Boxers put in hours, days, weeks and months of preparation for a fight. A boxer's diet is almost as important as a workout because it provides fuel for competition and helps recovery. The ideal diet combines healthy foods in the perfect amount to keep a boxer fresh and ready to box.
Challenges of a Boxer's Diet
Boxing is a weight class sport, which means that you compete against people who weigh the same as you. To gain an advantage, many boxers lose weight for their fight to compete in a lower weight class. They may gain back this weight — generally, water weight — just before the fight, helping them to be bigger than their opponent.
In addition to worrying about what foods to eat in the right amounts, you have to worry about maintaining your desired weight. Gaining too much body weight can force you to move up a weight class, which can hurt your chances of winning.
Read more: Boxing for People Over 50 Years Old
Figuring out how much food to eat is tricky, because the recommendations for the average person won't work. Boxers burn hundreds, and sometimes close to 1,000 calories per hour. According to Wisconsin's Department of Health Services, a 190-pound boxer can burn 1,035 calories in an hour of training or fighting in the ring.
During an hour of heavy bag training, the same boxer would burn 518 calories. An hour of sparring would burn roughly 776 calories. The smaller you are, the fewer calories you burn. However, those numbers are high compared to other forms of exercise.
Over an hour of running at 5 miles per hour, a 190-pound person burns roughly 690 calories. That's fewer than any form of boxing except heavy bag training. The result is that your calorie needs as a boxer are quite high.
How Many Calories Per Day?
According to an article from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans , the average adult female should consume between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day, while the average man should have 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day. For women, those figures are based on a 126-pound woman who's 5 feet, 4 inches tall. Men are assumed to be 154 pounds and 5 feet, 10 inches tall.
As a boxer who's burning hundreds of calories more per day than the average person, you need to up your calorie intake. Use a food tracker to estimate how many calories you're eating per day. Once you know how many calories you eat per day, start tracking your body weight. Use a scale and weigh yourself in the morning before you eat or drink anything.
You can use your body weight to figure out whether you're eating too much or not enough. To gain or lose weight, simply lower or raise your calorie intake until your body weight goes in the right direction. Once you've dialed in your calorie intake, it's time to figure out how much of each macronutrient you should be eating.
There are three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, a prominent regulating body in boxing, provides macronutrient recommendations for boxers.
Macronutrients for Boxers: Carbohydrates
For carbohydrates, the commission's recommendation is 6 to 10 grams per kilogram of body weight. Carbs are an important part of your boxing meal plan. Your body breaks down carbohydrates and stores them as glucose and glycogen, which powers your muscles as you punch and move around the ring.
Even though high-fat diets are becoming more popular, keeping carbohydrates in your diet is still better for performance, according to a January 2018 article published in Nutrition Today. Try to stick to healthy food for boxers like potatoes, rice, pasta and bread, instead of candy and soft drinks.
Macronutrients for Boxers: Protein
Protein is key for muscle-building and can help you recover from strenuous workouts. Be careful which protein requirements you follow, because many are designed for those who want to build muscle. The more muscle you gain, the more weight you have to carry around the ring and the more likely your weight class may be affected.
In June 2017, the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a position stand on protein for athletes. It concluded that eating between 1.4 and 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight was best for maintaining and even gaining muscle mass during training. Boxers who aren't trying to gain muscle should stay on the low end of that range. However, if you'd like to move up a weight class, go towards the upper end.
You should try to eat some form of protein every three to four hours, according to an August 2017 study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. That gives your body a constant source of protein and spreads out the amount of protein you have to eat over the course of the day.
Protein sources like fish, chicken and pork will help you hit your requirements. Vegetarian sources like beans and nuts are also helpful. Red meat like beef is good for boxers in small servings because it's rich in protein and fat.
Read more: What Are the Health Benefits of Boxing?
Macronutrients for Boxers: Fats
Fat is important to include in your diet because fatty foods contain fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E. Try to consume about 20 to 35 percent of your total calories for the day from fat. Get most of your fat from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources. Each type of fat has a different, distinct chemical composition. Saturated fats, which are most commonly found in animal sources of fat, should be limited because they're linked to problems like heart disease.
Polyunsaturated fat comes from sources like soybean oil, corn oil and sunflower oil. Walnuts and tofu are also sources of this kind of fat. Polyunsaturated fat is rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid, according to the American Heart Association.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, peanut butter and other nuts and seeds. Eating monounsaturated fat is good for the health of your heart and arteries. It also helps develop and maintain the cells in your body.
- MedlinePlus: "Facts About Monounsaturated Fats"
- American Heart Association: "Dietary Fats"
- USADA: "Fat as Fuel – Fat Intake in Athletes"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- Nutrition Today: "High-Quality Carbohydrates and Physical Performance"
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: "Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Appendix 2. Estimated Calorie Needs per Day, by Age, Sex, and Physical Activity Level"
- Wisconsin Department of Health Services: "Calories Burned per Hour"
- Nevada State Athletic Commission: "Nutrition for Athletes"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Nutrient Timing"
- American Heart Association: "Saturated Fat"