If you’ve ever boxed, or merely watched the Rocky series, you know how intensely energy-zapping and calorie-torching the sport can be. It’s one of the best types of fitness out there. It boosts the strength of your entire body, from your muscles to your cardiovascular system. It also relieves a ton of stress (just imagine punching a boxing bag after a rough day at work). But in order to sustain the level of energy required for a sweat-inducing, heart-pumping total-body workout, you need to fuel yourself with the right food. We talked to the pros who teach the sport for a living to find out what they eat before boxing and after their workouts to keep their energy flowing all day.
Balanced meals are key.
First things first. All the instructors we interviewed say that balanced meals are the key to sustainable energy before and after a workout. You’ll want an equal balance of fat, protein, and carbs (yes, carbs!). Your body needs carbohydrates if you want to perform at your best. Always ensure you have some in your diet, explains Rob Jackson, England level 1 certified boxing coach, personal trainer, and precision nutrition coach. “There are a growing number of people sticking to extremely low-carb diets, which will not help your performance or recovery.”
If you’re exercising in the morning eating scrambled eggs is the way to go. It’s a great way to incorporate all three nutrients—fat, protein, and carbs—into your pre-workout meal. This is Jackson’s go-to about three to four hours before a boxing session. He adds spinach and tomatoes and enjoys his eggs with a side of toast. “The protein from the eggs will be in your system ready to repair your muscles after your session. The carbs and fats will also be available for use as energy,” he says.
The reason Jackson makes sure to enjoy this meal about three hours before his workout is to give his body time to digest and absorb the food. “If I’m getting hungry before my training session, I will have a piece of fruit like an apple or banana around 30-45 minutes before I start,” he adds. “This gives me a natural sugar boost for sustaining a higher intensity during the workout.”
Make use of plant-based proteins.
If you’re a vegan, there are still tons of plant-based options to eat before boxing that can provide you with enough energy to perform well during your boxing class. “Despite the common belief that animal protein is the ideal source of protein for building muscle, some plant-based proteins actually contain more protein per ounce,” explains Matthew Reicher, boxing instructor at NY Sports Science Lab. “Spirulina [a microalgae], for example, is not only rich in nutrients but also contains the highest protein percentage of all protein sources.”
Research backs up his theory. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dietary protein derived from plant sources builds muscles even better than protein from meat sources. “I definitely recommend a plant-based diet to my fighters. This is an excellent way to pack in the nutrients that our body needs while avoiding the inflammation triggered by meat-based proteins,” says Reicher. He felt the difference when he changed his own diet. “I used to eat whenever and whatever I could and always felt bloated. My body ached, and I felt tired all the time.”
Eat for optimal recovery.
After a session, the same standards ring true. A healthy balance of carbs, fat, and protein is key to replenishing the muscles, replacing calories lost, and fighting cell damage. Mike Lee, the undefeated light heavyweight champion boxer, focuses more on lean protein and leafy greens. He places less emphasis on complex carbohydrates when it comes to post-workout. This not only helps with muscle repair, but it also cuts down hunger, too.
An example of a meal he’d consume after a boxing session is chicken tacos with black beans, guacamole, and shredded kale in corn tortillas. Another idea is a kale or spinach salad with chicken, quinoa, and avocado. “I’ll have this with sea salt for electrolytes. I’ll also drink at least 24 ounces of water with the meal,” Lee says. “I try to have this as soon after the session as possible to quickly replace the calories I’ve expended and facilitate recovery, given that I’ll have another session in the afternoon.”
When Jackson is tight on time after a boxing session, he relies on a shake made with all-natural vegan protein powder, water, banana, and peanut butter. Again, this mix provides that healthy combo of protein, fat, and carbs. “I’m a believer in keeping things simple and natural. There is no miracle pre-workout or protein shake which will transform your body,” he says. “Try to find the best-quality real food you can. That means organic wherever possible and preferably locally sourced rather than from another country.”