Step into Manny Pacquaio's shoes for one day, and you'd probably have trouble walking the next morning. During a day where he'll run, spar and weight train, Pacquaio sheds calories quicker than he does opponents—oftentimes burning up to 2,500 calories per workout.
But to maintain his 147-pound fighting weight, the training is only part of the championship equation. On most days, Pacquaio finds himself battling a diet in excess of 7,000 calories -- or more than double what the normal American consumes.
It's all part of the routine that has helped Pacquaio become the first and only fighter to win in eight different weight divisions. The Pac-Man's secret? A surprisingly simple, yet flavorful diet that features two post-workout meals -- each featuring a mix of protein and carbohydrates.
The knockout nutrition plan starts with oatmeal, the one food he eats after every training session -- whether he's running, boxing or lifting weights.
"My favorite meal for my fighters and myself is the post-workout meal: Raw oatmeal, nonfat milk, fresh berries and honey," says Los Angeles-based Alexa Ariza, Pacquaio's strength and conditioning coach. "It's slow cooked in milk; the oats absorb the honey and that's proven to be the best meal for fast recovery during camp."
In addition to the carbs from oatmeal, Ariza punches up the anabolic potential of the champ's post-workout meal with 30 grams of protein in a drink made from two scoops of Designer Whey protein mixed with water.
"Pacquaio's calories are through the roof, so he can put in the same intensity the next day and not burn out. If he's not hitting those calories, he's burning muscle -and he can't afford to do that."
Alex Ariza, Manny Pacquaio's trainer
Why He Loves It
When you train as often and as hard as Pacquaio, food takes on added importance. "It [the meal] all works together especially after a workout to get us ready for later in the day," says Ariza. "We adjust meals depending on how the training day seems to be working out," Ariza confides. "Some days, workouts are intense, especially in the beginning of camps when Manny is doing strength and conditioning, it's almost like a hell week."
But the oatmeal is really just an appetizer that fuels more grueling workouts and leads up to a second post-training meal that features one of the champ's favorite foods.
In the afternoon, Pacquaio heads to Wild Card Gym where training sessions in the ring focus on a game plan created by coach Freddie Roach. There, Pacquaio eats a second post-workout meal of beef tapa, a Philipino dish of thin strips of sirloin cured in sugar, soy sauce, garlic, and black pepper that's boiled and fried. Sides include steamed white rice, tinolang manok, a chicken-based soup with ginger and greens, and a plate of melon and mango.
"Pacquaio's calories are through the roof, so the next day he can put in the same intensity and he doesn't burn out," says Ariza. "If we're not hitting those calories, Manny's burning muscle and he can't afford to do that," the Colombian-born trainer explains.
What makes it a healthy meal?
Kate Matchett, registered dietitian at Sport CARE at Women's College Hospital in Toronto points out carbohydrate is most the important nutrient to replenish glycogen stores, an athlete's main source of fuel during a workout.
"Oats are great carbs. Honey is higher on the glycemic index than oats, which means post-exercise its quick-acting carbs restore glycogen stores faster because honey is easier to digest than slow-acting carbs," Matchett says. "Milk and the drink mix add protein to repair muscle damage; berries add antioxidants to support a healthy immune system."
How to make the meal even healthier?
Pacquaio could incorporate more food-based protein in the meal by adding skim milk powder or some nut butter. "Both add flavor and healthy fats for athletes who require more than non-athletes," Matchett says. "Manny could melt in peanut, almond or pecan butter when the oats are almost cooked."
Finally, Matchett advises that if an athlete is not fueling appropriately post workout, he or she will go to next workout depleted. "Manny could afford the extra calories by topping the oatmeal with dried cranberries, walnuts or seeds. This is a simple way to add energy-dense foods that help meet his total caloric needs to maximize nutrition and prevent fatigue."
Alex Ariza’s Oatmeal Recipe
Ingredients: 1 cup of raw oats 1 tablespoon of honey 1 cup of non-fat milk ½ cup mixed berries
Method: Combine all ingredients, letting the mixture cook for 20 minutes; serve.