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.
Aim for a solid 7-9hrs per night of GOOD quality sleep. While there are some genetic variations for 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 90min before bed (including TV, laptop, iPhone etc.). They emit blue wave spectrum lighting that stimulates the brain and delays the release of melatonin (sleep hormone). 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 also happen to be two of the most deficient in athletes. I’m a big advocate of 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 exacerbates this deficiency
Zinc is involved in immunity and testosterone production
Magnesium is involved in most cellular functions, 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 shift workers and clients with poor sleep patterns, add in 1000mg/day at the same time as your nightly ZMA
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, the cortisol spike caused by training can inhibit melatonin secretion and delay the onset of sleep.
Sleep in a cave. Or the next best thing, 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 benchmark to start from I recommend 0.5 floz per LB of bodyweight, drunk regularly throughout the day.
Limit anything that’s not water, 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 temperature of gastric fluids and negatively impact enzyme activity acids and enzymes and hamper digestive function.
Should be performing regular intensity efforts to increase aerobic capacity, improve capillary density, restoration. Opt for low-impact modalities with minimal eccentric loading such as rowing, swimming, sled drags etc, which I wrote more about HERE
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.
Taking a probiotic for systemic immunity and GI (gastrointestinal) health is beneficial for many BJJ athletes. Training at high intensity causes 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.
Supplement with a quality probiotic look for a brand with 6 billion live units per serving, preferably containing lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus paracasei.
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. Avoid processed foods, takeaways, and grains. Keep in mind that inflammation isn't always a bad thing - it's part of the body's nature recovery process for acute injuries and so we shouldn't seek to eliminate it, but rather to manage it.
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 demands of BJJ. You should be logging your food intake, The Cronometer app has it’s limitations but is the best method I’ve found to record and share nutritional profiles. Recording a 3-5 day food log can be a great tool to bring awareness around how much you're actually consuming which I’ll be covering in future articles.
'Mobility' work has become something of the norm now, with many athletes 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
The truth is that everyone moves differently so performing the same mobility exercises might not be doing you any good. The way you move is as unique as your fingerprint, as we all have different backgrounds.
Get assessed by a professional coach, physical therapist, osteopath, or physiotherapist. Find out what your individual movement issues you may have and seek to systematically address and correct them in a logical and progressive manner. I wrote another article here about Movement Optimisation for BJJ here.
A huge part of remaining competitive in BJJ is becoming as injury resistant as possible AND 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 Structural Balance for BJJ - especially for those people training upwards of 3x/week.
Serious about your performance? This means your warm-up is going to be longer and more structured than those training around you. As a competitive athlete 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. Take a look at my ‘4 Pillars Of An Effective Warm-up’ article for a simple process to follow.
TRAIN WITH PURPOSE
The majority of the athletes I coach are very busy people 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 a 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’ them to a rocking horse. They move around a lot but don’t take you anywhere.”
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
TRAIN SMART & LEARN PACING
Learning how to pace yourself, breathe, timing, conservation of energy, all take time and practice. And they are entirely individual to the athlete, 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?
Your body doesn’t distinguish or categorise stressors. Stress is stress.
This 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. I hope you’ve found this of use and if you’re ready to take your training and performance to the next level, click here to learn more about working with us where we’ll find out more about where you are now and give you clarity and focus on how to achieve your goals.
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