This week we highlight the diet of Renzo Gracie, easily one of the most eloquent speakers and widely respected gentlemen in the fight game. Before we dive into the interview, I’d like to share a few observations about the 45-year-old New York City transplant, whom I first met nearly a decade ago at the 90th birthday party of his grand uncle, legendary BJJ pioneer Helio Gracie.
If you’ve ever met the perpetually positive Brazilian, you know that a light, an undeniable glow, shines on Renzo wherever he goes. When the philosopher and 6th-degree jiu-jitsu black belt smiles, you can’t resist smiling. When Renzo laughs, you laugh. That God-given natural charm reminds me of a character trait some observed in former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Whether Republican or Democrat, people on both sides of the aisle remarked that when the 42nd president talked to you, he demonstrated an extraordinary ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the world for those moments, as if you were the most important person in the world. Relatively few people possess that skill; I believe Renzo Gracie is one of them. You meet him for two minutes and feel like you’ve been friends for life.
I remember a few years ago talking with Dana White about Marc Ratner, the remarkably even-keeled UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs who never loses his cool and amazingly – despite many decades in the professional fight game – has no known enemies.
“If Marc Ratner doesn’t like someone,” Dana said, “then they’re definitely a d----bag.”
You could say the same about Renzo, who has instructed some of the world’s top fighters, including UFC champions Georges St. Pierre, Frankie Edgar, former champ Matt Serra, unbeaten Chris Weidman and Ricardo Almeida. Turns out Renzo is as gonzo about food as he is about martial arts, as you will see in an interview in which he discusses eating dog and rattlesnake, staples of the Gracie Diet, and why he doesn’t plan on retiring from fighting any time soon (eyeing a reinvention, in fact, at 155 pounds).
THE GRACIE DIET AND THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND IT
Renzo: Basically that diet was developed by my grandfather, Carlos Gracie. His idea was to alkalinize your body. The whole purpose of the diet was to make sure your body wasn’t acidic. He believed this would prevent many diseases and extend your life expectancy. He did a really good job developing that diet.
Today, with all the studies (on nutrition) they are better able to test what actually makes your body more alkaline. So we’ve started adapting superfoods into the Gracie Diet and it has really improved. My grandfather had always banned acidic foods like pineapple, oranges and berries – but in reality those are the most alkaline fruits out there. But back in his day there weren’t ways to test that stuff; today there are.
My grandfather always forbid us to have acidic foods except during the morning time. But I ate them and hid it from my family. I always felt great when I ate berries, pineapples and mangos and fruits like that. So these studies show that I was right and that those foods are very positive for my health.
I’m going to turn 46 years old now and I don’t have one gray hair. It’s just amazing how I feel. On my mother’s side of the family we have great genetics. I feel very young. I feel better now than when I was 23!
HOW MUCH OF THE GRACIE DIET DO YOU FOLLOW?
My whole life I’ve followed the Gracie Diet (http://graciediet.com/). I moved here to the United States when I was 37 and until then I followed the Gracie Diet 100 percent. I’m a guy that, thanks to my genetics, I can eat anything and I’ll feel great the next day. I’m different. I have resistance and I don’t get sick and I’m very thankful for that.
I promised myself that I would try any food given the chance so I’ve eaten the weirdest foods you can imagine. I ate dog in China, I ate rattlesnake in Brazil, I’ve eaten scorpion, I ate alligator, I ate crocodile, ostrich … Man, all of them taste good! Why do the Chinese eat everything – because they fry everything! I just realized that if you deep fry ME, I will taste good! That’s the reality (chuckles).
THE TASTE OF RATTLESNAKE
Many people say that a rattlesnake tastes like chicken. A rattlesnake can never taste like chicken! If the chicken had a tattoo on her neck and an extremely bad-a—attitude then maybe it could taste like rattlesnake. It’s a very unique taste.
A SHARK LIKE NO OTHER
I went to Iceland and that’s where I met Gunnar Nelson (world-class BJJ player and UFC fighter). They took me to eat a shark that had been dead and buried for six months. This is how the ancient people of Iceland used to eat shark. The shark dies, they dig a hole and put the whole shark in there and then a whole tribe urinates on the shark to preserve it. Funny thing is, the meat of the shark becomes like a cream cheese. The taste is not bad … but the smell! For that reason when they bury the shark they must do it far away from town. The smell was unforgettable. I wouldn’t eat it again. I can still smell it.
REGRET EATING IT?
You have to regret the things you didn’t do, NOT the ones you did.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU EAT BRAZILIAN FOOD?
I just finished eating a Brazilian dish, a shrimp stew, Moqueca. I ate at Emporium Brazil on 46th Street. I’ve been eating there for many years and I’m friends with all of the managers and waiters. That place reminds me of the homecooking my mom and grand mom used to do. My wife is also an unbelievable cook. My father always told me, “Make sure you marry a great cook because beauty doesn’t last but cooking does!”
I’ve been on a very strict diet for the past year and a half. I eat a lot of rice, beans, grilled chicken and salads. I’ve also begun eating a combination of the Gracie Diet with superfoods. I learned this from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, UFC part owner and BJJ black belt under Renzo). We use maca, a Peruvian fruit and pure cacao powder – instead of coffee, which will deplete you. There is a reason every woman loves chocolate: It is similar to a hormone that makes them go into a blissful state.
So every morning I have a shot of mango juice with a little maca and pure cacao powder without any sugar or fat. This kills my hunger and then I go train and then for lunchtime I might eat some berries, fruit, a salad with nuts.
A LARGER MISSION
Right now we’re developing protein bars with goji berries and cacao powder. We just made the first 500 samples of that. I don’t think we’ll call it the Renzo Gracie protein bar, but for sure you can expect something healthy coming from us.
We are in the business of dealing confidence. I’m not just in the business of teaching you how to fight, I’m in the business of making you confident. The jiu-jitsu can improve your confidence. And a good diet will improve your quality of life and life expectancy.
I really want to fight again and I’m preparing myself for that. I’m looking to fight at 155 pounds. In reality, when I fought Matt Hughes (at UFC 112 in April 2010) I was walking around at 168 pounds without trying to lose any weight. I feel great right now. I think by February of next year I will be back in the cage. And then I hope to fight one fight after another. I want it to be in the UFC. I’m looking to fight the best. I’m looking to make one last run.
The Renzo Gracie Diet
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, Renzo Gracie