Have you ever found yourself struggling to make it through a BJJ class or pushing hard to get to the end of your workout? Maybe you want to train, improve, get better at your art, or get that workout in… but there is just no energy left in your tank! Why is this happening and what can you do about it?  


The need for energy during training is critical! Without energy, we would not be able to move let alone train or perform in a fitness or martial arts class. The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can never be created or destroyed, it can only be transferred. The question becomes, how do we ensure that we have the most energy available to transfer into an action like a pushup, a takedown, or a kick?


Energy enters the body through the foods that we eat. Before that food can become usable energy it must be converted into smaller substrates that include protein, fats, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are digested and converted into glucose that gets absorbed into the blood and used as energy or stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen for use later. Triglycerides come from fats we ingest and can provide energy for prolonged bouts of exercise. Finally, protein can provide a source of fuel during starvation or in a negative energy balance through a process called gluconeogenesis.  


These molecules are then stored in cells as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is a high-energy molecule that is used in all cellular and mechanical work, including exercise. Without getting too technical, the three metabolic pathways that are used to create ATP are the ATP-PC system, the glycolytic system (glycolysis), and the oxidative system (oxidative phosphorylation). Without these proper fuels, we will not have the energy to focus and have a great training session. 


Energy is measured in Calories that provide your body with the necessary macronutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates) to fuel your daily activity. A Calorie (capital C) or kilocalorie is equal to 1000 calories (lowercase c) which is the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. This is what we are all managing when we are counting Calories for our day, our energy intake. 


Humans get the energy to transfer into action from the food we eat. How much you eat, what you eat, and when you eat all play a critical role in your athletic performance, response to exercise, and your subsequent recovery. Lack of energy in a training session will affect your ability to focus, learn, and perform. 


The amount of information published on diet and nutrition is staggering and often inconsistent, making drawing conclusions difficult. The bottom line is that there is no one size fits all diet. What worked for your friend from Muay Thai class may not work for you! For performance, body composition, or health you must figure out what works for you based on your goals and performance needs!

To function and perform at an optimal level you need to properly manage your energy balance. An effective diet and proper nutrient intake are a must. Below are a few tips that may help you have the energy to be at your best when you hit the mats or the gym.


  1. Time your meals appropriately: Eating too close to a workout will not allow enough time for your food to properly digest. Undigested food will not be converted into energy and can make you uncomfortable during training. Try to eat about 2 hours before you train to give your body the time to convert the nutrients that you ate into the energy that you need.
  2. Nutrients: You want to ingest the proper micro and macronutrients before and after you train. It is important to understand which macronutrients you need to eat and when you should eat them. Everyone is counting calories and macros with little regard to when they eat. Meal timing is especially important if you are participating in an intense activity such as boxing or martial arts. Understanding what carbs and proteins to eat and when to eat them is critical for sustained, intense energy output!
  3. Recovery: To train daily or participate in multiple training sessions a day you must recover properly. As I mentioned above, timing is important. 

During intense workouts or heavy lifting, you are causing microtears in your muscle fibers. Consuming protein post-workout will aid in your recovery, however, not all proteins are created equal. You need to be consuming the correct protein!


It is also important to consume a carbohydrate with your post-workout protein. If you only have protein, you will lose the benefit of muscle protein synthesis. Without carbohydrates, your body will use all its protein intake to restore your glycogen levels during gluconeogenesis, negating the muscle repair your body needs to repair the damage caused in training. Consuming a fast-digesting monoglyceride carbohydrate with your hydrolyzed protein will help restore glycogen and ensure you are ready for the next round. But once again, not all carbs and porteins are created equal, and you need the proper nutrients post-workout to optimize this process.


As an athlete, martial artist, or anyone that wants the energy to get off the couch and into the gym, eating right is one of the most important things that you can do for yourself. We are all busy and our days can get out of control. Things come up, kids have appointments, bosses need a project done, cars break down, and so on… It is tough to control everything about our day. The one thing that you can control every day is what you put in into your body! Remember, energy cannot be created or destroyed only transferred! Eat right and transfer that energy into a great workout or class! 

If you have any questions about this article, your diet, nutrition, or supplementation, or if I can help or guide you in any way to a healthier diet and lifestyle, please email me at [email protected]

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