Read on for the latest installment in UFC.com's weekly series of articles on proper nutrition from the top athletes in the UFC...this week, former world title challenger Dan Hardy
A month after his fights, Dan Hardy walks around north of 200 pounds. After his fight with welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, the heavy-handed Brit tipped the scales at a muscular 218.8 pounds! And yet, when it’s time to step on the scales for the official weigh-ins, Dan Hardy always makes the weight, and his cardio is always on point. So don’t let the punk rocker hairdo and cocky soundbites to the media fool you: Dan Hardy is extremely conscientious and scientific about his profession and what goes into his body. The eight-year veteran has experimented with a wide range of diets and supplements, including weeks training with Shaolin Monks.
Curreri: When you stayed with the Monks, what did you eat?
Hardy: That was the same every day. They have a very consistent diet. In the morning we would have powered milk, hot water, white rice and boiled eggs. That was breakfast every day the whole time I was there. The funny thing is, when you were having breakfast you knew what you would be having for your next meal because you could hear them out back killing it. They would be out there ringing the necks of chickens, or killing a pig, whatever, it was quite an experience.
Lunch and dinner, we would sit around a table, probably eight of us, and there would be a big bowl of rice in the middle. Then there would be six bowls: four of them would vegetable based and two would be meat. Chicken, eggs or pork was popular. They didn’t eat beef all that often. All the food steamed, pan-fried stuff, very clean. And it was all grown locally from a nearby village. And you could taste that. The volume of the food was the only issue I had. They were feeding us the amount that the monks were eating. I went out there at 180 and I came back weighing 152 pounds.
Curreri: These days, tell your fans – and some of the haters – about the top secret Dan Hardy Diet.
Hardy: I have a system. Every morning I get all of my supplements out and put them in a little pot. I get two fruit juices – a fruit juice and coconut water – and mix them in a big mug with a scoop of branch chain amino acids and 20 drops of chlorophyll. I stir that up and take my supplements with that. Then I have a vegan protein bar with about 10 grams of protein, just something to get my stomach going.
My supplements: Vitamin C, Vitamin B Complex; Green tea, fish oils, probiotics. I don’t want my stomach working too hard during training. If your stomach is digesting food during training then it carries nutrients away from your stomach and it makes me feel nauseous when I train.
So I’ll take my supplements, my vegan protein bar, then I’ll check my emails and watch a fight before heading off to training.
Curreri: What fight videos do you watch each morning?
Hardy: I usually have a fighter whose game I want to study each week. There is something about his style that I want to learn. So I might watch a guy that has something in his grappling game that I want to use. Or a boxer or a Thai boxer. Then I’ll do repetitions of whatever that particular fighter did in my mind. Then when I get to training I’ll put that into practice.
Curreri: Who and what have most influenced your diet?
Hardy: Different scientists, nutrition experts and other athletes. I went through a stage, around UFC 95 when I fought Rory Markham, I was working with an expert who was very knowledgeable. He took diet to another level, to where it was almost more important than the training. I was soooo overwhelmed, it was like a full-time job. I was taking 72 pills a day. All different kinds of things: Beef liver, L-Carnitine, which was the worse one because it makes your skin smell like fish. It interfered with my training sessions. Funny enough, that was my quickest fight in the UFC, but I think it was circumstantial. I don’t think it had to do with the diet because I felt exhausted for that fight and I didn’t look right on the scales, either. So after that fight I pulled it back a lot. I really focus a lot on getting nutrients from food instead of supplements.
During training camp I stay away from anything that is acidic, like dairy products.
Curreri: What’s on your shopping list?
Hardy: I went shopping yesterday … I buy as much organic as I can. I buy lots of different types of fish, chicken breast, turkey, avocado, lots of free-range, organic eggs. All my meat is cage-free. But when I get close to the fight I rely on a lot more drinks.
Last night I had fish and broccoli. My carbs are very low. I eat sprouted wheat bread as one of my main carbohydrates. Today I’ll go home, have a shake and then eat four eggs with two slices of wheatberry sprouted bread. I might have apples, bananas, watermelon, cantaloupe or grapes. Obviously I only eat bananas right after training – I wouldn’t eat them at any other time of the day.
I like to get as many fiberous, natural carbs as I can as opposed to complex carbs. Occasionally I’ll have brown rice but not often. Quinoa is quite a popular complex carb at the moment.
I’ll probably have a couple Sushi rolls once a week – I might have some raw tuna with avocado -- and that is as close to a cheat meal as I get during training camp. Usually Monday and Tuesday are pretty tough days. Wednesday I do a conditioning session in the morning and a technical session in the evening. I know Thursday and Friday will be hellish days as well, so I like to have some extra carbs on Wednesday just to carry me through those sessions.
Curreri: How many of your meals do you prepare yourself?
Hardy: I actually prepare quite a lot of them myself. My girlfriend is very good, too. She used to be vegan so a lot of the dishes she cooks are vegan-conscious, though I like to add a good protein to them as well. Sometimes I’ll get home and she has prepared a meal, like, say, turkey meatballs or a vegan gravy that is fantastic. With that I’ll have carrots, green beans or asparagus.
Curreri: So many fighters are eating clean, organic, free-range meat, etc..Is it the American fighters that are leading the charge on this or do you think fighters in other countries are becoming much more sophisticated about their diets and relying on organic foods? How much has the American diet influenced your dietary decisions?
Hardy: There definitely is a difference. I’m a lot more conscious about eating organic when I’m in the U.S. – without a doubt. Organic food is easier to get and it’s cheaper in Europe. You can consistently go into supermarkets (in Europe) and you can find most of the stuff that you need that has been locally farmed and organically produced. It’s good, clean food. There’s no craziness in it, no additives, it’s not been transported 10,000 miles to get to the U.K. and all that stuff. The food generally in Europe I think is, across the board, of higher standard.
I mean, in the U.S. you can get good food, it just comes at a much higher price tag. So my food costs for a training camp in the U.S. are a bit more expensive, and that’s saying something given the (Euro versus the dollar) exchange rate. Over here, if I walk into a regular supermarket chain … I walk around the supermarket in despair, because I cannot face most of the food that’s on the shelves. It’s just very, very highly processed and it’s got a lot of stuff in it that people don’t need to be taking in. The meat is very low quality and produced on huge farms with 800,000 cattle just crammed into little fences. It’s just not the quality of food that I would like to put into my body. Short-term, being an active athlete, it concerns me. But also long-term it concerns me.
I think a lot of the illnesses in the U.S. are down to the regular food you can get. When I was growing up (in the U.K.) there were a lot of people in their late 50s and early 60s dropping dead of heart attacks and stuff like that. That has dropped off considerably. But those people grew up on a diet of cigarettes and bread and dripping. I don’t know whether you have (bread and dripping) over here, but basically it’s just highly processed white bread and dripping, which is beef fat. This came from rationing during (World War II) when basically you ate everything you were given because you didn’t know when you would be eating again. So when you cooked meat, you would save the fat that came out of it and put it in a little pot and spread it over your bread like it was butter. And that was a regular thing. There was also a lot of “Black Pudding,” which was basically fat blood. Basically everything was used during the second World War because of rationing. And later on you could see the effects of it later in peoples’ lives as they got older.
In Europe, the food is a better quality because if it’s not, it puts a strain on the healthcare system. They don’t want more patients, so the food is better quality. Even fast food is healthier! I’ll have cheat meals in the U.K. a lot more consistently than I would here. In the U.K. my cheat meal would be fish and chips. The fish are line-caught (as opposed to farm-raised), it’s fried in healthy fats and all the potatoes are organically made and it’s made in the restaurant. I feel nauseous just seeing (some fast food) commercials on TV. I couldn’t eat a meal like that.
Curreri: A month after a fight how heavy are you?
Hardy: 205 is about right. If I try to gain muscle and lift a lot of weights – like I did after the GSP fight – when I weighed 218.8. I find my body functions best around 200 pounds. I do most of my training camp at around 192, 194. And then when we get close to the fight I drop it down more than that. Usually, on the Monday before a fight, I’ll be around 186.
I tend to eat very small amounts throughout fight week. I always have a handful of almonds with me for little nuggets of energy. Or I might have a few grapes or blueberries, or an apple occasionally. I avoid any dairy or red meat. I know a lot of people cut water the week of the fight; well I don’t. I try to drink as much as I can up until the Thursday night before the weigh-in. I’ll stop drinking water about 6 p.m. at night. Then I’ll drink green tea, Vitamin C and apple cider vinegar for my natural diuretics. Sometimes I use dandelion root as well. That’s a really good supplement when I’m trying to lose water weight.
Friday morning I’ll take the Green Tea, Vitamin C and apple cider vinegar and that gets my body going and the weight cut starts.
Curreri: Unlike a lot of top fighters, you don’t shun fruit juices.
Hardy: I’ve always got a bottle of water with me and in the house at all times. Because dehydration can be caused by laziness. I usually drink a gallon and a half a day of water. On top of that I’ll have a couple of cartons of coconut water. I do drink fruit juice. I know a lot of athletes don’t like that. But I never drink it from concentrate, it’s all organic. After training I’ll usually have a shake. Today I’ll go home and have beet juice, apple juice and carrot juice. Then I’ll mix a raw protein – which is pea protein, rice protein, chia seeds, hemp protein I use quite a lot and then a green and red powder mix.
Curreri: Why a vegan protein?
Hardy: The thing I like about vegan protein is – you know they’re clean. Because vegans are the most serious about nutrition that I’ve ever met. To be healthy and vegan, you have to really know what you’re doing with your diet. I mean I know a lot of vegans don’t eat healthy, but among the upper echelon of vegan athletes they know what they’re doing. I’m not a big fan of artificial sweeteners, or a lot of stabilizers and flavorings that are added to foods and drinks. I’d rather have something that tastes disgusting and has a weird texture but feels clean and makes my body work better.