There was a time early in his MMA career, Chuck Liddell admitted, when Mountain Dew and Fruity Pebbles were his idea of The Diet of Champions. But, rest assured, Liddell wasn’t consuming cartoon character cereal and soda pop when he won and defended the UFC light heavyweight title. “I always ate a specific diet when I was training for a fight,” the retired 42-year-old Hall of Famer, now UFC Vice President of Business Development, said recently while awaiting a flight to Ottawa. “I cleaned up my diet a lot during fight camps, maybe the last 10 or 12 weeks before a fight.”
In this interview, the UFC icon discusses his past and present diet, how he’s been keeping busy since bidding adieu to the Octagon, and his pursuit of a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.
WHAT ARE YOU EATING THESE DAYS CHAMP?
Liddell: Now I eat more like I did in the off-season when I was fighting. I mostly eat clean, but I do love my food and I’ll go out to eat and order whatever I like. This morning I ate an egg white omelet. For lunch I ate a spicy vegetarian salad with noodles from a Vietnamese restaurant.
I don’t drink soda very often. I had a few sips of a blackberry soda the other day because somebody told me, ‘You have to try this.’
I eat a lot of organic stuff – my wife buys a lot of organic stuff. We barbeque fish and chicken a lot. I’ve always been a chicken and fish person, too. I have always been a vegetable person – broccoli, green beans, peas, asparagus.
DIET OF CHAMPIONS
I was averaging probably about 4,500/5,000 calories a day, so I had to eat a lot of calories. I was eating about six meals a day. When you’re eating vegetables, brown rice, fish or chicken … you have to eat a lot to eat 5,000 calories. That’s a lot of food. I was eating kind of a version of The Zone Diet (developed by Barry Sears, Ph.D, and emphasizes a diet rich in Omega fish oils and 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30 % fats, among other things).
When I first started my MMA career I worked with some guys for strength and conditioning. One of the guys asked me to write down everything I eat in a week, then he was going to assess it and write me out a diet plan. So I wrote everything down and gave it to him and he went, ‘Whew! What the (bleep) are you doing!?’ I was drinking like three liters of Mountain Dew per day, eating Lucky Charms cereal and Fruity Pebbles.
He asked me, “How can you eat like this?” So he started making me meal plans. The biggest thing he emphasized to me was, ‘You gotta’ like what you eat. If you hate what you’re eating then it’s not going to work and you’re not going to stay on this plan year-round.’
But he made it clear: “You’re not drinking Mountain Dew any more. And we’re going to have to switch your cereals.”
When you start eating clean, when you do eat bad food you can feel it when you work out the next day. Once you figure out that eating right does actually make you feel better. It makes a big difference in your training. You have a different body.
TIPPING THE SCALES AT …
I was 228 this morning. I’ve come back down. I had gotten up to about 238. But I’m trying to get down close to 220 (pounds), which would be what I looked like a week before a fight.
IN YOUR RETIREMENT DAYS, YOU’RE STILL VERY YOUNG AND ABLE, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO NEXT?
I want to open a gym, too, one that’s close to my house (in Calabasas, California) and easy to go to every day. Right now, it depends on which gym I’m going to, but my current drive to the gym can be anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. If I go train with Jay Glazer and those guys it takes me about 25 minutes.
HOW OFTEN DO YOU GET INTO THE GYM AND TRAIN MMA OR WRESTLING OR JIU-JITSU?
It depends on who I’m working with. I might just work mitts; I’m not out there doing too much sparring or anything. If I’m working with someone then I’ll do whatever he needs, might be drilling takedowns or a bunch of drills. I took some time off of sparring for a while but I’ll get back into it and get back into shape.
YOU ARE A PURPLE BELT IN BJJ. ANY DESIRE TO EVENTUALLY EARN A BLACK BELT?
Oh, yeah, I’ll get it. It’s the part of the game that is the most fun for me now. I really like jiu-jitsu. That’s another reason I want a gym close to my house, so I can get better at that.
But I think I’ve got a ways to go (to deserve a black belt from a reputable instructor). I do well at it but I’d like to be well-versed at many of the techniques, especially when I’m coaching another fighter.
STILL SPORTING THE TRADEMARK MOHAWK?
Yeah. I let it grow out for a while, but I just got it cut again before this trip.
The Iceman Grubeth
Welcome to the UFC Fit weekly series of articles on proper nutrition & fitness from the biggest names in mixed martial arts...this week, UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell