Boxing is among the most physically demanding sports on the planet, and at the elite level twelve gruelling rounds in the ring are just the tip of the iceberg. Beyond the spectacle of fight night is a level of hard graft and training intensity matched by few other disciplines. Little wonder, then, boxers are often touted as some of the fittest athletes around.
The fundamentals of boxing are speed, stamina, agility, power, core strength and accuracy. Add to that list the ability to perform under pressure – and think quickly when your opponent is trying to knock your head off – and you’ve got a seriously demanding skill set that requires both body and mind to be firing on all cylinders.
In boxing training – with those early-morning miles, hundreds of hours of pad work and weights sessions – good nutrition is the key to maximising performance and ensuring effective recovery. Equally, if you need to make weight for a fight by gaining muscle or trimming body fat, your number-one focus should be tailoring nutrition to suit your needs. That means the right fuel, in the right quantities, at the right times.
At Veloforte we know performance nutrition, and we’re experts in fuelling for success. So if you’re just starting out in boxing, or you’re a seasoned fighter looking to take the next step, here’s everything you need to know to create a performance-focused boxer’s diet.
Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for boxers
Whether you’re trying to reduce body fat to get lighter on your feet, or up your energy levels for a pre-fight training camp, optimising your intake and finding the right balance of macro and micronutrients is essential. Because while all boxers need to train hard to develop the wide-ranging skill set required, progress will fall flat without a smart approach to nutrition.
First up, macronutrients – so called because you need these food groups in larger quantities (macro meaning large scale).
Macronutrients are the main source of energy from food (measured in calories), providing your body with the fuel to function effectively.
Micronutrients, on the other hand, is the umbrella term for the vitamins and minerals necessary for proper immune function, cognition, and numerous other bodily processes that are essential to good health as well as boxing performance.
In a healthy, balanced diet, carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy and the most accessible fuel for exercise, particularly at high intensity.
The body converts carbohydrates into glucose, a simple sugar that is either used as an immediate energy source (during high-intensity exercise), stored as glycogen in your liver and muscles to be called upon in your next training session, or converted into fatty acids if those glycogen stores are already full.
For boxers looking to stay lean, that means carbs need to be taken on at the right time to limit the potential for them to be turned into body fat. Generally, during low-intensity training your body won’t use much glycogen, meaning the days you do recovery sessions and light gym work should accompany a lower intake of carbs. The same goes for rest days: reduce your carb intake when you’re not training, to minimise fat storage.
On the other hand, high-intensity training days require a higher carb intake. The body can hold between 300 and 600g of glycogen – enough energy for 60 to 90 minutes of gym work. If you’re training twice a day, you’ll need to top up glycogen levels with an intake of carbs after the first training session.
Veloforte’s Pronto Caffeine Energy Bar provides 45g of all-natural carbohydrates to replenish your energy, as well as 80mg of focus-enhancing caffeine and 5g of recovery-assisting protein.
The final thing to bear in mind when formulating your boxer’s diet is the difference between ‘simple’ and ‘complex’ carbohydrates. Simple carbs – the sugar and syrups found in white bread, baked treats and breakfast cereals, among other things – assimilate rapidly and flood the body with sugar. If that sugar is not burned off quickly through exercise, it will be stored as fat, so boxers should only take on simple carbohydrates shortly before training.
The rest of the time, complex carbohydrates should be prioritised. These carbs occupy two categories: fibre and starch. They take longer to absorb, and release glucose gradually, providing long-lasting energy and a bigger window for converting that glucose into energy rather than fat. Sources of fibre include fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains. Starch can also be found in fibrous foods, but high-starch sources include corn, oats and rice.
As a boxer your diet should contain a range of complex carbs for sustained energy. Simple carbs can provide a quick lift for intense exercise, but should only be taken on board during or just before training.
Your muscles and body tissue depend on protein and the amino acids it contains to stay strong and durable. Without sufficient protein in a boxer’s diet, the body will break down under the demands of training. Getting enough protein is also critical if you’re trying to lose weight, as it increases satiety and leaves you feeling fuller for longer. One study out of Cambridge University found that subjects who ate a daily diet higher in protein consumed over 1,000 calories less over four days than those with a lower protein intake.
Above all, protein is vital for repairing muscles and promoting growth. But how much protein do you need for boxing training?
Individual needs depend on a range of factors – including height, weight, age and sex – but for boxers in peak training mode, a high protein intake of 1.5g to 2.2g per kg of bodyweight is recommended to prevent muscle breakdown and keep the body’s recovery processes functioning effectively. Aim for 20-30g every three to four hours to maintain muscle protein synthesis (the process by which the body uses protein to repair damaged muscles caused by intense exercise).
If you’re maintaining a calorie deficit to lose weight, that muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is especially important. Your body will be searching for fuel and, unless you’re taking on enough protein to trigger MPS, muscle protein breakdown (MPB) will occur.
How you get your protein – be it from plant or animal sources – doesn’t really matter, so long as you’re utilising combinations that provide complete proteins with all 20 essential amino acids. Animal sources are rich in these amino acids – the so-called ‘building blocks’ of muscle – but many plant sources are incomplete proteins when taken on their own. Therefore, boxers following plant-based diets should prioritise the following foods, all of which contain the full range of essential amino acids:
- Chia seeds
- Pitta bread and hummus
- Wholegrain peanut butter sandwich
To make things easy, Veloforte Protein Bars offer a quick and tasty hit of complete proteins – perfect for repairing your muscles post-sparring or between sessions.
Or if you prefer to sink a shake after a heavy bag session, the new Veloforte Vita and Nova protein recovery shakes pack the optimum 3:1 balance of carbs and protein to replenish depleted stores and kick start recovery.
Contrary to old-fashioned belief, fat does not make you fat – at least not the ‘good’ type. Although 9 calories per gram fat is over double the energy intake of carbs and protein, it is an essential macronutrient that contributes to everything from testosterone production (a vital hormone for boxers trying to stay lean, strong and focused) to vitamin availability.
The type of fat to avoid is the hydrogenated and trans variety found in processed food like cakes, biscuits, crisps, bacon and other fatty red meats. Instead, opt for the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in nuts, cheese, dark chocolate, olive oil, avocado and oily fish.
Oily fish is doubly beneficial, because it contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, not to mention a welcome dose of protein, which aids your body’s ability to control inflammation. Good fats also help with the absorption of vitamins A,K,D and E – all of which support recovery, boost energy and protect your immune system.
Vitamins and Minerals
If you’ve heard the phrase ‘eat the rainbow’, the reason is simple: the more colourful your plate, the higher your intake of vitamins, minerals and other molecules essential for optimal health and fitness.
Vitamins are organic substances that act in tandem to keep your body’s cells working normally. Minerals, meanwhile, are inorganic, chemical elements – including calcium, zinc and sodium – that aid everything from bone health to metabolic function (turning the food you eat into energy).
Vitamin D is vital for strong bones and a healthy immune system, as well as increasing absorption of other crucial vitamins. Boxers deficient in vitamin D are more at risk of bone fractures and breaks, so if you’re sparring or fighting regularly it’s critical you keep on top of your intake. Although UVB radiation in sunlight triggers its production in the body, in the UK that radiation is not strong enough in winter months (October to March), so the government recommends supplementing with 10ug/day.
Another micronutrient that’s essential for boxers, zinc bolsters the immune system and can speed up recovery between workouts. However, zinc is a mineral lost through sweat, which means athletes in high-intensity sports – athletes who sweat a lot – need to up their intake. Research by the University of Otago found that athletes have lower levels of zinc than non-athletes, so the scientists recommended a low-dose zinc supplement in addition to a balanced diet. Natural food sources include meat, milk, fish and eggs, as well as spinach, oatmeal and wholemeal foods.
Iron helps transport oxygen around the body, making it fundamental for both recovery and muscle function. Boxers following a plant-based diet need to pay particular attention to their sources of iron, because while it’s readily available in animal products, the main non-animal sources are leafy green vegetables, soy, legumes, quinoa and pumpkin seeds.
Like vitamin D, calcium plays a key role in maintaining strong muscles and bones. Dairy products, dark green vegetables and soft-boned fish like salmon and sardines are rich sources of calcium.
All athletes need to get enough vitamin B12, because it’s a crucial vitamin for energy production. It also aids the synthesis of fatty acids, making it particularly useful for boxers trying to stay trim. As it’s most commonly found in animal products, vegan and vegetarian athletes should take a supplement to prevent weakness and fatigue.
Boxing nutrition and diet plan
Reaching your boxing potential depends as much on what you do in the kitchen as in the ring. Whether your goal is to drop body fat or move up in weight, success depends on good nutrition. And good boxing nutrition means a balanced diet full of muscle-repairing protein in the form of lean meats, healthy fats, low GI slow-release carbs, and plenty of nutrient-rich vegetables.
A boxer’s diet plan should be similar to the Paleo or ‘caveman’ diet, which can be boiled down to eating as naturally as possible. That means grass-fed meats, vegetables, fruits and wholefoods. There should be protein with every meal, as well as healthy fats, fibre, and slow-release carbohydrates.
While individual calorie needs vary greatly, all boxers should stick to the following nutrition guidelines:
1. Cut out artificial foods
In the long run, sugars, additives, saturated fats and excess salt are all detrimental to athletic performance. The foods they’re packed into also tend to be highly calorific and sometimes even addictive. Keep it out of the house and out of mind.
2. Drink lots of water
More on the importance of hydration for boxers below, but for now know that water is fundamental to the proper function of the some 15 trillion cells in the human body. Drinking enough is also an effective strategy for increasing satiety and preventing overeating.
3. Opt for small but regular meals
Four to five per day is optimal. Not only does this reduce the risk of gastrointestinal upset, but the regular intake of those macro and micronutrients will ensure continual muscle protein synthesis and keep your metabolism working to full calorie-burning capacity. One study in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity also found that eating on small plates can trick your brain into feeling more full.
4. Portion your plates
If you’re not using a nutrition-tracking app like MyFitnessPal, the simple rule is to divide your plate into thirds. Fill one third with lean protein, one third with colourful vegetables, and the final third with slow-release carbs.
5. Stick to lean, white meats
Poultry and fish should make up the bulk of your protein intake, because these meats are easier to digest than high-fat red meats like beef and pork. For vegans and vegetarians, tofu, lentils, chickpeas and edamame are all high-protein plant sources.
6. Avoid yo-yo weight changes
Although making weight for a fight is going to require a short-term adjustment to your training nutrition, staying with 4-5% of competition weight will keep your body in good condition and avoid any potentially dangerous health and performance dips caused by having to dramatically alter your calorie intake before a fight.
Anthony Joshua’s diet plan
To follow the lead of one of the biggest names in boxing, here’s an idea of what the heavyweight champ eats in a day, based on an interview with Men’s Health.
- Glass of water – Drinking water first thing immediately rehydrates your body and fires up your metabolism. One study found downing a glass of water on waking increases metabolic rate by 24% for 90 minutes.
- Piece of fruit – Packed full of vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Bowl of porridge – Oats are a great source of slow-release carbs for sustained energy and stable blood sugar levels.
- Protein shake – Although getting the majority of your protein from ‘real’ food sources is preferable, shakes can be an invaluable tool for hitting your required protein intake without consuming too many calories.
- Wild rice, salmon and lots of veg. The rice provides a healthy mix of protein, fibre, slow-release carbs and antioxidants. Salmon is rich in both protein, omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins; while the veg is full of the essential nutrients that keep all systems working effectively.
- Joshua mentions that he will eat that meal, or similar, twice over.
- On hard training days, Joshua takes on another recovery shake to keep his body from breaking down under the workload.
- He also has some more fruit for a hit of quick-release sugars to fuel his next training session.
- Joshua enjoys his “Mother’s Nigerian cooking”, which includes pounded yam, eba and egusi. While these might not be conventional meals for boxers, they make perfect sense when it comes to replenishing glycogen stores after a hard day’s graft. Yams are high in gut-healthy starch, fibre and numerous antioxidants; eba is a mix of cassava flour and water, which is rich in carbohydrates and immune-boosting copper and manganese – perfect for post-training recovery; and egusi is a rich, spicy soup often made with meat or fish.
- This dinner is high in calories. For rest and low-intensity days, reduce the carbohydrate and calorie intake while keeping protein levels consistent.
Best food for a boxer’s diet
- Brown rice
- Sweet potato
- Nuts and seeds
- Green, leafy veg
- Protein powder
- Energy bars
You know the broad nutrition categories you need to be ticking off, but what specific foods should boxers eat? In short, natural foods are your ticket to optimal health and performance.
Think of it this way: if it grows in the ground, or once had a pulse, you’re on solid ground. By contrast, avoid man made snacks and heavily processed foods; as a rule, if the list of ingredients goes into double figures, put that food down.
Here are some good boxing foods to add to your plate.
A whole grain high in immune-boosting selenium and oxygen-enhancing iron, brown rice is a low GI complex carb, which provides a steady source of energy free from the blood sugar spikes associated with high GI foods (including refined white rice).
Another sustained-release complex carb, sweet potatoes are also high in choline, a versatile nutrient that can help reduce inflammation after an intense block of training.
One of the best sources of plant-based protein (9g per 100g), lentils are also low in calories but high in bone-strengthening calcium and stress-relieving magnesium.
If you take one thing from Anthony Joshua’s diet, make it a daily serving of oats. One of the best foods for filling you up, a morning bowl of porridge will promote controlled calorie intake for the rest of the day. That’s not to mention oats’ protein, fibre and low-fat content.
While there’s not much between turkey and chicken in the nutritional stakes, turkey is an incredibly lean meat with just 135 calories – but an exceptional 24g protein – per 85g. Turkey is also rich in energy-boosting B vitamins, and inflammation-controlling zinc.
High in brain-healthy omegas 3 and 6 (important for a boxer’s focus), salmon is also a fine source of protein and a plethora of other nutrients that keep your body working to the best of its ability.
Nuts and seeds
Generally speaking, nuts and seeds are highly nutritious and packed full of ‘good’ fats, protein and antioxidants. Studies on specific types of nuts, including almonds and pistachios, suggest they may also aid weight loss.
Green, leafy veg
Spinach, kale, swiss chard and broccoli are all examples of mineral-rich green vegetables. Among the many benefits is a high amount of vitamin K, which plays several important roles including reducing inflammation and maintaining the health of muscle tissues.
If you’re struggling to hit your daily protein target, supplements can help. Whey protein has a complete amino acid profile, it’s fast-digesting and generally low in carbs and calories. Vegans should opt for a powder that combines plant proteins (pea, soy, hemp and brown rice, for example).
Perfect for topping up glycogen stores between sessions, energy bars are convenient and often loaded with other beneficial ingredients.
Veloforte’s Energy Bars, for instance, contain natural caffeine, electrolytes and complete protein, to go with the dual-source of carbohydrates for sustained energy and muscle maintenance.
Importance of hydration for boxers
There’s a reason humans can go weeks without food, but only a few days without water. Every single cell in your body depends on good hydration to function effectively, and research out of the California University of Pennsylvania has shown that even a one per cent decline in fluids (per % of bodyweight) can negatively impair performance.
For boxers, engaged in one of the most sweaty sports around, keeping on top of water intake is especially important. To avoid dehydration, the more physical activity you do, the more fluid you need to take on board. Research in the journal Nutrition advises drinking 200ml to 285ml of water for every ten to 20 minutes of moderate exercise. If it’s a particularly tough session, or the mercury has risen, you will need more. You’re also going to need electrolytes…
Sweating is your body’s defence system against overheating. Unfortunately, though, when you sweat you lose some important minerals known as electrolytes, including sodium and potassium. Electrolytes support a number of bodily functions, including energy production and fluid balance. When your body is depleted of electrolytes, you’re likely to feel faint and lethargic.
As a general rule, if you’re training for less than an hour in British weather, water will do the trick, but for anything longer or more intense, Sports Medicine recommends taking on an additional 1.7-2.9g of electrolytes per litre of water.
Veloforte’s Solo Electrolyte Powder is the perfect all-natural solution, providing 240mg potassium and 350mg sodium per sachet. Add it to your water bottle and take two to three gulps every quarter of an hour.
Getting started with boxing nutrition
A good boxing diet plan doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need to be tailored to the intense physical demands of training. A healthy, balanced diet – supplemented with Veloforte’s range of natural and portable performance boosters – should be your starting block.
From there, you should adjust macronutrient percentages and calorie intake according to your personal goals, but remember to stick to natural foods, regular doses of lean protein, and plenty of water throughout the day.