People have different reasons for getting involved in martial arts training. Some come for the personal challenge. Others attend because they want to learn a skill. Still others are in it for the social interaction or the physical fitness. Weight loss is another common motivation. Mixed martial arts training may help you meet your weight loss goals. However, as with most weight loss programs, this comes with a few caveats.
Calories And Weight Loss
The key to losing weight is to create a caloric deficit. This means that you burn more calories via activity than you take in by eating, forcing your body to burn off fat to access the extra energy. The two natural ways of creating this deficit are eating fewer calories and increasing your activity level.
A mixed martial arts practice session burns an impressive number of calories. A regular one-hour class will include calisthenics, strength training, cardiovascular workouts and skills practice that include lifting another person about your size. This will burn a lot of calories - up to 500 in a 160-pound person practicing for an hour. Competitive teams often practice for significantly longer periods. The workouts not only burn calories directly during sessions, but also stimulate your body to burn more calories in all activities for several hours after you've finished. This can combine to produce significant weight loss even during your first weeks of training.
Weight classes are a part of MMA competition. To fight, you must demonstrate that you weigh no more than a certain amount a set number of hours before competing. Mixed martial artists who are "cutting weight" to compete against lighter opponents often lose an impressive amount of weight in the week before a fight. However, much of this weight loss is based on fluid restriction and other forms of dehydration. Although the numbers on the scale are encouraging, the weight goes right back on once the athlete reaches a healthy hydration level. Don't confuse this competitive tactic with healthy or lasting weight loss.
Mixed martial arts training often includes weightlifting as an adjunct. While it is true that lifting heavy weights can build muscle mass and cause you to gain weight, it's hard to do so accidentally. Gaining lean muscle mass requires careful attention to your diet, calorie intake and workout schedule. If you're worried about gaining weight, or becoming unattractively bulky, due to an MMA program, don't -- this will only happen if you do it on purpose.
Mixed martial arts training can help you lose weight by burning more calories than you normally do. However, you can sabotage this progress by giving in to a natural self-defense mechanism. When you exercise, you burn extra calories. Your body naturally responds to this calorie shortfall by asking for more calories -- meaning you will feel hungrier during MMA training. It's safe, and usually preferable, to eat a little more while you're engaged in an aggressive workout program like MMA. Just don't go so far as to eat so many calories that you're no longer in a state of caloric deficit.
- "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy"; Walter Willett, et. al.; 2004
- ZO Fitness and Martial Arts: Calories Burned Estimate Calculator
- "Good Calories, Bad Calories"; Gary Taubes; 2007