Weekly Warfare Fitness – 2 – Fueling your fighting   Leave a comment

Ed: This week brings the second part of Iskender Bey’s series on fitness and conditioning for fencing.

There are a number of factors which will affect your performance in the Society’s martial endeavors. Some of these aren’t in your control – the terrain and its condition, the condition of your opponent(s) & their weapons, etc. Some of these are within your control – your armour, your weaponry, your training, and to some extent, your body. This article talks about eating to fight.

In my last article, I touched briefly on weight loss vs. fueling your fighting. These are two distinct goals which have two distinct methodologies. However, there is some overlap. While you can fuel your fight and lose weight, it’s much harder to concentrate solely on weight loss while fueling your fighting. Your body will undergo significant changes during weight loss – these changes are not only physical, but chemical; you must pay close attention to what your body is telling you. Subjectivity is important here – you are the only inhabitant of your body, and you must decide if your current regimen is conducive to good health and good athletic performance. Furthermore, as you progress in these Arts, your body and how it functions will change, and so you must reevaluate what works and what doesn’t. This article is intended not for the high-level elite athlete, but rather as a primer & clarifier for someone who is just starting out in Society’s martial endeavors. My intended reader is someone who is (very wisely) just starting to think about what they eat and how it affects their fighting. Clearly, there is a large amount of specialized information which I have glossed over. It is not my intent to go into detail regarding some things which may be of use, because I feel it could only confuse a beginner. This is a simple explanation regarding basic nutrition and how it affects fighting.

Vital Nutrients
There are certain compounds which your body needs in order to function in an athletic endeavor. No matter how you put them in your body, you still need carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Carbohydrates are broken down by your body into glucose – and glucose fuels your entire metabolism, including your nervous system, brain, and muscles. It’s also nearly within the range of the Society’s period of study – the German chemist Andreas Margraff first isolated glucose from raisins in 1747. Unused glucose is converted to glycogen for energy storage and stored in the liver, fat cells, and muscle tissue. The glycogen stored in the liver is regulated by insulin – and given the ubiquity of sugar in our modern, processed food sources, this is an avenue of explaining the prevalence of diabetes in first-world countries.

Coming back around to carbohydrates, we must dissociate them from their current status as a minor demon in the constellation of ‘bad foods’, and consider what form and how many carbohydrates an aspiring athlete needs in order to fuel themselves. The round number, simply put, is sixty percent. 60% of what you eat should be carbohydrates to perform at an athletic level. However, this does not mean candy bars and kool-aid. It is true that the end result of your carbohydrate intake is the same, whether the source of those carbohydrates are pixie sticks or potatoes; but the intermediary effect should be considered. Simple, unprocessed carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, melons, or other fruits & vegetables are packed with nutrients and provide a much better bang for the intake buck than processed sugars.

Proteins serve the dual purpose of being both building blocks and fuel sources for the human body. Their purpose as building blocks for human musculature is why you see so many weightlifters & bodybuilders going on about protein. However, their use as fuel only comes into play when the body’s reserves of carbohydrates & fats are low. The fitness industry is especially enamored with protein intake, with numerous studies conducted on the timing of protein intake, how much you should take in, what kinds of proteins fuel different activities, and which supplements are the best providers of proteins. However, much of this advice is inapplicable for the average Society fighter. Unless you are an elite athlete performing on a near-professional level, chances are good that you don’t need to worry about what proteins you’re consuming or when you’re taking it in.

The thing that most people should be aware of in regards to proteins should be what kinds of baggage accompany those proteins. A double cheeseburger and two tablespoon of whey protein powder contain roughly equivalent amounts of protein, but the double cheeseburger will come with an array of other undesirables which will slow you down on the field. Even pure, unprocessed, organically-raised beefsteaks have been linked to an increase in saturated fats, which in turn are linked to things like cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular disease is generally regarded as undesirable for a favorable result in fighting.

The amount of protein that individuals should consume is just that; individual. Most women may do well with four to six ounces of protein per day; most men may need six to eight. Most of your metabolic needs will be met by those protein amounts, unless you are working out daily for more than 30 minutes. Beyond that, you will need to start doing research into modifying your food intake.

Fats are subjected to more emotional attachment than any other food source, even among food scientists & fitness experts (vis-a-vis, ‘good’ fats vs. ‘bad’ fats). What fats are, simply put, are a category of molecule which serve various metabolic and storage functions. There are a wide variety of fats, depending on what purpose the fat has evolved to serve: they store energy; transport vitamins; maintain your hair, skin, & nails; serve as buffers against diseases, and an array of other functions – including a number of unhealthy functions involving cardiovascular disease & weighing down your joints. It is both unhealthy and impossible to eliminate all fats from your diet. However, this should not be used as a psychological lever to justify eating a cheeseburger. If you’re going to eat a cheeseburger, just eat it because it’s tasty; not for some perceived physical benefit.

Because of the emotional attachments to the word, experts of any variety are extremely averse to actually recommending a daily dose of fat. Most people consume far too much in the daily course of their lives anyway – nearly 40% of the average American’s calories come from fat. However, when pressed, a recommendation of 20-35% of your daily caloric intake from fats in foods such as avocados or cashews can be beneficial. These fats aren’t likely to come into play during brief bouts of intense physical exertion such as fighter practice, but rather as reserves during a long day of increased output – if you go to a daylong melee event, your body is going to start drawing on those fat reserves.

Specialized Diets
There is a long & glorious history, both modern & pre-modern, of arguing for a highly esoteric and possibly questionable dietary regime in order to wring a desired effect from your physical state. Everything from intermittent fasting to the paleo diet are highlighted by some as an avenue to getting an edge up on the other guy. Any specialized diet; – veganism, paleolithic, atkins, south beach, the master cleanse, the israeli army diet, the genetically-oriented diet – most are mass-marketed towards a specific effect, whether economic or physical. Most of these contain some kernel of truth within their core which may prove, if executed carefully, to boost performance on some level. That (physical) effect must be monitored carefully in conjunction with a clearly-stated, objectively quantified goal. I can’t stress enough that any claim that’s made regarding the efficacy on a certain methodology of food intake should be weighed both scientifically and subjectively.

There are entire store chains built around nutritional supplementation. However, for the average person starting out, they are unnecessary. Dietary supplementation is meant to highlight a specific desired effect, such as building muscle, burning fat, eliminating a nutritional deficiency, and/or ‘increasing your masculinity’. Most of these are slickly marketed to appeal to the unwary as working on their own. Take this pill, lose 20 pounds! However, anything more than a cursory look reveals that most supplements are meant to work in conjunction with a specific physical regime, and any supplement which makes unqualified claims for an effect without engaging in a specific physical regime will probably have a severely undesired physical side problem. For instance, protein powders are mostly meant to work in conjunction with a strict weightlifting regime, while so-called ‘weight loss pills’ simply speed up your metabolism, and a number of users report diarrhea from their use.

There is some controversy on the use of multivitamins. There are hordes of highly-reputable yet vastly contradictory scientific studies which say one of two things. Either daily multivitamins ensure that you get enough vitamins which aren’t present in the modern processed diet. Or, on the other end of the spectrum, some studies say that they are a waste of time and money; most of those vitamins are expressed out of the body in urine.

My own personal view is that while I have found studies that show that multivitamins are useless, I haven’t found any that say that multivitamins will hurt you unless you engage in ludicrous amounts of dosage. It’s not gonna hurt you, it might help you. Listen to your body.

Things to avoid
HFCS, also known by its common name of ‘high fructose corn syrup’, is in a stunning array of modern, processed foods. I like to call it ‘the devil’s saliva’. Avoiding as much of it as possible will rid your body of several undesirable compounds. However, avoiding it can appear to be a Sisyphean task as any cursory label-reading in a grocery store demonstrates the prevalence of HFCS. This is why avoidance of processed foods is key. I have never met a carrot that contained HFCS.

Try to avoid, as much as possible, any food handed to you through a window or purchased from anyone wearing a brightly-colored uniform. Beyond an immediate satiation akin to that found by drug addicts, no good will come from it.

Most people, during the course of a normal day of fighting, don’t need Gatorade or any other sports supplement drink. Bear in mind that Gatorade was originally formulated for the University of Florida’s college football team; the needs of elite college athletes during hours of exertion in a hot, humid environment are not the needs of the average person. What most people do need is water!

Bacon isn’t good for you, and very little nutritional benefit will come from it. Yes, I realize that statement will make some of you jump out of your chairs and wave your arms. I still stand by it.

Well, what do I eat, then!?!
No matter how you choose to take them in, your body needs carbohydrates, proteins, and a little bit of fat. You need vitamins, and water. These nutrients are best gained through unprocessed, quality foods eaten in smaller quantities throughout the day rather than in singular large portions. Utilizing this methodology in whatever form you choose will help regulate your body’s metabolism and prevent ‘highs’ and ‘crashes’ from the effects of various compounds. They will also have the desired side effects of enabling you to sustain physical effort for a longer period of time.

There are a number of materials which can provide simple, easy-to-understand guides for the average person looking to eat a healthy, balanced diet. My personal favorite to point people towards is the Harvard School of Public Health’s ‘Healthy Eating Plate’. Utilizing a sensible methodology such as that one will provide a gateway to a higher level of physical exertion.

Anyone who makes blanket statements regarding nutrition is inviting controversy, and will probably be violently contested by someone else waving credentials, expertise, and/or past experience. Few people embrace the idea that beyond a few generalized guidelines, nutrition is best practiced by the user; you know what works for your body, and what doesn’t. Become aware of how you feel and when you feel it. Set clearly quantifiable nutritional goals for yourself, whether they are to drop weight, gain musculature, increase endurance, or some other effect. Monitor those effects closely, and adjust as necessary. Don’t become frustrated by the slowness of any progress you’re making. Adapt and overcome!

– Iskender Bey

Posted April 11, 2014 by Wistric in Musings

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *