Nutrition for boxing can be very different from nutrition for other sports. Everyone needs the right type of carbs, fats, proteins, etc., but I will not go into these general topics. This article will focus on what boxers in particular need for great boxing performance. Whereas nutrition for football can require lots of protein or nutrition for weightlifting can require creatine supplementation, nutrition for boxing can be generally described as simple and high-carb. These are hopefully meaningful in the sense that a boxer’s nutrition does not have to consist of intermittent fasting, carb-loading, etc., but rather, it must consist of a high amount of carbohydrates.
First, a little bit about macros. There are three macronutrients: proteins, carbs, and fats. Much like any sport, what’s important is that the ratio of how many calories a boxer gets from each macronutrient is correct. To determine your macronutrient ratios or “macros,” know that each gram of protein or carbs is 4 calories and each gram of fat is 9 calories. So a boxer who eats 100g of protein, 100g of carbs, and 100g of fat is getting 400 calories from protein, 400 calories from carbs, and 900 calories from fats. He’s getting 1700 calories in total, with 23.5% of that from proteins, 23.5% from carbs, and 53% from fats. His macros are therefore 23.5/23.5/53.
A boxer wants his macros to be around 25/55/20. Of course, this is not set in stone, but I do not recommend going any lower than 20% protein, 10% fats, or 45% carbs. The point is that, to achieve their performance targets and goals, boxers need the most carbs they can get while getting enough of the other macronutrients. For example, if a boxer is trying to gain weight, then the protein ratio may need to be increased to facilitate protein synthesis. Otherwise, losing weight or gaining weight is a matter of changing the total calories eaten and not of decreasing carbs.
Why does a boxer need so many carbs? Much of boxing requires high intensity work. From hitting the bag to sparring in a ring, your muscles need an immediate source of energy to provide the explosiveness necessary to do quality work. If this is not the case for you, you may be wasting your time. The energy provided by carbs, either directly in the form of blood sugar or, indirectly, glycogen (carbs stored in the muscles), is more immediately available than the energy muscles can get from fats. (This has to do with subjects outside the scope of boxing or this article. If interested, the subjects include glucose metabolism, triglyceride metabolism, and ATP production.) Loosely-speaking, boxing is much more similar to sprinting than it is to jogging, so boxers need the right amount of readily available energy, and this is done by having a high-carb diet.
How many total calories boxers should eat depends on the particular boxer’s height, weight, and body fat percentage. There are various calculators online to help one determine how many calories to eat. (If interested, search for TDEE calculators.) However, know that your body ultimately determines how much food it needs and everything else is just an estimate. This goes for how many calories you should supposedly intake and how many calories are supposedly in the food you eat. So the best advice here is to listen to your body and not take these numbers too seriously (they’re still serious, however).
Micronutrients are everything else in food that’s not proteins, carbs, and fats. This includes your vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. Everyone should be getting enough micronutrients to stay healthy and avoid any deficiencies. But, there are two micronutrients which boxers should keep track of. These are sodium and potassium. These two nutrients are particularly important because they are manageable and important electrolytes and help with weight. Electrolytes help the brain and muscles function. The more sodium you have, the slower you’ll more likely be; the less potassium you have, the more cramps you may get. Since you sweat a lot in boxing, you lose plenty of sodium and potassium while training, so it is important to maintain the right amount of these nutrients. Additionally, almost everyone knows that sodium (found in table salt) helps one retain water, contributing to water weight, but only some people know that potassium helps one lose retained water and shed water weight. Besides cutting weight, water weight should be kept in check so that one is not slowed down by excess weight.
Sodium is pretty easy to get because many foods we eat have salt added. Potassium is hard to get enough of because the recommended daily intake of it is 4700mg (for comparison, sodium has a recommended daily intake of 1500mg) and because there isn’t that much of it in regular foods and their regular serving sizes. You’d have to eat about 11 bananas to get a day’s worth of potassium, and if you don’t like bananas, that’s 1100 calories wasted. My advice here is to buy a potassium-based table salt alternative like NoSalt. You’d be able to get more than a day’s worth of potassium in 2 teaspoons of this alternative salt, but DO NOT TAKE IT ALL AT ONCE or you’ll end up with some complications, such as too much potassium in your blood.
Most of the time, boxers may eat whenever they want, except eating a large meal within two hours of training. Cramps and lethargy or sluggishness may occur if you eat a lot close to when you train. Some other things you may want to do include having a high protein meal after working out and eating a small snack before working out. Other things are more uncertain. There is much controversy between eating several meals a day and eating a couple, or even one, meal a day. I once read about a study that might lend support to eating several meals a day, but unfortunately I cannot find it for you to read for yourself. The study took about 20-15 amateur boxers and had one set of them eat several meals a day and the other set eat just a couple of meals. They were given enough food to lose weight at a rate of 2lbs a week. Variables like what and how much they ate were controlled. The results were that the group that ate several meals loss the same amount of weight as the group that ate a couple of meals, but the group that ate several meals did not lose nearly as much muscle.
A boxer’s diet isn’t too complicated. The important things to note are that boxers need the most carbs they can get while staying within their calorie limits and they need to keep their sodium and potassium intake controlled. Failure to do these things guarantees bad quality training.