There’s a number of reasons people train Muay Thai. Maybe it’s because you love the sport, maybe it’s because you want to compete in the sport, or maybe it’s a means of staying in shape and losing weight.
Living in Thailand and training at a Muay Thai camp for almost three years, I’ve seen my fair share of people coming and going at training camp. Not everyone comes down here to fight. Some people come down to get fit and lose weight. Now considering these are camps where you live, breathe, and eat Muay Thai multiple times a day, you would think that anyone coming down here for a few months of full time training would become absolutely shredded in no time.
However, from what I’ve seen, it’s not all that common to see people achieve dramatic results – even at a place where you train so much. Rare is it that someone comes down and achieves visible results in a couple months. Yes, it does happen, but it’s it certainly is not that common. If people coming to a place where the sole focus is training anywhere from 2 to 5 hours a day and they still are not losing visible amounts of weight, then it begs the question of WHY?
Well the answer is simple actually: diet.
Yes, that’s right, diet. Just because you do oodles of cardio doesn’t mean you are going to automatically lose weight, get ripped and all that. If you are eating MORE calories than you burn, you won’t lose weight. Period. There is no way to get around this. You might get fit, your stamina and cardio levels might increase, but you won’t lose weight. So if you are training Muay Thai and wondering why the poundage is just not shedding off, you are eating too many calories to see tangible weight loss.
Keep in mind that it is certainly possible to lose weight with Muay Thai. But there’s often a bit more involved than simply ‘’training’’ a couple times a week – be it in a hard-core Thailand training camp or back in your own home Muay Thai gym. If you are training twice with one or two long runs, 6 days a week, you’ll probably be shedding weight pretty fast. But if you are only 3 or 4 times a week and do NO cardio outside of training, then you will need to combine Muay Thai with calorie control (i.e. DIET) to achieve weight loss results.
So let’s look at just how you can lose weight with Muay Thai and achieve a body you can be proud of.
Regulate Your Calorie Intake to Achieve a Caloric Deficit
You can train hours per day, but if you are stuffing yourself with too many calories, you won’t lose weight. Regulating your calorie intake IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF LOSING WEIGHT.
Weight loss follows one simple fundamental law: CALORIES CONSUMED MUST ALWAYS BE LESS THAN THE BASE REQUIREMENT OF CALORIES BURNED BY THE BODY FOR WEIGHT MAINTENANCE.
In other words: you need to be at a negative energy deficit to lose weight. It doesn’t matter how much cardio you do; if you are eating MORE calories at the end of the day than your body burns, you won’t lose weight at all.
Here are the Basic 4 Steps to Achieving a Daily Caloric Deficit:
1. Figure Our Your Body’s Caloric Requirement for Weight Loss
In order to lose weight, you will need to figure out HOW many calories your body needs to maintain its current weight, then reduce your calories between 200-500 calories below that number.
Now when you FIRST start trying to lose weight, you won’t know the exact number of calories to eat a day at first – it takes a bit of time eating at a certain number of calories per day and tracking the results before you come up with an accurate number based on if you are actually losing weight or not.
However, you can use some basic weight loss formulas to estimate how many calories you require for weight loss based on your current weight, height, and bodyfat level. Once you have this number, you can test it in the real world for a couple weeks and see if you are losing weight. If so, then the number is accurate. If not, then you will need to cut calories more.
Calculating your calories for weight loss four steps:
Step 1: Calculating your BMR (Base Metabolic Rate)
Step 3: Calculate Your Caloric Deficit
Step 4: Subtract your Caloric Deficit (#3) Figure from your Adjusted BRM (#2) to get your target calories for the day
NOTE: IF you are doing regular cardio like Muay Thai, you need to keep in mind that your Base Metabolic Rate (calories required for weight maintenance) goes UP because you are already burning calories to power your activity. That means you need to figure out roughly how many calories you are burning doing exercise and add it to your BMR number. This is Step 2 and Step 3 above.
2. Count Meal Calories
If you want to keep track of your calories, you will need to know how many calories are in what you are eating.
There are two ways to go about this:
Counting Calories the Accurate, Scientific Way: The first and most accurate way is to use a micro weight scale, look up the nutritional profile for each item you cook, and keep track of it. While this sounds pretty work intensive, it’s pretty easy actually and you get pretty good at it. I highly recommend, if you are absolutely serious about losing weight, you take this approach first.
Counting Calories by Guessing: The second way of doing it is to guesstimate how many calories each meal you eat is made up of. However, in order to do this, you have to at first be familiar with basic meal calorie counting in the first method. Basically, taking a couple weeks of actually weighing out your food and counting calories exactly will give you a good head for guessing calories on the fly. This will help you when you eat out at restaurants.
3. Create a Meal Plan
If you are going to lose weight, you are going to need to be very strict with how much you eat. This is best accomplished by putting together a meal plan. Counting calories is fine and the first step needed but the next step is to put it all together by figuring out what you will eat every day and following this meal plan religiously. Yes, it is possible to lose weight by just taking a haphazard approach without a solid meal plan, but it’s a LOT harder and everything is based on guessing. A far better approach is to come up with an approximation of the same foods you will eat every day, the portions, and the number of calories that make up each meal, then roughly stick to this. Of course for this to work you will have to cook your own meals so you can control exactly how much you are eating. If this is too restrictive, you can certainly take a looser approach and guesstimate your caloric requirements per meal and stick to that, but for this to have any chance of working, you really do have to be familiar with how to track your calories and how to estimate how many calories are in your meals, which means you NEED to start off the first couple week to the first month Counting Calories the Accurate, Scientific Way, as detailed in Step 2 above.
If you are living in Thailand and want to eat out locally, then use our detailed guide to the healthiest thai food dishes to help plan out your meal plan/meal choices.
Now this itself is an entire article itself. The easiest way to go about it is to craft a meal plan based on your macro-nutrient requirements and calorie requirement (for weight loss). So if you want to know how to create a meal plan. For exact information on how to create a meal plan for weight loss, read our guide here.
4. Eat Slightly Under Calorie Maintenance Every Day
Once you know how many calories you need to lose weight (which I assume you have figured out in the first part by using the formulas), you simply EAT that number of calories consistently by following your meal plan for weight loss that was created based on that calorie requirement.
5. Track your progress and adjust if needed
It takes a couple weeks to figure out exactly if you are losing weight or not. There results are NOT going to be instant. You can’t cut calories one day then expect to lose weight the next day. There will be a few weeks of tracking just to see if you lose weight or not. If you don’t, you will need to lower your calorie intake and see if you lose weight the following week.
A few helpful facts about weight loss to keep you on track:
- 500 calorie deficit a day = 3500 calories weekly deficit = 1lb of fat loss.
- Typically, you will lose about 1-2 lbs a week
- The higher body-fat you are, the easier it is to lose weight. The leaner you are, the slower the weight loss becomes
- It can take 2-3 weeks to first start losing weight as your body adjusts
- If weight does not decrease after 7 days, decrease calories by 100 or 200 calories and repeat another week and check again. Repeat as necessary.
- If you DO NOT strength train, weight loss WILL be a combination of muscle and fat. If you strength train (lift weights), weight loss will be mostly fat
Do LSD Cardio Work 3x a Week (or More)
It’s a very good idea to engage in cardio-building activities OUTSIDE of muay thai training. Ideally, a combination of LSD (Longer Slower Distance) work like running and skipping rope activities are proven methods of not only increasing your fight stamina (specially your aerobic fitness system) but also helping you control weight by burning calories. Doing cardio in addition to keeping calories in check by diet gives you more leeway with your diet as well. That is, you have more of a buffer to ”overeat” and enjoy foods you like than having to be super strict with your diet and calorie counting.
A 30-45 minute run will typically burn around 400-600 calories, depending on your weight and how adapted your body has become to this activity . Obviously you can burn more by running faster for the same time period or running longer, but 30 minutes at a decent running pace will help put you in a negative caloric state when combined with proper diet.
At a bare minimum, you should do LSD cardio at least 2-3 times a week and even more, depending on your fitness goals, your diet, and your training regimen. For example, if you are training for a fight, then cardio work should be a major priority and you will want to do roadwork 5 or 6 times a week even.
Many Thai Boxers in Thailand run twice a day, with the morning run being something along the lines for 7-12k and the afternoon run being a shorter 2-4k run. Thai boxers in Thailand do this 6 times a week. You can bet that most of the active Thai boxers in Thailand are absolutely shredded with not an ounce of extra weight on them (and usually not much extra muscle either, but that is another topic altogether)
For myself, I note that when doing LSD cardio, it’s never been a problem to maintain a lean weight, especially when I combine regular Muay Thai training once or twice a day (if in Thailand) with it. Eliminating roadwork from my training regimen without sticking to some minimal calorie restriction in my diet has always resulted in some weight gain (and usually fat).
There have in fact been a number of studies done on the effect of cardio on weight loss. Weight can be staved off if you do lots of cardio — typically in the range of 300 minutes of cardio per week which comes down to 5 hours per week. For some people who are highly active (runners, fight athletes, etc) sinking this sort of time commitment into pure cardio will not be an issue, but for others, 5 hours a week of pure cardio might not be easily achievable. This is where DIET plays a huge role.
Fairly Strict Diet (calorie restriction) + minimal cardio = weight loss
Minimal Diet + moderate (or heavy) cardio = weight loss
No Diet (within reason here) + heavy cardio (at least 5 hours a week, 5 days a week)
Strict Diet + No Cardio = weight loss
Fighters commonly mix in HIIT style cardio in as well, which is high intensity interval training (Hill Sprints, Regular Sprints, Circuit work, etc). This is highly recommended as well for cardio and fitness purposes, but for strict weight loss goals, HIIT does not burn as many calories as LSD. Why? HIIT because it is so intense typically only lasts 10-20 minutes. Though you do burn more calories doing HIIT per minute vs LSD type cardio, LSD cardio sessions are typically 30 to 90 minutes long so you will burn far more calories with long steady state cardio sessions than short HIIT sessions.
Increase the Quality of Your Training
What I mean by this is train Muay Thai like you mean it! You can spend your time talking during training sessions, hitting the heavy bag and pads without enthusiasm, and skip on the sparring and clinching sessions. Or you can train like you mean it, giving 110% effort when you train.
Not only will your performance and stamina increase by training HARDER, but you’ll burn quite a few more calories which will translate into more weight loss results, if your diet is on track.
A two hour session of Muay Thai is around 1200-1500 calories burned, depending on how hard you are training. But if you are not really going hard, you are likely burning much less than you think you are.
Start a Strength Training Routine
Strength Training means using weights as a form of resistance training. Doing so will cause muscular adaptions in your body, leading to greater gains in strength and (sometimes) muscle quantity.
There are a number of compelling reasons why you should add a strength training routine to your training regimen. People often confuse Strength Training with Bodybuilding. The two are NOT at all the same. Bodybuilding is lifting weights to sculpt muscle. Strength Training is lifting weights with the goal of increasing your strength — something which can benefit your Muay Thai.
Discussing why you should strength train is an entire article just in itself, but I’ll give a few reasons why:
Functional Benefits: Strength Training will improve your overall strength. There are a number of different ‘kinds’ of strength that you can tailor your workout towards (max strength, strength endurance, explosive strength, etc). In the direct practical aspect of Muay Thai, one area that strength training can make a difference is in the Thai Clinching game where strength can help quite a bit.
Aesthetic Benefits: You will develop a better physique: Strength Training will promote lean muscle growth on your body, giving you a more sculpted, muscular appearance.
Weight Loss: Strength Training will burn additional calories during the day. Additional muscle growth will mean you burn more calories during the day even while doing no additional activity.
More Recommendations for Improving Yourself
Read our Strength Training 101 Guide and our Strength Training for Muay Thai for everything you want to know about starting a strength training routine and/or combining weights with Muay Thai Training.
For an overall strength training + diet program, consider looking into Intermittent Fasting. This is the Lifestyle / Diet I have followed for years, and it makes it very easy to keep lean (or lose weight) without a lot of the typical suffering you go through to keep lean or to cut calories. For more info, read our guide to intermittent fasting.
And if you want to work on strength and conditioning to improve your endurance, stamina, and training performance all around, you should look at our Conditioning 101 for Muay Thai: Intro to the Energy Systems and our full on How to Improve Aerobic Fitness training guide.