UFC coach Mike Dolce has spent the last 20 years getting his fighters’ bodies ready for the Octagon. He has coached more than 100 MMA athletes, including greats like Chael Sonnen, Johny Hendricks, Thiago Alves, and Vitor Belfort. But his program isn’t about just refining grappling technique or striking power, it’s more elemental, stressing eating right and overall fitness. “One of the major points of differentiation between what I do and other coaches do are the nutrition and lifestyle changes,” Dolce says. “That’s what I hang my hat on.”
He’s turned his philosophy in to a comprehensive at-home program, UFC Fit, and he offers tips that anyone can use to get ripped, even if you don’t plan on grounding and pounding someone anytime soon.
1. Eat real food
While other programs might advocate pills and powders as a way to get vital nutrients, Dolce encourages his fighters to pass up processed eats for the real deal. “Supplements can be included down the road once you’ve already been eating real, whole foods.” Sounds simple, but which foods are “real”? Anything that comes from the earth (think fruits, vegetables, animal protein). To determine how real or processed your food is, don’t bother looking at the protein, fat, and calories on the nutrition facts—go straight for the paragraph of ingredients, Dolce says. “If a four-year-old cannot pronounce or define one of the food sources in your product, do not eat it.”
“A good rule: After eating a meal, I should be able to push myself from the table and be active immediately. If you finish a meal and feel like you need to just sit, you’ve overeaten.”
2. Eat every two to four hours
Forgo big meals for several smaller ones. “We know we need oxygen, and to get it we need to breathe regularly throughout the day. Food follows the same principle,” Dolce says. Eating at consistent intervals ensures you have adequate fuel in your body to repair and rebuild muscle, helps you sustain high energy levels, and works to speed metabolism, according to Dolce. “Sumo wrestlers gain weight by fasting and then gorging themselves one or two times a day,” Dolce explains. “Your body covets the things it’s not getting enough of, therefore eating light and nutritious meals often throughout the day will keep your metabolism burning clean and lean.”
3. Learn how to eat until you’re satisfied—not until you’re full
Good news: Dolce’s UFC fighters don’t count calories. But you know that whole eat-your-self-into-a-food-coma thing? It’s gotta stop. “A good rule that I keep, after eating a meal, I should be able to push myself from the table and be active immediately,” Dolce says. “If you finish a meal and feel like you need to just sit, you’ve overeaten.” He acknowledges that this is something that takes time to build, but by eating slowly you will begin to learn to stop overeating.
4. Train your brain
Want the discipline of a UFC fighter? Learn to tell yourself ‘no.’ Dolce, formerly 282 pounds and a self-described chocolate-lover, is no stranger to temptation, but he’s largely broken himself of his sugar-seeking ways. Case in point: He remembers buying a Kit-Kat bar (his favorite) at the start of an eight-week training camp one year. “I put it on my bedside table and went to shower, intending to come back and eat it. “Then I thought, I could eat this now, or I could choose to wait until tomorrow,” he recalls. For eight weeks of camp that chocolate bar was the first thing he saw in the morning and last thing he saw before he went to bed, but he never touched it. “Every time I said ‘no,’ I became accountable. That Kit-Kat gave me the strength to lead the life I live now,” he says.
5. Make an appointment with your bed
“Sleep is the most overlooked part of fitness—especially when it comes to the cosmetic aspect,” Dolce says. As we sleep, our bodies secrete growth hormone ,which builds and repairs muscle. If you don’t sleep enough, that muscle mass breaks down. Additionally, sleep deprivation can throw off your internal clock—and your eating habits. “In a recent study, sleep researches from the University of Colorado found that people who sleep less tend to eat more calories than their well-rested counterparts,” Dolce says.
You’ll achieve optimal rest with between six to nine hours of z’s. “I thrive off of nine hours of sleep a night. A lot of people say they’re too busy [to get that much sleep]. That’s B.S. I don’t know anyone busier than I am,” Dolce says. “I show up to my bed just like it’s my job.”
6. Ditch dairy
With the exception of the occasional Greek yogurt or small amount of cheese, Dolce steers clear of cow’s milk. Lactose can be difficult to digest, and the amount of hormones pumped into milk won’t do you any favors either, Dolce says.
7. Train the movement—not the muscle
Instead of racking up reps at the gym, Dolce encourages “functional fitness”—working your body using the same multi-plane movements you’ll use in the real world. “UFC fighters aren’t just standing at the mirror squeezing a bicep. Almost every exercise is a full-body movement,” Dolce says.
A great example: ninja jumps. “You’re working legs, glutes, abs, and keeping heart rate sky high.” To do it, start in a neutral position with your hands at eye level and elbows tucked into your torso. Jump as high as you can, brining your knees to hip level. As you land, soften your knees to prevent injury. Try to do 10.
8. Become a one-percenter
Challenge yourself, but also be realistic with your goals. Instead of attempting to do everything perfectly, strive to get just one percent better each day, Dolce says. “If you do day one of the program and don’t finish every single rep of every exercise, it’s okay. Just try to make positive progress. Each day I try to do just one exercise better.”
9. Drink water
UFC athletes typically keep water close at hand—an elite fighter might lose up to six pounds of water in 60-minute training session. Use the recommended eight 8-ounce glasses as a baseline, but you will most likely need to consume even more to replenish the fluids you lose when you sweat. If you find water bland, crush a few fresh fruits and add them to your water bottle, Dolce suggests. “A hydrated body is an energized body.”
10. Try periodization training
The human body goes through adaptation phases every three weeks, Dolce says, meaning, you’ve got to keep challenging your body in new ways in order to continue to see growth (not to mention, to avoid getting bored).
For that reason, UFC Fit is broken up into four three-week cycles. In the first segment trainees work on establishing a fitness base and flexibility. Next explosive full-body moves help increase cardio vascular output. The third phase focuses on muscle-specific exercises to tone the body. “The first three phases prepare you for UFC-style, non-stop, in-your-face training of the fourth,” Dolce says, describing the final workouts, which mimic competition.
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