Designing supplements for fight sports athletes requires some specialization, expert argues

By Adi Menayang

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images / Swilmor
Getty Images / Swilmor

Related tags Sports nutrition athletes

The weight class system in fight sports give athletes less room for error when it comes to nutrition—and there’s big opportunity for the supplement space in this arena.
Tony Ricci, Assistant Professor- Exercise Physiology & Nutrition, LIU Brooklyn

“Other sports give the athlete the opportunity to consume very large amounts of calories to ensure their nutrient intake is optimal or that it will be met,”​ Tony Ricci, a certified sports nutritionist, fight sports performance coach, and assistant professor of exercise biochemistry and nutrition at Long Island University Brooklyn told NutraIngredients-USA.

“In fight sports, because we have to keep an eye on the athlete’s weight, nutrition becomes even more important because we have a restricted amount of calories,” ​he said. Despite calorie restrictions, fight athletes have the same nutrient demands as other athletes in sports like, say, football, soccer, or hockey, he added.


Ricci has around 20 years of experience as a performance coach for fight athletes, coaching world champions in sports ranging from MMA to kickboxing to jiu-jitsu. A performance coach is not only responsible in coaching athletes to increase strength—he or she is also in charge of helping athletes improving all aspects of human physiology.

“It’s not just about making athletes stronger, it’s also about making them mobile, flexible, and having excellent cardio respiratory conditioning,” ​he said.

“Inclusive in performance is also bioenergetics, meaning utilization of the energy system and optimizing nutrition and supplementation. In better words, performance is very comprehensive. Every aspect of human physiology that we can optimize, so they can perform better as a fighter, we seek to optimize that, that’s the goal.”

Greater reliance on supplements

Ricci noted that, because of calorie restriction, “we don’t have the opportunity to eat as much food as the other athletes, and arguably we have a greater reliance on supplements and proper supplementation.”

Supplements enable athletes to get nutrients and molecular compounds that can enhance performance without significant caloric value, he said.

“Supplements become very, very important for performance and recovery.”

What kind of supplements would best benefit fight athletes?

Ricci will be speaking at NutraIngredients-USA’s inaugural Sports Nutrition Summit in San Diego on Jan. 23-24.​, focusing on the unique qualities of nutrition and supplementation for fight sports.

“We have to be very strategic in how many calories we can take in if we’re going to make the desired weight class. And while we’re taking those calories in, our energy demands are no less than that of an American football player, basketball player, baseball, hockey, soccer.”

In addition, “We’ll talk about how we utilize food to optimize their performance even when restricted,” ​he said.

“We’ll also talk about why supplements can be so important to fight sport athletes, which supplements can be helpful for fight sport athletes,and the caveats, if you will, of supplements for fight sports athletes.”

Interested in Sports Nutrition?


The inaugural NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit​, in association with the International Society of Sports Nutrition, will bring together leading scientists, brands and retailers, market analysts, and innovators in a unique, market-leading face-to-face event. Register now to make sure you are there!

The key themes of this event include: 

- The “size of the prize”
- The power and importance of social media
- Positioning and differentiation
- Sports nutrition and the military - product use survey data and enhancing the performance of Warfighters
- The State of the Science: Sports, fitness and exercise Nutrition
- Sports Nutrition products and Elite Athletes 
- Alphabet soup: Everything brands need to know about GMPs, NDIs, AERs, DASCA, SARMs…
- Bacterial boosts – The microbiome and sports
- Personalization and the digital revolution
- Nootropics & sports nutrition

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