Everyone wants to be in better shape -- “Most of the questions I get are about training,” says Matt Hughes, recently retired UFC Hall of Famer and current vice president of athlete development. But according to him, it's food that has a bigger impact on your daily performance, whether you're a professional athlete or a corporate cube-dweller.
“I think the diet is an area where some of the younger fighters need help; a proper diet helps you sleep, practice, and perform better in the Octagon.” And now that he's a family man with a "real" job, Hughes still sticks to the same basic dietary guidelines he used when he was fighting.
Here, Hughes' eight basic rules for a healthy diet:
Instead of eating three massive meals per day, Hughes opts for smaller portions that are more spread out. “I’ll have a protein shake and almonds for breakfast, and then a Muscle Milk Cookies and Cream shake after I lift weights in the morning,” he reveals. “I’ll eat lunch between 11:30-12:15 p.m., snack on an apple before picking up my kids at school, and then have a meal between 5:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.”
Don’t Forget The Fruit
“I eat a lot of apples because they’re convenient to throw in my truck or bag, but I try not to eat them before bed because of the sugar content,” he says. Ideal times to consume fruits are in the morning, before a workout, or as a midday snack.
Consume Catabolic Foods
Convenience aside, Hughes is sweet on apples for another reason — they’re a catabolic food that burns more calories than they contain. “Each apple is only 100 calories, and it takes the body 200 calories to digest that apple,” he tells us. Other examples of catabolic foods: strawberries, plums, blueberries, grapes, lettuce, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, spinach, carrots, crayfish, mussels, lobster and shrimp.
“I look at the protein, carb, and sugar content,” Hughes says. “Sometimes I’ll check sodium as well, but if there are more sugars than good carbs, I don’t have anything to do with it.”
Don’t Demonize Fats
Too much saturated or trans fats can lead to a higher risk of heart disease and raise cholesterol. However, unsaturated fats — polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats — can do the opposite. Hughes’ preference when it comes to monosaturated fats? Almonds. “I like to have them with breakfast,” he says. “For your body to release fat, you need to take in fat.”
Choose Cheat Meals Wisely
With three young kids (ages 16, 13, and 3) and a “wife with a sweet tooth” in the house, the temptation to snack on something sugary or sweet is always there for Hughes. “My wife loves to bake … but she also works out every morning. So if we have a cheat day, we know the next day we’re going to create a fire hot enough to burn it off.”
Make Water Your Go-To Drink
Alcohol can hinder muscle growth by inhibiting muscle protein synthesis, and sports drinks — although beneficial in replacing lost micronutrients after hard training sessions that last an hour or longer — are often guilty of providing more calories, sodium, and sugar that the body needs. “I’ve always enjoyed a big glass of water,” he admits. “Every so often I have a sweet tea, but I know that’s not great for me so I try not to drink a lot of it. I don’t drink much alcohol. Nothing against it, but with my lifestyle, I’m not around it. A big night for me is getting kids ready for bed and watching some TV.”
Limit Red Meat Intake
Yes, Hughes is an avid hunter, but that doesn't mean he's solely a carnivore. Red meat is high in iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B-12. As noted earlier, it’s also high in saturated fat. Hughes eats red meat sparingly, instead choosing lean meats or fish. “If I’m at a steakhouse, there’s no doubt about it — I’m ordering a good filet,” he says. “[But] many times at restaurants I’ll order fish because I don’t cook it well and I know it’s good for me; I try to eat a couple portions of fish per week.”
How To Eat Like a UFC Hall of Famer
It would take decades of training, countless black eyes, and a few dozen gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to learn how to fight like two-time UFC welterweight champ Matt Hughes (46-9-0). But to eat like him? That’s something you can start doing today.