When it comes to nutrition for fighters, one authority towers above all others: Mike Dolce. The Eating-for-Performance expert is currently masterminding the diet of knockout artist Vitor Belfort, who challenges UFC light heavyweight champ Jon Jones on Sept. 22 in Toronto.
Dolce, who has been working with Belfort for nearly two years, discusses changes he recommended to the Brazilian’s eating habits and why Belfort (normally a middleweight) did NOT try to bulk up for this fight despite jumping up a weight class. What’s more, you will not want to miss Dolce’s impassioned analysis of why he feels Belfort – despite being cast as a sizable underdog -- is destined to once again don UFC gold around his waist.
Joining Forces with Vitor:
Dolce: I’ve worked with him since December 2010. He had fought at middleweight, but he brought me in after he had trouble making a 195-pound catchweight fight against Rich Franklin. I think he (Vitor) actually missed weight the first time he tried to make 195. So Vitor brought me in for his middleweight title fight against Anderson Silva.
What NOT To Do:
Any time I work with an athlete for the first time all of my changes are subtle. I like to shadow my students and learn about their life, their culture, their health history. So I did the same thing with Vitor. I watched how he went about his day and I noticed that he was basically following a bodybuilding approach to diet. He ate very well, very clean. He doesn’t eat junk food or have a sweet tooth, but the nutrient ratios he ate were very skewed toward that muscle-building, bulk-up, bodybuilding approach. The bodybuilding diet is actually very common in MMA; it’s probably the most prevalent approach fighters take to dieting. But it’s also not very effective for MMA.
I would go to Vitor’s house and eat dinner with the family. Half the plate was filled with beautiful, delicious steak or salmon or free range chicken. So Vitor would be sitting down eating a 12- or 16-ounce piece of fish or steak. You’re talking far in excess of what a 215-pound man needs if you spread that over six meals per day. He was taking a God-awful amount of protein that really causes digestive distress as it breaks down and eliminates the ability of over nutrients to be absorbed and do their jobs.
We slowly weaned him off of those bodybuilder meals and the two pounds of protein per pound of body weight, lots of red meat and eggs, and big heavy protein meals. We cut his animal proteins in half and doubled his plant-sourced nutrients. We added dark vegetables like broccoli, asparagus and spinach, which he’s a big fan of. We added lots more fruits, more nuts and seeds. When we did that his body responded dramatically.
Carbs Are Your Friends!
Vitor likes sweet potatoes and yams. We kept those in his diet but reduced them. We added more grains, oats, buckwheat and quinoa. Me, my family and my athletes, we are fans of carbohydrates from natural sources. Fresh fruits are our primary source of carbohydrates. All that garbage that comes from bodybuilders and others who say, “Fruit is going to make you fat” – that’s just garbage. What I suggest and what Vitor has embraced is more fruits, more carbohydrates, because we have to realize that is what our body, brain and heart uses as fuel. Our body thrives in a carbohydrate-rich state as long as it’s timely.
The Belfort Breakfast
First thing in the morning I have Vitor eat a Breakfast Bowl – oats or buckwheat (buckwheat for those preferring gluten-free). We will add some almond butter in there, some chia seed or flaxseed (nutrient-dense essential fats that also help that slower digestion), and at least two fruits such as a banana, blueberries, strawberries, or raisins. Whatever is grown in your particular geographical area is the fruit you should be eating because that’s what will be the freshest and most nutrient dense. Vitor eats that for breakfast off-season and in-season. He absolutely loves it. He’ll eat that breakfast all the way up until the day before weigh-ins.
‘No’ To Protein Powders
Vitor eats that Breakfast Bowl and then, as the day goes on, he eats carbohydrates based upon his needs. If he just had a hard training session then Vitor’s going to replenish with carbohydrates – not with protein. Most of the other fighters have a protein powder right after training, which makes absolutely no sense because you have to replenish your glycogen stores from all of the hard training that you just did.
Vitor started making an all-natural shake with a juicer. We add greens, fresh fruits, hemp oil, carrots, apples, spinach, kale, oranges – it’s a cornucopia of energy and it’s awesome. We make two 24-ounce servings every morning. Vitor takes one with him to the gym so he can have it post-workout. We store the other one in a glass container so it stays fresh and he drinks that later in the evening.
Most of my athletes take those shakes post-training and they feel amazing and have energy for days. It’s a performance-changer for an athlete and Vitor is a perfect example of that. Now he’s the healthiest he’s ever felt and he’s said that in multiple interviews. In my mind, the healthier the individual, the more capable they are in the task at hand.
It’s not just a post-workout shake. It gets you so many vital nutrients and antioxidants in their most natural and healthy form. So that’s what blows my mind when I hear people say, “Fruits make you fat!” I don’t know what they’re reading or listening to.
I’m not a fan of counting calories when it comes to nutritional needs. Simply because our nutritional expenditures (calories burned, etc..) vary drastically day-by-day. So I’ve always thought that counting calories was incorrect. If you box yourself into a certain amount of calories per day then you’re either going to under-eat or over-eat on any given day. So I teach my athletes to eat based on what you need to recover from or what you are preparing for that is coming up next.
Vitor was eating somewhere in the low to mid 3,000 calories per day. We did eliminate some of the fats from his protein sources, so maybe we’re in the high 2,000s and touching on the 3,000 area.
Supplements Get The Boot!
The first day I met with him I walked around his house, I opened the cabinets and supplements occupied literally three shelves. I took everything out and put it on the table and we talked about every spice and every supplement.
Vitor is very intelligent and well-researched, so everything he had was high quality. He had resveratrol, glutamine, multi-vitamin, different protein powders and so much other stuff. So we spoke about it and we went to the computer and researched nutrients that naturally occur in foods.
So I said, “Hey, why don’t you try getting those nutrients in food form to replace some of this stuff. Let’s just try it slowly and see how your body reacts.” That was 2010. Today, he might use only four of those supplements in his cabinets. So it’s close to a 100 percent reduction in the amount of supplements he had been taking, which is awesome.
Bulking Up For 205?
The only change in Vitor’s diet will be the last three weeks. That’s because, typically, in the last three weeks we begin preparing for the weight cut. So the diet changes at three weeks out, then 10 days out, then five days out.
With Vitor at 205, we don’t have to change anything until 10 days out. Normally, at middleweight, Vitor has to cut 20 pounds to make weight, but I think he’s walking around at 218 pounds or so right now (17 days out of the fight). So the weight is coming off very nicely. He looks amazing right now. He looks scale-ready today.
I want him fed and hydrated, dry and clean when he steps on the scale. So he will be the best version of Vitor Belfort on the scale and in the cage.
Banking on Speed
The Monday before the fight he’ll probably weigh between 210 and 212. Our goal is to have him at 208. That’s my goal. Anywhere between 208 and 212. We know his body and he performs best right around that 210-pound range. I’m shooting for 208 pounds because he doesn’t have to be BIGGER than Jon Jones – he just needs to be FASTER. He’s faster than Jon at 220. At 208 Vitor is faster than most lightweights. Anyone that has trained with Vitor will tell you that he’s the fastest guy they’ve ever trained with. So we’re going to maximize power, speed and endurance at that body weight.
Some are calling Jones v. Belfort a mismatch. Tell us why they’re wrong?
Look what Vitor did to former world champion Rich Franklin, look what Vitor did to Matt Lindland, who was the best middleweight at one time. Vitor finished Anthony Johnson, who is not as tall as Jon Jones, but almost as long and definitely heavier and more muscular than Jon Jones. Vitor is a finishing machine, he’s a knockout machine, his jiu-jitsu is amazing. I’ve seen Vitor wrestle; he’s got some of the most underrated wrestling in MMA. That’s the Vitor I know.
I saw the odds – 13 to 1 underdog! When I heard about this fight, as soon as Vitor called me I said, ‘You’re going to win this fight! You are perfectly built to knock Jon out.’ Look at Jon Jones versus (Lyoto) Machida. Machida could touch Jones all day with that left hand to the jaw. Vitor is twice as powerful and four times faster than Machida. So if Machida can touch Jones’ jaw, Vitor is going to obliterate it. No disrespect to Jon, it’s just a terrible matchup for Jon Jones. That’s my belief.
Man, I’ve watched Vitor’s entire career … how the heck can you say Vitor is a 13-to-1 underdog against anybody?! It’s ridiculous!! Vitor is healthy, he’s hungry and ready to roll! Man, it’s a bad fight for Jon. I predict Vitor is going to get that light heavyweight title and make history.
Mike Dolce: Belfort Kicks 'Bodybuilder' Diet to Curb
Read on for the latest installment in UFC.com's weekly series of articles on proper nutrition from the biggest names in mixed martial arts...this week, Mike Dolce discusses the Vitor Belfort diet