Just the thought of stepping into a Muay Thai ring is enough to make me shake, wobble, sway slightly from side to side, feel faint and sweat from every pore on my body – torrential perspiration. It’s having the energy to perform high kicks at a moment’s notice and withstand sharp hinged joints that can cut through your supposedly steel guards, never once dropping your concentration as the Muay Thai Fighter looks for a chance and forever keep your own defence on total lockdown. It’s intense – like getting jolted awake by a shiny, new cattleprod. And it all begs the question: what the heck do Muay Thai fighters eat during training to give them that kind of energy? What foods could these hard-bodied warriors possibly be feeding those stone-sculpted abs?
If you’re sat there thinking that’s a pretty strange thought to have and that my mind should have wandered to training techniques and the importance of yoga first, I can kind of see your point. Kind of. But I stand by my fight-night-food-thoughts for one simple reason: a Muay Thai fighter has to be perfectly primed at the exact right time if they want their bodies to offer everything they possibly can by the time the lights come on, the crowds start cheering and the ring bell fills the evening air with an electric-reverberation.
The reason for this is as simple as licking a yoghurt lid clean of the good stuff: every fight demands every ounce of energy you can muster. It’s relentless, it can feel endless, and any weaknesses you might be hiding will be exposed like a Naval warship hunting pirates with a brilliant spotlight. This includes any chinks in your energy levels. Trust me, it only takes one weakness – one botched piece of fight prep – and you can find yourself on the end of a rather throbbing implication. That’s why an elite Muay Thai fighter is forever considering their nutrition plans, whether they’re dancing through fight week or just toweling sweat out of their eyes during just another training session.
So, with that notion spinning your mind like Leo’s totem, this is exactly how to eat like a Muay Thai fighter:
1. Do Away With All That Dieting Stuff
I’ve got a bit of an issue with the word dieting. That’s not because I’m some sort of nutritional purist, but because the term dieting implies you are only eating “correctly” for a certain amount of time, and simply doesn’t fly right if you’re a Muay Thai fighter serious about Muay Thai, and serious about the effort you’ve gotta chuck into your training. Running first thing in the morning, jumping ropes in the afternoon, training in open-air gyms as the eighty-percent humidity and ninety-something degrees air making you perspire so much you would think sweat is a valuable commodity – if you want to be successful, it all requires you have to embrace healthy eating habits throughout your everyday life.
That’s not to say all diets are the devil. They aren’t. In fact, there are some super-diets that embrace incredibly beneficial concepts when it comes to eating healthily. But ultimately you want to develop some long-term, healthy and ultra-smart eating habits that work for you and your needs. Yes, when you are in the weight-dropping stage of your training camp, you will want to work with a nutritionist to start a pre-fight-night diet plan. But your everyday chow-down habits need to be as smart and well-thought out as possible.
2. The Dark Art Of Meal Scheduling
I wish I could tell you it was possible to eat like a Muay Thai fighter by just snacking willy-nilly and indulging in meals every time your belly starts to rumble like far-off thunder. But that’s not the case. To eat like a fighter, you need to develop a flawless, epic and hands-down awesome Muay Thai nutrition plan, and that means exercising a bit of forward-thinking in order to plan ahead.
Think of it like grocery shopping. If you head out spontaneously to do your weekly fridge-stocking-thing on an empty stomach, you’re gonna pick up bits you don’t need and crap that’s not good for you (yeah, that’s right Mr Processed Grub). It’s just how it works. But if you head out on a full stomach with a meal plan in hand, you’re going to nail that food-laden adventure, remove the stress of thinking about what you want and need to eat, and make a bunch of smarter, healthier, more conscious decisions. The same goes for scheduling your Muay Thai meals.
The almighty question is: how can a Muay Thai fighter nail the art of meal scheduling?
Well, one of the best things you can do for your nutritional needs as a Muay Thai Fighter is to stock your refrigerator, cupboards, drawers, crooks, nannies and hidey-holes with healthy foods, and that means sticking to the real food rule – if you can’t trace its origins straight back to a specific animal or plant, don’t eat it. Sure, there will be sacrifices and you won’t get to lick your fingers clean of fluorescent-orange dust after eating an entire bag of Doritos, but you will be giving your body what it’s craving, and that’s lean meats, fresh fish, rice, fruits and vegetables, berries, seeds, nuts and whole grains, and in their most natural form too.
Of course, none of us are saints, and even an elite Muay Thai fighter isn’t purists on this front. So instead of trying to be a goodie-two-shoes that envies everyone else’s cheat moments and has bitter outbursts, allow yourself a little dollop of leeway. Essentially, you want to try and limit your intake of processed foods to about 10% of your overall intake. Not only will this take the pressure off you, it will drastically reduce the chances of you falling off the healthy-eating bandwagon.
3. Very Slowly, Dip Your Toe In
Remember how your dear old grandma used to tell you that “slow and steady wins the race” in her sweet, endearing and slightly terrifying voice; well, that wisdom applies to eating like a champ too. Instead of going full-hog and completely overhauling your eating habits overnight, it’s absolutely crucial you do it gradually, little by little, swapping your questionable eating habits for healthier ones one day at a time. “Why?” We hear you bemusing with the sort of scrunched up face that makes you resemble a pug licking wee-wee off a stinging nettle. Because making it a gradual process will stop it feeling like a sacrifice, and that will help you stick with the program.
The other reason to take it steady is to do with your own sanity levels. Like we regaled above, it’s important you indulge your need for nasties every once in a while, and by taking it slow and steady you’ll be much less prone to binge eating.
The point is: you don’t need to try and be perfect in order to eat like a Muay Thai fighter. It’s about balance (if that balance is eating 90% awesomely-healthy foods and 10% guilt-ridden foods). That said, if you want some foodspiration to help you stick to a healthy eating plan – one that will support your Muay Thai training – have a peek at the Ringside Restaurant menu, which is packed full of nutritional goodies that I promise are delicious.
4. Moderation Is A Fighter’s Best Friend
All work and no play makes Jack lose his frickin’ mind, man. Remember that. And remember that moderation is by far one of the most important nutrition tips for a Muay Thai fighter I can ever layout for you. That’s because worshiping the rule of moderation will help you learn the importance of dividing up your meals properly, while simultaneously helping you learn how to better ration your guilty pleasures. The aim of the game is to try and divvy-up your meals throughout the day so that you are eating healthy snacks and square-meals that boast a high nutritional value.
But that’s not all. Another way you can eat like a Muay Thai fighter is to change your meal habits by sitting down to five or six smaller meals a day, instead of three large ones.
To take up the tone of a passive-aggressive teacher: I strongly suggest you gradually fuel your body instead overloading it if you want to get more out of your training and last longer in the ring.
5. All Fighters Practice Mindful Munching
Believe it or not, it’s not just what you eat that plays a part in the proceedings – it’s how you eat too. For example, more and more people are getting back from slogging it out at work, cooking dinner (whether that’s nutritional or not) and then sucking it down into their gut while slumped on the sofa, watching Never Back Down for the hundredth time. The problem is, according to white-coat-wearing scientists, eating while engrossed in Netflix can lead to overeating. Your mind is focused on whether Jake Tyler is going to whoop Ryan McCarthy’s butt when it should be focused on your eating.
It’s called mindless munching and, spoiler alert, it’s not good for you.
Of course, you’re probably doing that human thing of thinking, “I suppose that means family meals are bad too because they involve chatting away, as does dinner with friends,” and I get where you are coming from. But – and it is a pretty big but – eating with others has social and emotional benefits, not to mention it allows you to show off your new healthy eating habits, which is a nice bonus.
In all seriousness, though, distracted eating has become a bit of a modern-day problem. Instead of eating mindfully, people are almost always involved in another activity while they eat – watching television, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush etc. – which means their mind is somewhere else. Don’t succumb to this. It’s much a better idea to concentrate on what types of food you’re putting into your body, how well you are chewing it and how much you are consuming. That’s how a Muay Thai fighter does it.
6. Eat More Of These Foods
The thing with foods is, there is loads of choice, and they all influence your body – and your training – in different ways. What you want to get your teeth around are foods that are low in empty calories and dense in nutritional value (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, that sort of thing). Of course, that’s not much help on its own. It’s like giving you a Rubik’s Cube and telling you to separate the colours. So, to give you a better insight into what a Muay Thai fighter eats, a good diet when training should include:
Perfect Proteins: I’m talking about protein-rich fish like tuna (which is also loaded with omega 3 & 6 fatty acids), chicken, pork, lean beef, white and red turkey meat, eggs, peanut butter, cottage cheese, almonds, beans, and lentils. All of these will help make sure there is enough fuel in the tank.
Quality Carbs: Brown rice is a great example, as are oats, porridge, sweet potatoes, and whole grain anything. These complex carbohydrates are perfect for a Muay Thai fighter in training.
Fantastic Fats: Forget what nonsense you might have otherwise heard, it’s essential you feed your body healthy fats, whether that be avocados, walnuts, almonds, olive oil, olives and/or parmesan. This is because healthy fats are known to boost your energy production, see you better absorb vitamins, and increase the protection of your vital organs, all of which fall under the category of “Pretty Beneficial”.
Godly Greens: Sure, there are some fruits and veggies that have high doses of fructose, such as grapes and pears, which aren’t great for high-intensity training sessions. That said, your diet should contain plenty of kale, bananas, papaya, corn, ginger, cherry tomatoes and fresh, local veg in general. And just so you know, I didn’t use the word “godly” by accident or as an overstatement. They really are a gift from the Muay Thai gods. Not only are they vital for increasing energy and boosting your metabolism, they will help strengthen your blood and respiratory systems too, which is because they are generally filled with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E and K, while sweet veggies are great for anyone that suffers from a spot of sweet tooth because they will help reduce your cravings for Haribo, Maryland cookies and Dairy Milk choc (all of which are impossible tempting).
Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether you are looking to enjoy a pre-workout snack or refuel after a sweat-soaked training session, a Muay Thai fighter needs to try and eat foods that are packed full of protein and complex carbohydrates. Meals that are as nutritious as they are delicious. Foods that are going to keep you pumped up and energised without weighing heavy in your gut. That’s the dream right there. And to help you construct amazing meals using these ingredients, you should definitely check out these Ringside meals and try to recreate them as much as you can:
- Coconut & hemp smoothie bowl topped off with fresh fruit.
- Protein powder and oats soaked in almond milk, complete with a banana.
- Salmon and kale omelette with brown rice.
- Cinnamon porridge with banana and nuts.
- Cottage cheese on a whole grain bagel with banana and chopped almonds.
- Prawn Pad Thai with peanuts and Thai rice noodles.
- Cashew crusted chicken strips with air fried and spicy wild rice salad.
- Chocolate and banana whey protein shake.
- Spicy lentil dahl with cauliflower and nut raita.
- Tart cherry juice.
I know it’s just food, and I know the overused phrase “you are what you eat” has become a sort of numb cliche, but the discipline you show on this front – the clean energy you put in your tank – it’s your secret to success. It’s what will keep you going when training starts, when the fight begins and the energy of the crowd swells. It’s what will give you that stamina to keep pushing forward when the kicks get harder, the crowd gets louder, the bells ring like Big Ben and horns begin going off like cars trying to flee a decaying city. It’s what will keep you flying when knees and elbows become a blur. I can’t stress that enough because, with each passing round – with each minute getting more electric – you’ll be thanking yourself more and more that you learned how to eat like a real Muay Thai fighter. It could well give you the edge you need.
Thanks for reading! For more tips, tricks and bits of advice, follow the Sumalee Ringside Restaurant on Facebook and Instagram, or sign up for our special offers on the Sumalee Boxing Gym website. And for all the recipes mentioned above, feel free to download our new Sumalee Ringside menu.
After 12 years of living in Phuket, Thailand and being involved in the Muay Thai community for all of this time, Lynne Miller has written about her personal journey to and experiences of owning a Muay Thai gym in her book “Fighting for Success’. You can find out more about the book here. It is available to purchase on Amazon.
If you have any specific questions you would like to ask, please do not hesitate to contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
Blog post updated: 28/10/21