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Brian Ebersole: Eating on the Fly

Read on for the latest installment in's weekly series of articles on proper nutrition from the biggest names in mixed martial arts...this week, Brian Ebersole

UFC welterweight Brian EbersoleHave 4-ounce Gloves, Will Travel.

That would be a fitting slogan for Brian Ebersole, likely among the most well-traveled pro fighters in MMA. Packing 65 fights into a 12-year career, the small-town Illinois native has entertained fans in cities such as Johannesburg, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Tijuana, Las Vegas and San Francisco. For most of the past five years, the 31-year-old welterweight has lived in Australia, while also training in the U.S. and Thailand. Best known for his win over Chris Lytle and for having never been knocked out, the super-durable fighter sat down with me recently to discuss his diet, his training camp for a June 22 fight against T.J. Waldburger in Atlantic City (UFC on FX 4) and how being a citizen of the world has taught him to perfect the art of “eating on the fly.”

Curreri: You have traveled the world for training and fighting. Talk about different diets you embraced in countries where you have lived and trained.

Ebersole: In Thailand they’re into eating a lot more insects and odd animals like frog and stuff. They have some weird stuff that comes out of their ocean, too. They eat so much more rice because everything they make is a curry over there. I had a hard time finding brown rice at restaurants, as you know, there aren’t Whole Foods stores over in Thailand. But that said, I could have stir fried vegetables with every meal without the rice.

Curreri: More and more people are advocating eating organic food, but I wonder if that label even exists over in Thailand?

Ebersole: I don’t think they’re using pesticides very much over in Thailand, I really don’t. I don’t think Monsanto has taken over there yet. So I feel I eat a bit cleaner when I’m over there, but I’m not the bodybuilder type where I eat certain set meals at certain times of the day and my body gets used to it. And I wake up at different times, too. I kind of eat on the fly but try to eat every three or four hours. So I’ve got the concept down but I don’t have it regimented perfectly.

In Thailand, the island of Phuket where I am, they really cater to tourists. So there are Italian places, Western restaurants with steak and that sort of thing. It’s an island, so obviously seafood is really big there. I try to keep it simple. One place over there that I like, they give you a soup broth and you can order off the menu whatever you want to chuck in … So I might throw in a mushroom plate, a veggie plate, and thin cut meat. I like the way they sauce over there. They use a lot of natural types of sauces and chilis, whereas here (in the U.S.) we use a lot of creamy and buttery sauces. I like the Thai sauces; I’ve got a spicy inclination.

Curreri: Thailand produces a ton of coconuts and coconut water is becoming quite the craze among athletes and health-minded people. Are you a big drinker of coconut water?

Ebersole: I didn’t really like coconut water the first time I tried it. I think it’s a bit of an acquired taste. But it’s something I’ll start trying. I might have to get it really cold. Nobody likes warm beer either, you know?

Curreri: How long have you been visiting and training Muay Thai in Thailand?

Ebersole: The first time I went, I was offered a free place to stay and it was an around-the-world tour, anyway. That was my last stop before returning to Australia. So I stayed in Thailand for a month, and enjoyed it, but it took me around a year and a half to get back there because I was busy coaching and fighting in Australia. But I’ve trained in Thailand for my last three fight camps. I usually spend about a month there. Then I’d return home to Melbourne, Australia and train for like seven weeks there. But for this camp, spent four weeks in Thailand and came to America for training.

Curreri: Is the world-class Muay Thai instruction your main reason for journeying there?

Ebersole: That and the weather and the lifestyle. It’s a perfect way to break away from domestic life and business dealings and other stuff. I just cut all my ties and disappear almost. Facebook and emails are my only ties to the rest of the world. I don’t make phone calls when I’m there. The weather is hot, so it’s perfect. When you’re working out you’re warm before you even get on the mat. I don’t have to do anything domestic – no cooking, no cleaning, no laundry. It’s affordable enough to have someone else do it for you.

Curreri: When did you first set up shop in Australia? I mean, we don’t have a ton of American fighters who have actually lived there.

Ebersole: Through a sponsor and Frank Shamrock, I had some Internet communication with a guy who is now my manager. He put me up and I slept in his gym for about two months and fought twice over there. They offered me a job in real estate to go back so I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll go back.’

The visa was a bit hard to come by so I ended up taking a fight and while I was over in that city for a fight I got offered a job as a coach. And being a wrestling and MMA coach was a much easier visa application to fill out because 1) it was my true skill set and 2) it’s a skill set that they didn’t have much of in Australia. So it helps your visa application if there’s not someone in Australia that can already do that job. That was about 2007. Of the past five years I’ve probably spent three over in Australia. I’ve met a lot of good people in Sydney, Melbourne and Queensland.

Curreri: Do you have a gym over there now?

Ebersole: No, not my own. I just travel around and do seminars.

Curreri: Do you have residence over there?

Ebersole: No but I’m dating an Australian now. She sold her home and she’s travelling with me now for this fight camp. So I’m in full gypsy mode. But we’ll go back to Australia for Christmas and stuff. But I took a job in Thailand for 2013, so I’ll spend six months in Thailand. If I have a fight in America I may spend three or four weeks in America just to get used to the time zone and get some really good training. Then I’ll see my family for a few weeks and head back to Thailand.

Curreri: How is eating in Australia different from eating here in the states?

Ebersole: Australia is very similar to the U.S. The only thing is, they have a little more of a California feel to it. It is a very affluent country on the whole and they’re closer to the Eastern knowledge and Asian influence. People either go one way or the other: They’re either into ‘going green’ and eating organic, or you get the other side where you have guys that are gung ho about eating steak and mashed potatoes and all that.

They do eat big breakfasts, like we do here, but theirs is a little more English flavored with toast, sausage links, baked beans on the side, or they will cut a tomato in half and grill it and put it on the side. So it’s a little different. They don’t do biscuits and gravy, though. That’s the one thing that freaks Australians out when they come here. They just think that’s a pile of slop.

Curreri: What kinds of supplements do you take?

Ebersole: I have a sponsor in Australia that gives me a pre-workout formula, an intra-workout formula that is mineral and electrolyte-based, and post-workout which is protein-based. I like the intra-workout formula especially because you’re going to lose eight or nine pounds in a workout so it’s important to kick those minerals and electrolytes back into me during the workout instead of afterwards. I don’t like being dizzy after a workout, it’s never fun.

Curreri: What are the staples of your diet?

Ebersole: I’m a big salad guy. A HUGE salad guy. And I also try to have beans at least twice a day, even if it means going into a Mexican restaurant and having beans and a taco. It just has to be done. And guacamole is a life-saver, avocado. I just love the texture of guacamole. When you make proper guacamole, if you start throwing salt, onions, tomatoes and a bit of lime juice in there I’m in love. I love salt, but I try to use natural salt, sea salt and Himalayan salt.

Curreri: You had mentioned “Cheat Days” during fight camp and that having some value. You also mentioned that you do eat meat, but only on occasion.

Ebersole: I know that during fight camp that the easiest way to keep my energy high is to avoid burdening my system. I don’t really think we’re meant to be full-time meat eaters. You look back at primitive times, how many times did we catch (animals and eat them)? We probably didn’t catch them that often. Our primary diet was what was easy to get: nuts, berries and things like that. So that’s kind of what we were meant to live on as our staples. So given that philosophy, just because there’s chicken at the restaurant and you can get it for five bucks doesn’t mean I should. It weighs you down … just look at how long it takes to pass food. It shouldn’t take you a day or two to pass a meal. But with meat it does. So I feel a lot cleaner when I put something in and seven or eight hours later it comes out. That’s when I feel optimal and happy.

During fight week I really limit my intake to just fibrous veggies, salads and raw fruits. It’s about keeping our pipes clean. If you clog anywhere it’s going to be a problem.

Curreri: Once you make weight for a fight, what do you typically eat to replenish your body?

Ebersole: It’s truly spontaneous; it depends on the city that I’m fighting in. Like in Philadelphia, right off the scale I had Pedialyte, water and a Philly cheesesteak. I didn’t eat half of the bread. And the next day I had crab for breakfast.

Curreri: And you won that fight in Philadelphia, beating Dennis Hallman, who was sporting the skimpiest shorts to ever grace the Octagon.

Ebersole: Thankfully I won earlier because maybe the Philly cheesesteak would have clogged my system up and I would have gassed early.

Curreri: Speaking of the Philly cheesesteak, what is your opinion of them? Are they over-rated or overhyped?

Ebersole: When they’re made right they’re amazing!

Curreri: You fight at welterweight. What is your walk-around weight?

Ebersole: Around 190. I’ve been up to 200 right after I fought Lytle but I took a lot of time off. Usually it’s not a taxing weight cut. It’s just the same thing: salt load, water load, empty the bowels and eat real light the last day.

Curreri: 65 fights over how many years?

Ebersole: 12 years.

Curreri: What was your diet like when you were a young fighter?

Ebersole: I was in college when I first started and, I’m not going to lie, even though I took a nutrition class in college I wasn’t the most enlightened as far as nutrition. I fell into a lot of misinformation. You know, ‘Bread is OK.’ You know, the FDA approves all of this stuff and it’s out there so it’s OK. You know, a lot of stuff that we eat is processed and preserved so I fell into that. I tried to eat OK. I ate a lot of Subway sandwiches, that type of stuff. I would go home and cook my own steak and throw some sautéed onions on it. I would have lasagna, meat loaf and all that. Maybe my fat content was a little high … I never had a six-pack (abs) unless I was wrestling in the middle of the season. But that was from hard work more than diet. I was doing it the dummy’s way.

Now that I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to cut out a bunch of stuff. When I moved to California in 2003 is when I really started to shift. Four years out there caused me to change my diet. There was just a lot more affluence in the area where I lived, as opposed to where I lived previously, so people just had access to better information and were a bit more open-minded.

Curreri: What sorts of things did you start incorporating into your diet?

Ebersole: I definitely got back into veggies – way more. I tried to eat a lot more raw fruits. I started phasing out milk. I didn’t really see why we were drinking milk from an adult cow, you know what I mean? We’re not baby cows so I thought that was a bit weird. I tried to stay away from preserved and processed foods. I tried to find restaurants that had the best quality food, not just the cheapest. I would try to go to the Mexican restaurant that used fresh beans out of a bag instead of a can, that sort of a thing. I just developed more of a standard.

I still eat a ton. I went vegetarian for two years when I was in Australia. I used to wake up at 170 pounds (without cutting any weight). So I went down to lightweight (155 pounds) for about a year. I felt good and I was really lean. I looked a little different, (that small) but with a big neck and a big head. I liked it. But once you fall off the wagon it’s hard to get it back. I was a vegetarian for like a year before my metabolism really kicked in. But it’s been hard ever since to get on a really, really good diet for a whole year and I think that’s because I do so much travelling. When I was at my best with diet I was settled in Australia, living in a home and cooking my own meals. But with all the travel I have had to eat things I maybe wouldn’t eat if I were at home. You know, if you’re on an airplane you eat what they give you.

I’d like to get back to a really good diet and avoid really big blowouts (weight gain after fights). So after this fight I will try to stay really lean. I’ll try to keep my weight at 185 pounds and even have a chance to drop down to lightweight again and see if I can pull that off.