Anderson Silva: The Real-Life Diet of the UFC Legend
The 43-year-old legend shares the secrets to his longevity—and the post-fight meal he can’t do without.
Former UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is a lifelong fan of superheroes. It’s only appropriate, then, that for the man nicknamed “The Spider,” his latest opponent —Israel Adesanya, in Saturday’s UFC 234—is as much the Miles Morales to Silva’s Peter Parker as he’s ever faced during his decades-long combat sports career. Both are otherworldly striking talents who possess a mastery of timing and distance control, and even after the 29-year-old Adesanya’s victory by unanimous decision became official, the scene that unfolded in the octagon was as neat an encapsulation as any of Silva’s legendary status.
It was impressive enough that Silva, for his first bout in over a year, chose to take on someone who many consider to be a younger version of Silva himself. But he also did all this at age 43—a point at which most UFC fighters are comfortably into their retirements. And tempting though it may be to chalk up Silva’s success to literal superpowers and/or an ability to experience time at Matrix-esque speeds, he credits a more conventional set of habits: adherence to a carefully-crafted diet, and a zeal for finding ways to train smarter than anyone else. The man who might be his sport’s greatest of all time recently sat down with GQ to discuss how his workouts have evolved in middle age; what he does to fuel his body after making weight; and the one post-fight meal he can’t do without.
GQ: How has your diet changed from your earliest days in the UFC?
Anderson Silva: I actually haven’t changed much, but what I’ve really made an effort to get better at is a diet that’s well-balanced. I don’t eat sugar; I cut bad carbs, salt, and alcohol; and I try to drink more water these days than I did then. My doctors say it helps my body absorb the nutrients—that if I don’t stay hydrated, it won’t matter what I eat.
I also try to keep a good mix going in my diet. I’ll eat lean two days in a row, and then take in a lot of carbohydrates, and then take two days to just eat protein. The most important thing is cutting the sugar and salt, though.
Do you work with a nutritionist?
Yeah, and a team of doctors. It’s working, too. I’m so happy, and I honestly feel younger than ever. But again, even with all the help they’ve given me, the biggest thing is just cutting out sugar and salt.
Are you still utilizing sparring sessions in your training camps? I know there are a few fighters who have spoken lately about cutting it out entirely.
I still spar three times a week. I’m a better fighter for doing it, and still feel good about it. It helps my body stay familiar with the movement of fighting—especially since where I am now, the most important thing for me to focus on is timing, rather than power or speed.
On a sparring day, does your diet change at all from that of a conditioning or weightlifting day?
Nope, they’re pretty much the same. I try to keep my diet consistent regardless of what kind of training I’m doing.
Walk me through an average day of eating while you’re in the midst of a fight camp.
I start my day with protein: usually four eggs, chicken, and one protein shake. This is before my first training session. When I’ve finished that first session, I’ll head back home and take my recovery shake and eat again. Sometimes it’ll be salad and chicken, sometimes just salad and oats, just to get some good carbs.
I’ll spend the afternoon taking care of other work, and then head back to the gym to train at night. I’ll do one more meal after that—usually proteins. Generally, I try to keep carbs and proteins separate in meals throughout the week. I’ll also try to keep that diet consistent. In camp, I pretty much eat the same thing all week, every week.
Let’s move up to the weekend of the fight. What’s your diet like after you’ve made weight on Friday morning and before you fight on Saturday night?
When I finish cutting weight, I try to eat five to seven meals before the fight. Just like in fight camp, I’ll separate them so that some are centered on good carbs, and others are centered on good proteins. I’ll also make sure to take in a lot of vitamins C and D. That period is all about bringing all the energy back into my body after the cut.
What’s your go-to post-fight meal?
You know, I try to still eat pretty normally. But I will get some Brazilian barbecue after a fight, and just eat a ton. You’ve got to make sure your body has a lot of protein and calories in order to recover properly.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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