There are a number of underlying factors which are important to address for all aspiring BJJ athletes, regardless of the level at which they compete (and even if they don’t!). The importance of addressing these issues is magnified for those athletes competing at higher levels, and, gone unchecked, they will almost certainly lead to injury, burnout or at best, reduce your longevity and efficacy as a competitor within the sport.
#1 OPTIMIZE RECOVERY
- Aim for a solid 7-9hrs per night of GOOD quality sleep. Whilst there are some genetic variations for the amount of sleep needed and predisposition to being an early riser or a night owl for some of you this may seem like a pipe dream (excuse the pun!) but there are a few strategies that can help improve both your quality and quantity of sleep:
- Avoid screens for 75-90mins before bed (including TV, laptop, iPhone etc.). They emit blue wave spectrum lighting that stimulates the brain and delays the release of melatonin (a hormone that signals and regulates sleep). If you absolutely MUST be working late at night, I recommend a free app called F.LUX it automatically adjusts the light emitted by your laptop depending on the time of day, allowing your body to wind down. Use of blue-blocking glasses like these can also be helpful.
- Zinc/Magnesium. Two of the most important minerals which also happen to be two of the most deficient in athletes, they’re responsible for 300+ cellular functions so if you’re deficient, it’s a big deal! A good place to start for most people is ZMA, which, in a nutshell, is Zinc and Magnesium with some Vitamin B6 thrown in. Why do I recommend it? It hits recovery from a multitude of angles:
- Due to dietary habits and quality of produce available, most people are deficient in Zinc and Magnesium.
- Physical exertion makes this deficiency worse
- Zinc is involved in immunity and testosterone production
- Magnesium is involved in most cellular functions, everything from oxygen uptake to ATP production to skeletal muscle contraction.
- Magnesium causes deep tendon muscle relaxation. Add in some vitamin B6 and you enhance serotonin production too = better nights sleep.
- Zinc + Vitamin C lozenges. I’ve seen good results in using this with tactical athletes, shift workers and clients with poor sleep patterns. I’ll also use them when travelling long-haul as an immune system insurance policy. For those of you travelling regularly to IBJJF or other tournaments, keeping your immune function high is key to performance. It’s hard to perform at your best with a cough, cold, sore throat etc.
- No caffeine after 2pm. This includes other stimulants as well, you can’t sleep if you’re jacked up on pre-workout!
- Meditation/Mindfulness. Not necessarily sitting cross-legged saying ‘ommmmm’. Unwinding and stepping back from the stress and busyness of your own thoughts is key to relaxation and a good night’s sleep. Download ‘HEADSPACE’, the first 10 days are free and you can repeat them as often as you like.
- Aim to train far from bedtime as you can, the cortisol spike caused by training can inhibit melatonin secretion and delay the onset of sleep. If you find yourself wired and unable to sleep after training try implement some of these breathing exercises.
- Sleep in a cave (not literally…unless you want) – make your bedroom as dark as possible, and ensure it’s kept cool and quiet (or use something like a fan to create white noise).
There’s a tonne of recommendations out there on how much water you need to drink. As a baseline to start from I recommend 0.5 floz (ideally filtered) per LB of bodyweight, drunk regularly throughout the day from non-plastic containers.
Try to limit anything that’s not water, in most cases, your caloric intake should come from whole foods wherever possible. Cellular hydration has a big impact on your sleep as well as hormonal profile, energy, reaction to stress so being chronically dehydrated (as many people are) will have a hugely detrimental effect on performance.
Drinking 8-10oz water roughly 30minutes before food can increase saliva content and aid digestion. Try to avoid drinking cold water within 30minutes of eating as this can change the temperature of gastric fluids and negatively impact enzyme activity and hamper digestive function.
Ideally, you should be performing regular low-intensity training efforts to increase your aerobic capacity, improve capillary density, as well as aid recovery and restoration. Opt for low-impact modalities with minimal eccentric loading such as rowing, swimming, sled drags etc. Low-intensity aerobic work forms the base of the pyramid when it comes to athletic development, as well as having numerous health benefits.
Optimize Digestion FIRST!
Consuming masses of high-quality foods and expensive supplements is for nought if your digestive system isn’t effectively processing and absorbing the nutrients you’re consuming. You’re just paying for an expensive poop!
Taking a probiotic for systemic immunity and GI (gastrointestinal) health can be beneficial for many BJJ athletes. Training at high intensity has been shown to cause an increase in gut permeability (leaky gut) so it’s important that we have a strong first line of defence in terms of immune function and positive GI flora.
Supplementing with a quality probiotic CAN be beneficial for SOME people – ALTHOUGH this is something that should be individualized based upon labwork to investigate the current state of your gut bacteria (we can help you with this).
REDUCE/MANAGE SYSTEMIC INFLAMMATION
Inflammation is linked with many diseases and can be exacerbated through training, processed foods and poor nutritional habits. To help reduce inflammation firstly increase food sources such as oily fish, flaxseed, grass-fed meat and leafy green vegetables. Aim to limit processed foods, takeaways, and grains. Keep in mind that inflammation isn’t always a bad thing – it’s part of the body’s natural recovery process for acute injuries and so we shouldn’t seek to eliminate it, but rather to manage it.
Over recent years use of Cryotherapy, CBD oil and other ‘trends’ have been touted as a great way to reduce inflammation. It’s important to keep in mind the PURPOSE of the inflammation, our bodies don’t do anything by ‘chance’. By reducing inflammatory responses, in some cases, we can be blunting the body’s natural ability to recover from injury or adapt to training.
If you don’t already, I’d recommend supplementing with a high-quality Omega 3 supplement, EPA and DHA are the active anti-inflammatory ingredients, I recommend daily amount of 0.25g EPA/DHA per 10lbs of bodyweight spread across multiple doses through the day with food.
When it comes to nutrition, you NEED a plan of action, consider working with a performance nutritionist who has experience in the specific nutritional, and weight-cutting demands of BJJ. You should be logging your food intake, The Cronometer app is a great method to record and share nutritional profiles, this is what I typically use with my coaching clients. Recording a 3-5 day food log can be a great tool to bring awareness around how much you’re actually consuming and something that I’ll be covering in future articles.
Don’t Guess – Get Assessed!
‘Mobility’ work has become something of a buzzword now, with many people self-prescribing exercises, drills and movements based upon a YouTube video or something they saw another athlete doing. Or jumping into a Yoga class, or instructional hoping that it will somehow reduce their pain or make them more resilient to injury.
The truth is that everyone moves differently, so performing the same mobility exercises might not be doing you any good and in some cases, causing problems and potential injuries. The way you move is as unique as your fingerprint, as we all have different backgrounds, different movement demands, environments and more.
Get assessed by a professional coach, physical therapist, osteopath, physiotherapist or similar. Find out what your individual movement issues you may have and seek to systematically address them in a logical and progressive manner, this is something we do with all of our online performance coaching clients.
A huge part of remaining competitive in BJJ is becoming as injury resilient as possible AND more importantly preventing re-injury. If you’ve had issues with your knee, or rotator cuff in the past, the dynamic nature of grappling means that you’re likely to be put in positions where these weaknesses will be challenged and is one of the reasons I’m such an advocate of movement variability and training for BJJ athletes.
Serious about your performance? This means your warm-up is typically going to be longer and more structured than those training around you. As a serious BJJ player, you need to be preparing your body for the movements and energy systems that are about to be challenged. It’s also a great way to enforce good motor patterns in a non-fatigued state whilst your CNS is fresh. This is something we cover in depth with coaching clients, but in general principles, a well-structured warmup should progress through three main phases:
- General – elevate body temperature, increase bloodflow, respiratory rate
- Dynamic – preparatory movement work specific to your needs
- Specific –
TRAIN WITH A PURPOSE IN MIND
The majority of the athletes I work with through online performance coaching are busy professionals with families, jobs and other commitments. Time is a precious commodity and so it’s vital that every training session you complete both on the mats and in the gym should have the desired outcome and move you closer to your goal: there really is no room for what I call ’empty workouts’.
“Empty workouts are those lacking any true substance, they have no desired outcome, no specific purpose, and don’t form a part of a larger plan, I liken these ’empty workouts’ to being sat on a rocking horse. You’ll move around a lot but don’t make any REAL progress forward.”
Your training volume needs to be appropriate for your goals, and other factors that we’ve already touched on such as recovery and nutrition. Mimicking the training program of an ADCC Champion is a fast track to injury, simply copying their training and adjusting workouts completely changes the intended stimulus and in turn the outcome of the training
#4 TRAIN INTELLIGENTLY & LEARN PACING
Learning how to pace yourself, breathe optimally based on positions, timing, conservation of energy, all take time and practice. And they are entirely individual to you, your physiology, anatomy and the type of game you play – your training should reflect this, and if not, you’re probably not training optimally.
‘Going hard’ day in day out isn’t training – it’s chronic testing. I’m sure you wouldn’t try to hit a 1RM deadlift multiple times per week, so why do this with your BJJ training? Not EVERY day should be a Level 10 death battle. Aim to modulate the intensity of training throughout the week, so you have easy, moderate and hard sessions. This will allow for better accommodation of stressors and faster progression, reduced injury risk and more.
Your body doesn’t distinguish or categorise stressors. Stress is stress. Going hard every day in chronic testing will lead to conditions like overuse injuries, immune system suppression, HPA axis dysfunction, exhaustion and burnout.
Implementing these strategies will not only improve your performance but also your health, longevity and vitality. If you’re ready to take your training and performance to the next level check out our BJJ Performance ProgramReferences:
1. Chronotype, sport participation, and positive personality-trait-like individual differences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26181469
2. A combination of high-dose vitamin C plus zinc for the common cold. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22429343