10 Supplements for Muay Thai Fighters
Show me a fighter who never considered boosting his combative ability with supplements and I’ll show you a fictional being. Enhancing your strength, stamina, speed and power has been haunting the dreams of fighters and trainers alike since ancient times. If history has taught us anything, it’s that people will try all kinds of weird tricks to get an edge, and nowhere does this truth apply more than in the world of competitive combat sports. The good news is that we have progressed from drinking honeyed booze or eating raw animal testicles, which used to be all the rage in antiquity. The bad news is we haven’t gone that far ahead, at least in terms of scientifically sound research.
The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Combined with the fact that supplement manufacturers are not even closely as strictly regulated as the pharmaceutical industry, you can understand how things can get tricky. They know that people want quick and easy results and they know that most of us cannot examine their claims scientifically or consistently enough to call them on their claims. Does that mean that supplements are useless? No. It does mean that you should put down a lot of thought into which supplements actually benefit your performance and which are glorified snake oils.
This guide is compiled in order to help you along the way when picking the right supplement for your training requirements. Requirements vary from fighter to fighter and from sport to sport, but the “holy trinity” of athletic performance reigns supreme: eat well, train smart, sleep tight. No supplement can substitute a balanced diet, a careful training regime and enough restful sleep. First you must make sure you have the ability to perform athletically, and then you can start worrying about enhancing your performance. Supplements only work AFTER you consistently hit all three marks of nutrition, training and rest.
A final note of caution: do your homework before buying supplements. The products we recommend in this guide are chosen based on our personal experience with them and/or the research we have done based on the requirements of this guide. Conducting your own research before gulping down strange concoctions you bought online is absolutely essential.
In a martial art that is all about conditioning and physical resilience, it should come as no surprise that calcium stands at the top of our list. The invaluable role of calcium in maintaining pristine skeletal integrity is well known and thoroughly researched. If you are training intensively in skeleton-straining activities, you can be sure that you’ll need an additional calcium intake to assist your body in strengthening and reconstructing your bone mass.
Moreover, Calcium is in charge of regulating the water balance in your body, and it’s also a strong contributing factor in keeping your metabolism in sync. Calcium’s benefits go far beyond skeletal health, as this mineral is also important for your heart rhythm and your blood clotting ability. The bottom line is that if you inflict punishment on your body (and if you are a Muay Thai fighter, you do) enriching your diet with a balanced supply of calcium can help considerably when it comes to bone density and overall health.
Calcium can be found in buttermilk, milk, kefir, yogurt, and curd.
What we recommend: New Chapter Bone Strength Calcium Supplement. This supplement comes in tablet form. It is natural, non-GMO-plant-based and includes vitamin D3 and K2 in its formula.
Moving on in the trace element-based, fighter-essential supplements, Magnesium appears as a close second to calcium. When it comes to endurance training, you want to have a lot of Magnesium in your system to make sure you can keep up the pace. Magnesium is an electrolyte and as such, it relieves the stress that training puts on your body, especially if you train long hours in hot and humid environments. Aerobic performance depends heavily on your magnesium intake, so expect a drop in your mileage capacity, if you are not taking enough.
Magnesium deficiency is responsible for a multitude of health problems, and a surprising percentage of athletes suffer from lack of Magnesium. If you are experiencing drowsiness, fatigue or you are having a hard time falling asleep, it may be due to a low level of magnesium in your body. Muscle oxygenation and nerve excitation are enhanced by magnesium and since it is not normally found in large concentrations in food, you might want to start taking it in supplement form.
Calcium can be found in oatmeal, brown rice, meat, fish, milk and whole grains.
What we recommend: Doctor Best High Absorption Magnesium Dietary Supplement. This supplement comes in tablet form and it is a non-GMO based, gluten-free, vegan product.
Even if you are sworn supplement abstainer, chances are that at some point in your training you have flirted with the idea of trying out this particular type of muscle building powder. Protein shakes can be found all over the place nowadays, in gyms, camps, and dojos. There’s a good reason for this too. Protein is highly sought after by most athletes, Muay Thai fighters included. If you want to build muscle mass (not bulk) and retain it for many years of training, a protein rich diet is pretty much non-negotiable.
Whey is, according to research, the fastest in terms of absorption times. That’s something you are looking for when training in combat sports since you’ll need to safeguard both your muscular integrity and your endurance levels, both of which suffer if you don’t provide a sufficient protein supply when your body demands it. The truth is that if you already include protein-rich foodstuffs in your diet, you probably need little to no protein supplements. If you train in Thailand, more often than not, your diet will be at least a little wanting in regards to protein.
For most fighters Whey is the way to go when shopping for protein. There are other sources of protein such as casein, but really, if you are not a bodybuilder just stick with Whey.
Food sources of protein include red meat, fish, cheese, eggs, nuts, almonds and legumes.
What we recommend: Optimum Nutrition 100% Whey Gold Standard Protein. This is a high-content, isolate whey protein which provides 24 grams of protein per serving.
You know you are about to get into serious supplement territory when the acronyms start showing up. BCAA is the umbrella term for the leucine, isoleucine and valine amino acids, which are included in the “essential 8” group of amino acids in relation to muscle build-up and sustenance. These amino acids are also essential for catabolism (muscle breakdown) prevention, so you’ll definitely need them to get through rigorous training spans with your musculature unscathed. The more endurance-oriented your workout, the more you should think seriously about supplementing with BCAAs.
The best time to take BCAAs is before or during your training sessions, with their benefits peaking at these times and declining fast after your training sessions. Retaining your muscle mass relies heavily on the amount of BCAAs you are supplying to your body, with intense cardio or cardio/ strength combination workouts exacting the heaviest toll in terms of catabolic severity.
The truth is that if you already have a balanced diet and take protein supplements, taking BCAAs separately may not be necessary, since most protein supplements also include BCAAs in their formula. Also, if you are not training on an insane level and/or in a taxing environment such as Thailand, this particular supplement may not give you the “bang for your buck” you expect since your catabolic risk will not be all that high.
Food sources of BCAAs include turkey breast, peanuts, eggs and egg whites.
What we recommend: Scivation, Xtend BCAAs. This particular amino acid mix stands out thanks to its balanced ratio, zero calories and variety of flavors
Omega 3s get a lot of attention in the supplement business and not without cause. Their effectiveness is well documented and their value has turned them into one of the dietary “buzz words” of our time. Omega 3s are abundant in fish and they offer benefits related to overall health fortification and disease prevention. For Muay Thai fighters specifically, these essential fats’ anti-inflammatory, pain-reducing properties will prove invaluable in the long run. Omega 3s are not produced naturally in the human body, so ingesting enough of them via your diet or through supplements is a must.
The most common commercial form of Omega 3s is liquid fish oil or fish oil capsules. Taking western eating habits into account, supplementing is often the only option for those of us who do not include fish in our diets. In order for the Omega 3s to work as intended however, the correct 1:1 ratio with Omega 6s (found in meat, eggs, etc) must be maintained.
Even though fish oil supplements are among the most thoroughly researched supplements in the market, that does not mean you can skip your homework. What you are looking for is a sufficiently high eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) ratio in the product you are buying. Fish oil takes some time to reward you with noticeable results, so either get on it long term, or don’t bother.
What we recommend: Dr. Tobias Omega 3 Fish Oil. This fish oil supplement provides a good DHA and EPA ratio of 600 mg and 800 mg per serving, which makes its price tag “palatable”; a property not usually associated with fish oil, but very welcome indeed.
Right off the bat let’s address the elephant in the room. Probiotics offer no direct performance boost to a Muay Thai fighter, or any fighter come to that. Does this mean that they are useless? Not by a long shot. Probiotics are used to enhance your body’s beneficial bacteria producing capacity and you may have already come across them if you’ve ever gone through an antibiotic cycle. The kind of bacteria that Probiotics reinforce is endemic to our bodies and essential for a variety of key bodily functions, digestion being the most important one.
Although Probiotics are not directly linked to athletic performance, they are among the most useful supplements you can get your hands on. If you train in Thailand (or another suitably exotic location in terms of cuisine), your digestive track will thank you for providing it with the Probiotic boost it probably requires. Constipation, diarrhea and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) can all be significantly improved by taking them regularly.
Since Probiotics are not fundamental to your fighting performance, supplementing with them is not a top priority. They do provide considerable overall health benefits though, and that’s something worth noting, especially if your gastrointestinal health is not exactly flawless. Digestive health has been associated with the body’s immune system effectiveness, so maintaining a good level of beneficial bacteria population in your body is not always a luxury, especially if your train hard over long periods of time.
Food sources of Probiotics include milk, yogurt, kefir, raw cheese and certain vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi).
What we recommend: Nutrition Essentials Probiotic tablets. This supplement is heavily regulated to ensure quality and provides a fairly high concentration per serving, and all at a reasonable price.
Multivitamins are a controversial supplement at best, and that’s no small part due to the fact that they have been heavily marketed as the “everyman’s-supplement” for years. Actually, the health benefits of vitamin supplements are overrated. Nevertheless, in certain cases, multivitamin supplements are necessary; training as a hardcore Muay Thai fighter being among these cases. And though it is true that non-athletes will not really reap a significant reward by chucking down vitamin pills, fighters most certainly will.
Ideally, you would be meeting all of your body’s vitamin needs through your diet. Seeing as a lot of the agricultural produce that finds its way into your plate is considerably deprived of essential nutrients, your diet alone falls short when it comes to providing the full range of necessary vitamins. If you don’t train, you would be hard pressed to notice, but if you are putting down long hours of gruesome Muay Thai sessions, your body will thank you for those multivitamins.
Multivitamins prove particularly handy when you intensify your training and/or you are reducing calorie intake in order to lose body fat. Make no mistake though; multivitamins will not enhance your performance. What they will do is safeguard against vitamin deficiencies that can tax your athletic performance. If you can devote the time and effort necessary to maintain a rich, well-balanced diet (and you totally should) multivitamins can seem like a luxury. On the other hand, if you are not sure about the quality of the food you are consuming, multivitamins are the way to go.
You can find most vitamins in vegetables and fruits.
What we recommend: Nature’s Way Alive Max-Potency Multivitamins. This brand of multivitamins comes highly recommended and is natural to boot. When it comes to multivitamins, natural mixes are always better than synthetic ones.
Beta Alanine is the beta amino acid responsible for suppressing lactic acid concentration in your muscles, thus granting you the capacity for longer and stronger fights. Beta Alanine provides a notable athletic boost, enhancing your endurance level and strength output, especially during short or medium duration training sessions. Any fighter that favors high intensity training, which builds up lactic acid fast, has a lot to benefit from taking Beta Alanine.
Where this amino acid supplement shines, is during training sessions or athletic activities involving repetitive muscle movements over long periods of time. In Muay Thai in particular you can expect to see a significant increase in your punching power and attack rate, especially as round progress. Although explosive power is not enhanced in a spectacular way (if at all), Beta Alanine will give you the competitive edge you are looking for in your punch-heavy game.
The 3 minute round structure of most standard Muay Thai competitions is ideal for this supplement to show you what it can do. It will allow you to dig deeper into your endurance reservoir, ensuring that you can punch consistently from the first to the last second. If you favor the sudden, flurry-of-blows game every now and again however, perhaps Beta Alanine should not be the first supplement on your list, since it’s often a bit pricey.
You can also get Beta Alanine from poultry, soybeans, lean beef, and fish.
What we recommend: Bulk Supplements Pure Beta Alanine Powder. If you feel that your game needs the edge Beta Alanine can offer, this product is one of the best choices, and it is filler and preservative free. A bit on the pricey side sure, but if you are an avid puncher it is probably well worth the cost.
Green tea extract is among the best fat burning supplements out there. Its benefits are well documented and go well beyond athletic performance. Thanks to its metabolism boosting properties, green tea extract increases fat burning rates, rendering the fatty acids stored in fat tissues readily accessible as an energy source. Additionally, green tea is rich in antioxidants and can assist considerably in body recovery after heavy physical exertion; Muay Thai training included of course.
Green tea extract is not an essential supplement the way protein or omega 3s are. It belongs to the “fine tuning” sector of your athletic ability enhancement and it is mostly recommended for professional fighters or highly committed amateur competitors. If you need to shed off a few extra pounds and be quick about it, pairing high intensity training with green tea extract ingestion is a surefire combo.
There is a tricky part with this supplement however, and that is the green tea’s hefty caffeine content. If you also drink coffee, it’s probably best to opt for one of the decaffeinated products on the market, in order to avoid the jitters and slow down your tolerance build-up to caffeine (which offers a significant athletic boost of its own).
What we recommend: Zhou Nutrition Green Tea Extract. This is a product that has withstood the test of time and it has gained a lot of popularity. Plus it’s decaffeinated which will make for a much smoother ride if you take it regularly.
Last but not least on the list stands Melatonin, the naturally produced hormone responsible for inducing sleep (among other things). Melatonin supplementation is a more complex endeavor than most, because it requires more precise regulation. Taking too much may hinder your body’s own ability to produce it, so if you don’t experience any of the telltale symptoms of Melatonin deficiency, perhaps you should skip it altogether. As a hormonal treatment, it is actually useful when it’s needed and not preemptively.
If you train very intensively, especially during the evening, your natural Melatonin production decreases significantly and you may start to experience sleep problems. In addition to exercise, sunlight has been identified as one of the major inhibitors of Melatonin production, so if after long training sessions under natural light, you still have a tough time dozing off, you might an indication of low Melatonin levels.
Chronic fatigue and low energy are telltale signs of too little Melatonin in your system, and if left unaddressed, it can lead to sleep disorders, anxiety, irritability and depression. If you experience none of the above, you probably don’t need Melatonin supplements. If you do, make sure you keep your Melatonin ingestion mainly occasional and, if you can, have a doctor guide you through it.
Melatonin can be found in certain foodstuffs including pineapples, bananas, rice, tomatoes, barely, cherries and oats.
What we recommend: Natrol Melatonin. This melatonin supplement comes in fast dissolve and time release formulas, depending on your needs. Also, it’s vegetarian and can be swallowed without water.