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Carbohydrates are needed for energy during training and competition. But boxers have somewhat of a love-hate relationship with them. Some boxers totally cut them out and some embrace them for ultimate training performance.

Carbs are the main fuel source used for high intensity exercise. Eating carbohydrates at strategic times throughout the day, phase of your camp as well as before a fight is essential to perform at high intensity.

In this article, sport scientist and nutritional consultant Lee Rickards will share the key facts that you need to know to help fuel your performance.

In brief

  • The key role of carbohydrates is to provide energy.
  • Carbohydrates are often restricted when making weight.
  • This makes it important to carefully choose the quality, quantity and the timing of intake.

Main roles of carbohydrates

The main role of carbohydrates is  to serve as fuel, particularly during high-intensity exercise.

Carbohydrates are absorbed in the small intestine and either become available as an energy source for metabolism, form glycogen (stored carbohydrate) in the liver and muscle or convert to fatty acids if all liver and muscle glycogen stores are full.

So in a nut shell, you either use the carbs wisely or store it as fat.

So how do we use carbohydrates appropriately?

Plan your carb intake

Planning your carbohydrate intake relative to your training load will help you perform to your best in the gym, and limit the potential for fat storage.

When should I eat more carbs?

Generally, boxers should consume higher amounts of carbohydrates on high-intensity and high-volume training days (although there are several instances when this might not be preferable, such as when losing weight or training carbohydrate restricted).

You  might train twice a day, so consuming carbohydrates following the first session is vital for glycogen replenishment so that you’re ready for the second session later in the day.

When should I eat less carbs?

Short and low intensity training sessions (e.g. light jog, recovery sessions or light skipping) might not use much of your carbohydrate stores, so if you eat the same amount of carbs as on a high training load day you risk storing fat. With this in mind, cut your carbohydrate intake when you’re not training as hard.

If you limit carbs before and after exercise there is some evidence to suggest that fatty acids will be used as an energy source which might be a key component in training adaptation.

Carbohydrate intake also needs to be lower on rest days because of a lower energy expenditure compared to training days.

Want to learn more about nutrition for weight making and boxing performance? 

What carbs should boxers eat?


Have you heard of the phrase a carb is a carb or flexible dieting ?

Yes that’s right many people now think that eating 50g of carbs in the form of coco cola is the same as eating 50g of carbs from a sweet potato. However, carbohydrates are commonly scaled on glycaemic index (GI), this determines how quickly carbohydrates are absorbed and transformed into glycogen.

A boxers performance and weight loss program can be improved by appropriately structuring low and high GI food intake.

In Brief

  • A boxer should carefully choose the timing and quantity of foods of different GI status, High vs. Low.
  • Fruit, grains, beans and wholemeal products are Low GI foods that are released at a slower rate
  • White bread, pasta and potatoes are High GI foods that are released at a higher rate.

Why Low GI?

During dieting it is highly important than you have no micronutrient deficiency’s which can lead to impaired immunity and reduced physical performance.

Whole food sources of carbohydrates consisting of potatoes, rice, oats, fruit and whole wheat products contain high amounts of micronutrients as well as being high in fibre.

Carbohydrates containing dietary fibre minimize surges in blood glucose which will result in less of an insulin spike compared to low fibre processed starches.

  • Low GI Examples – Potato/ Oats eaten the night before or 3-4 hours prior to high intensity interval training will allow you sustained energy throughout the session whilst still allowing a high rate of fatty acid mobilization.

Why High GI?

Although low GI foods are preferred when ‘making weight’, some periods of a training camp require the use of high GI carbohydrates for example after a weigh in with a few hours before a fight.

Due to the low fibre content of the high GI carbohydrates this will result in less gastric distress whilst fighting compared to low GI carbohydrates.

  • High GI Examples – Potato/Pasta prior to intense sparring or competition are more likely to be more appropriate to give you fast release energy without risking gastric stress.


Nutrient Timing

We have already established the importance of structuring your carbohydrate intake effectively to successfully fuel performance and lose weight, and Nutrient Timing plays a massive role.

Nutrient timing is important to ensure that you are can adapt to the training you have performed. That’s why many supplements and protein shakes are common in sports as they help aid recovery.

Consuming high carbohydrates after high intensity glycogen depleting exercise will ensure that you re-synthesize muscle glycogen as well as fuel your immune system due to high intensity exercise down regulating your immune system.

Consuming low carbohydrates pre and 3 hours post low intensity exercise will allow high rates of fat oxidation (fat been used as energy) as well as contributing to molecular signalling.

Top Tips For Effective Timing

All nutritional interventions should be individualised, so you are not going to get all the answers in a single web article.

However, here are some useful tips that we have abstracted from the literature

  • Eat a low carbohydrate or non carbohydrate meal 0-20g before performing low intensity cardio work such as jogging and biking as well as weight training and technique work due to these types of exercise been non glycogen depleting.
  • Eat a moderate carbohydrate meal 20-40g before boxing training such as bag and pads work and after weight training due to enhanced glut 4 transportation of carbohydrate to muscle glycogen.
  • Eate a high carbohydrate meal 40-60g before performing high intensity interval training and sparring to fuel the vigorous exercise that you are going to perform later on.

Nutrition Handbook

Are you wanting to lose body fat and look awesome? Wanting to fuel performance and enhance your recovery?

Are you wanting direction with your diet and achieve optimal results?

If you answer YES! Then the Boxing Science Nutrition Handbook is ideal for you.

The Nutrition Handbook is available as part of the Train Like a Champion programme, available to Boxing Science Train Like a Champion members. 

Click here to learn more about becoming a Train Like a Champion member.

The Nutrition Handbook is one of five handbooks that complement each other to put together YOUR OWN world class sport science program, so you can now can train the Boxing Science way ANY TIME, ANY PLACE!

This 25-page handbook offers guidance on the types of food boxers should eat and when to make the weight safely and effectively. We also provide hydration, fuelling and recovery strategies so you achieve the optimal results session by session.

We provide a TAILORED 3 phase diet plan to YOUR weight category that will help you reduce body fat and maintain muscle mass so that you become fitter, leaner and stronger than ever.


Why Is Nutrition Important?

It is well known that boxing is a weight category sport, and athletes aim to achieve the lowest body mass possible in order to ‘be big at the weight’ to gain an advantage over their opponents.

To gain this advantage, you want to have optimal body composition. That means reduced body fat and maintenance of muscle mass, this is most likely to be achieved with a structured nutrition plan.

Most nutrition plans require an athlete to be in a calorie deficit, this means training performance and recovery rates may be impaired. Our world-class nutrition plan will manage the timing and type of foods to help you fuel for training and refuel for optimal recovery.

Click here to learn more about the Train Like a Champion membership to access our nutrition plan.