When you look back and think about all of the highlights in the world of sports throughout 2016, Conor McGregor might be among the names that cross your mind. Between his incredible ability in the octagon and his outspoken voice, McGregor has been one of the most relevant athletes of the year.
The current UFC Featherweight Champion of the World hopes to end 2016 on a high note and make history when he faces Eddie Alvarez on Nov. 12 for the World Lightweight title in the main event of UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden.
So how does an elite MMA champion prepare for a mega-fight of this magnitude? I had the opportunity to speak with McGregor on his nutrition, training and supplementation strategies, which allow him to be at his best on fight night.
What are the differences in your diet when you’re preparing for a fight?
I try to stay consistent with my diet whether I’m preparing for a fight or not. I need to stay disciplined. When I was getting up to 170 the first time, I let a bit of that go. I was eating everything—steaks every day, two breakfasts. I allowed myself sweets. That’s not usually part of a diet pre-fight. It affected my energy and affected the fight. For my last fight, also at 170, I stuck with what has always worked. I eat lots of high quality meat—not so much red meat this time, more salmon, other fish and chicken. Lots of vegetables and a few healthy carbs. Even at the higher weights, it’s always about staying lean. Muscle holds a lot of water; it’s easier to cut when my body is lean.
What kinds of foods do you cut out as you get closer to fight day?
I follow the instructions of my nutrition team to cut. It’s a science and they are the experts—kind of like fueling a race car, they figure out how to keep my machine fueled. The focus is not necessarily totally cutting out specific foods. It’s a lot about timing. Based on where I am pre-fight and in cutting, they might cut down on carbs and up the healthy fats. Just pre-fight, when we’re cutting back on water, I might have high fiber fruit. I’ve found, especially with my current team, that it’s not extreme elimination of certain things. It’s a system.
Do you follow any specific protocol when choosing your supplements so that you are confident you won’t fail any drug tests like other notable fighters have recently?
I try to be really cautious about everything I put in my body—even the foods I eat. And the primary source of nutrition is food. They call them supplements because they’re meant to “supplement” your already-healthy diet. I’ll only take supplements from a brand I trust, one that’s tested and certified for sport. You can’t cut corners in this game, so I only use the best.
Why do you prefer BSN supplements over other brands?
I like the BSN brand; our thinking aligns. We’re both about breaking barriers. The products work for me. The new pre-workout [N.O.-XPLODE XE EDGE] provides me with good energy and focus for hard training. The Syntha-6 EDGE protein powder is high-quality protein that’s formulated without a lot of carbs or fat, which is important when you’re trying to stay lean like I am. And the flavors are really good. I have a sweet tooth, and when you’re training and can’t have the cookies and cakes, a good-tasting protein shake is your sweets.
Does your supplement plan change at all post-fight?
Protein is really important in my diet, and it’s good for muscle recovery, which is good post-fight and that intense training. Protein is part of my supplement plan pretty regularly. Other things, like a pre-workout, is really more on a day-to-day basis depending on what kind of training I’m doing.
How many hours a day do you commit to training?
I commit everything to training. All the time. Regimen doesn’t really work for me, so it’s hard to say that I do a certain number of hours every day and the like. It’s a lifestyle, not a routine. I train when I feel like training—sometimes that means I can’t sleep in the middle of the night and I get up and go to the gym. Sometimes I don’t want to be in the gym, and if my mind isn’t in it, I’m not going to learn anything in my time there and I don’t want to risk injury. I like to be 100 percent focused when I’m training. This last fight, we were a bit more regular with both afternoon and evening sessions.
Is your focus solely on training on the mat or do you also follow a weight training program?
My training is really varied. In addition to working in different fight styles like taekwondo, wrestling, boxing, capoeira, I practice yoga. I swim. I ‘m about movement, balance and power. Strength is important, but I don’t train on machines for strength. Machines don’t use machines. I mostly train for strength with my own body weight. I use kettlebells for added weight in Squats and balancing exercises.
Can you share a brief summary of what a training day is like for you as you prepare for a fight?
I wake up, I drink water, I stretch to loosen up. And I move throughout the day. A couple of days a week I spar—five-minute rounds with opponents. I work different fighting styles, use the bags. I do mat work and strength training with bodyweight moves. Practice yoga. Work on cardio for stamina. Variety is the best way. For me, a set kind of regimen doesn’t work.
Do you have any advice for people who are looking to embark on an MMA career?
If you really love the sport, you have to make it your life. Dedicate yourself to it completely. Train hard and train in a variety of styles. And remember that mental toughness is just as important as the physical.