BJJ and Weight Loss, How Can It Help?
In case you haven’t guessed, this blog is directed at those who are trying to lose weight. If your BJJ practice is resulting in excessive weight loss, I’m not in a position to help you. I’m sorry…and also a bit jealous.
Along with self-defense, one of the primary reasons people get into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is because they want to get in shape.
If these folks are like me, they don’t care for static exercises like jogging or weight lifting and prefer activities that are more purposeful.
And Jiu Jitsu is a fantastic choice. The activity is tied to a purpose: self-defense. And rolling is a fantastic combination of cardio and resistance training. A high intensity, five minute roll will get even the most fit practitioners huffing and puffing. Plus, the struggle of moving a resisting teammate into the position you want them to be in will build muscle—which, in turn, burns more calories.
But now for the bad news: BJJ alone isn’t enough.
As with any weight loss plan, exercise alone won’t shave off the excess pounds. The scientific research is clear: calorie restriction is a more important factor in weight loss than exercise.
In short, for most of us who have jobs and responsibilities, there aren’t enough hours in the day for us to lose weight solely through exercise. We have to also deal with our diets.
When I started training BJJ, I had the naïve hope that BJJ alone would help me shed my excess pounds. Sadly, though, a year went by without any significant weight loss.
I had to commit to a change in diet—along with continued training in BJJ—to start seeing results.
For those who are looking to also shed pounds, here’s what I did. I don’t guarantee it’ll work for anyone else. And some of the things I did are in direct contrast to expert advice. But maybe they’ll help someone else.
First off, even though experts say NOT to weigh yourself every day, my advice is to check your weight every single morning. Experts say this is bad for your morale. But for me, it was too easy to get off track. That appointment with the scale every single morning served as an early intervention to stop me my efforts from going off the rails.
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I’d suggest weighing yourself at the same time each day. And for most people the best time is immediately after getting out of bed in the morning and before breakfast. That way, every reading you take is under the same conditions, resulting in an accurate assessment of your progress.
The second piece of advice I have to offer did come from my doctor. Whenever possible, he told me, NEVER eat after 7:00 pm. The last thing you want is to fill yourself full of calories right before you enter your most in-active period of the day.
I’m not going to lie to you. This is HARD, especially if you have a love of late-night snacking. It means you will sometimes go to bed with a growling stomach. Hang in there; the hunger pangs will pass.
I’ve actually experimented with this and I’m convinced it’s accurate advice. If I restrict myself to 1700 calories for the day but I consume most of those calories late in the day, I won’t lose as much weight as if I consumed those calories earlier in the day.
This realization has also encouraged me to re-structure my meals. Whenever possible, I make lunch the biggest meal of the day. I have a modest breakfast, a good lunch, and then a modest dinner. That way, I’m full during the day and I have several hours of daylight and activity to burn off those calories.
The third thing I’ve done to lose weight is to pay more attention to what I’m eating. Most people agree that a higher-protein diet is most helpful for weight loss. And for us Jiu Jiteros, we don’t want to lose muscle, so protein keeps our muscles fed and happy.
But let’s be clear about a few things. A high-protein diet is not permission to eat a plate-sized ribeye at every meal. A good steak also contains a whole lot of fat. You’d be better off looking out for other sources of proteins, and one of the most recommended is nuts. They offer lots of protein but won’t make your LDL, or bad cholesterol, go through the roof.
On the subject of protein, I need to emphasize something else. We’re not talking about an all-protein diet. Your body needs a diet that is balanced. You want to tip the balance towards proteins, but you shouldn’t eliminate carbohydrates or fats completely.
I learned this the hard way. On days when I restricted my carb intake too much, I found myself getting moody, agitated, and fatigued.
When focusing on what you eat, I’d also discourage you from following a fad diet. They are unnecessarily complicated and usually make unreasonable promises.
When trying to lose weight, it’s really a simple matter: you have to consume less calories than you burn.
That’s it. It doesn’t take a whole book to explain the logic of dieting, so steer clear of diets that feel the need to be long-winded.
Usually, in all that long-winded talk, those diets will make false promises about losing weight without being hungry.
That’s a lie. You’re going to be hungry. Accept it. Embrace it. After all, if you’re training in BJJ, you’ve already learned to accept sore muscles and some degree of discomfort. This is just another kind of discomfort you need to accept.
Most of us would walk away from a BJJ academy that didn’t push us hard enough to feel some level of soreness or aches the next day. We’d correctly label that academy a McDojo and move on to find a legitimate school. When it comes to BJJ, we know that gains come with pains.
Diets are the same way. You’re going to feel some discomfort.
Finally, my last piece of advice is to have patience. Lots of fad diets promise that “the pounds will just melt away.”
They won’t. It’ll take time. And sometimes, just as in BJJ, sometimes you’ll hit plateaus where it seems like you just can’t drop past a certain weight. The key is to keep at it. Maintain those good eating habits, keep checking the scale, and keep training BJJ. Eventually, the numbers on the scale will start to drop again.
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