Over 40 Grapplers: Physical Conditioning, Nutrition, and Recovery

As I have recently continued my journey into Jiu Jitsu as an over 40 athlete, I felt it worthy and necessary to share some crucial aspects about my experience so that others may benefit. So, do you always feel wiped out after Jiu Jitsu? Always sore the next day and barely able to perform? Let’s examine and explore some of the factors that cause every newbie to be wiped out after Jiu Jitsu (both during, between, and after the rounds).

Let us start with why you tire out during the rounds:

Reason 1: Physical Conditioning

Although it is not the most important, we will start with this one to help build a point for the later factors. Physical conditioning is obviously an important factor when sparring, and a few points have to be taken into account. First of all, Jiu Jitsu is a much harder sport to prepare physically for. That is because it is a sport that uses all the available energy systems (aerobic, anaerobic, lactic, and alactic) in different proportions all the time, depending on your opponent, depending on your used techniques, etc.

Considering a basic 5 minute round, it usually is aerobic for the most part but with short bursts of power. So what can we conclude from this? First of all, pace yourself. It doesn’t matter what your leveling of conditioning is, if you go all out intensity-wise for 5 minutes, you will gas out (there are very few elite competitors who can keep this intensity for 5 minutes). Pace yourself, only use bursts of power when you need to (e.g., a takedown, sweep, etc).

The second point to take away is that you should find time to better your physical conditioning. Increasing your strength means you will use less energy to move the same weight as before. Increase your power and endurance so that you can repeat explosive efforts for longer period of times. Increase your aerobic capacity so that you can maintain a higher pace overall. These factors all help and will add up to improving your overall sparring quality.

Reason 2: Technical Inefficiency

Another element that will cause you to tire out is performing your techniques inefficiently. What does that mean? Well, the more you perform a move, the more your body learns that move and performs it with less energy expended.

This is especially important for transitions. If you just learned a transition, although you may be able to perform it fast, doing so will certainly consume more energy out of you than someone who drilled that move 100 times.

Reason 3: Using Strength and Power to Cover Up for Technique

You remember that time where you got the Kimura grip and you just pulled and pried away on the arm with all your strength to break the grip? That is one example of situation where you use your physical attributes to overcome the lack of technical knowledge.

Although you may pull it off, it usually comes at a much higher energy expense than if you would know how to break the grip from a technical point of view. Think armbar spider web position as well, it’s the same situation.

But this doesn’t only happen with submissions. It happens with sweeps too and pretty much every available technique. Whenever you try to muscle your way through, it will mean wasted energy, and that will eventually contribute to you gasing out and being tired.

Now that we’ve got that covered, when we’re talking about recovering between rounds, it actually is pretty simple. First of all, it matters how much effort you spent in the last round (which ties with the previously presented points).

Second, it’s obviously the rest time you’re usually given. At most gyms it’s usually 1 minute between rounds. Third of all, your aerobic system is the one that affects your recovery between rounds the most. The better your aerobic system is developed, the faster your heart rate will go down and your muscles will recover.

If we’re talking about recovering after the workout in order to not feel wiped out, there are multiple points here as well to consider:

Reason 4: Post Workout Nutrition

A very important factor in recovering from your workouts is the post workout nutrition (as well as your nutrition overall).

A lot of people only eat protein after training. Eating only protein after a workout will make the body use that protein for fuel instead of repairing muscle tissues. It’s usually a good idea to add some carbohydrates as well in your post workout meal, as they will replenish your glycogen stores in the muscle and keep protein from being used as fuel.

When it comes to supplementing, a vitamin & mineral supplement along with some creatine will definitely speed up recovery. Be careful however as creatine will result in water retention and that will increase your body weight (it’s good for your health but bad if you want to stay in the same weight class for competing).

  • A huge aspect in recovery is obviously sleep, as it helps recover both your central nervous system and your muscles, not to mention the importance it has for optimal hormonal balance. Look to get an 8 hour sleep per night (uninterrupted if possible). If for some reason you are going through a period in your life where your sleep time is severely limited by other responsibilities, look to dial down training volume.
  • Training volume and intensity. These are 2 variables that can be manipulated easily and will make a very big difference in your recovery. First of all look at your training volume. How often do you train grappling each week? How intense? How many sparring rounds or time you spend sparring? How many strength sessions you do? How many cardio sessions you do? How intense are these? If you are feeling under recovered, dial down on the sessions that are the most intense, at least for a while. Usually while strength is good for you, strength training is especially taxing as well if you’re not on point with your nutrition and sleep. If you’re doing 3 sessions per week, cut down to one or two for a while, for example. If you feel like you’re sparring too much, dial down on the sparring and add some drills. Cardio (e.g., light conditioning training) is usually easier on the body, however if you go the circuit route, be careful as those are taxing as well. Generally, you’ll want to cut from the strength and conditioning side, rather than Jiu Jitsu. The basic norm is that doing Jiu Jitsu will get you better at Jiu Jitsu faster than anything else, although conditioning is important as well.

Let’s move on to smart training and lifestyle tips for the over 40 grappler. Back in the day not too long ago, people used to have the mindset that the high school and college years were the time for peak performance in athletics. Well, real world results have proven that theory wrong. Michael Jordan (Basketball), Lance Armstrong (Cycling), Brian Shaw (Strongman), Royler Gracie (BJJ), Randy Couture (MMA), Michael Phelps (Swimming), and Tom Brady (Football) are all examples of peak performance past the age of thirty and forty. If your goal is to continue and extend your athletic prime as an aging grappler, you do need to delve into the mental and physical adjustments and strategies that grapplers over 40 need to make.

Strategy 1: Include Active Recovery Methods That Go Beyond Just Taking a Day Off From the Gym

Massage, cupping, sauna, hot baths, cold baths, cryotherapy, and extra sleep are some of the methods used to help our bodies not only recover and restore capacity, but they also extend out to numerous health benefits. Some of these practices focus on increasing blood flow, while others work of reducing inflammation. In reality, you need both types of recovery methods. Above all, quality deep sleep is priority. Without enough sleep, no matter how many recovery methods you use, your body will not be able to heal and adapt.

Strategy 2: Increase Your Strength, Durability, and Mobility

This is where strength training comes into play. Strength training and conditioning exercises increase your range of motion, bone density, strength, endurance and heart health, while dynamic stretching and dynamic movements contribute to better flexibility, mobility, and restoration, which can reduce the risk of injury. It never hurts to incorporate deadlifts, squats, bench and shoulder presses, and bent rows and chins into your training routine.

Kettle bells and plyometric exercises are also great additions for resistance training and can translate well for grapplers. As far as mobility and flexibility go, the many types of massage, chiropractic, myofacial release, and yoga can definitely help you there.

Strategy 3: Cycle Through Your Training Intensity Intelligently

Over 40 grapplers fail to recognize that training at a high level of intensity too often can lead to mental burnout and physical injuries. Building on earlier tips for minimizing burn out and avoiding injury, older athletes need to program out not only how many days you are going to train on the mats, but what intensities you are going to hit each workout.

An example of a practitioner that trains four times a week would include:

  • Day 1 and 2, train with a medium intensity with drills, solid rolls, but with more of a flow then resistance.
  • Day 3, train with a high intensity, drilling with a faster speed and less rest time, as well as rolling rounds with full resistance and a real sense of urgency with your escapes and attacks.
  • Day 4, train with a light intensity with primarily drilling and technique refinement. Your body will not get as beat up and it forces you to make your training methods more well rounded and direct.

Strategy 4: Diet

As I have mentioned before, you are what you eat. Eat like garbage and you will feel weak and fatigued, look tired, and underperform. The older you get, the more this holds true.

You need enough calories to fuel your workouts. You need enough proteins to repair and stimulate the muscle growth needed to train and recuperate, and you need healthy fats for fuel, satiation, and hormone development. Throw in fruits and veggies on the plate, wash it down with lots of water, and you will have a solid nutritional base.

Piecing It All Together

Once you hit 40 years of age, you are far from physical peak, but recovery takes a bit longer and wear and tear can start to add up very quickly. The solution is a multi front strategy, which includes adding a few active recovery methods, incorporating resistance and mobility training, and varying the training intensity from session to session. Top these strategies off with a clean whole food diet devoid of processed food and enough calories and nutrient dense fuel and muscle building protein to maximize your training and you might have the opportunity to spend another decade or two rising up, meeting, and surpassing your true athletic potential.

Stay Strong,

Brett Place

References for this article include: