athlete who founded PricePlow. He is an n=1 diet experimenter with extensive experience in supplementation and dietary modification, whose personal expertise stems from several experiments done on himself while sharing lab tests.

Mike's goal is to bridge the gap between nutritional research scientists and non-academics who seek to better their health in a system that has catastrophically failed the public.

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