Thorne Extends Partnership with UFC: Talking Sports Science with Joel Totoro

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Thorne has recently extended their partnership as the Official Sports Performance Nutrition Partner of the UFC and UFC Performance Institute. MMA Sucka was able to sit down and spend some time with Thorne and discuss what this partnership means for the UFC athletes, for sports science, and what exactly Thorne does. We discussed all things Thorne with Joel Totoro, R.D., Director of Sports Science at Thorne.

-“Since UFC began offering Thorne’s NSF Certified for Sport supplements to their athletes in 2019, there has not been a single incident of a failed drug test from contaminants in supplements or challenges with weight management.” Why are other athletes failing drug tests due to tainted supplements with other companies? What is happening in the manufacturing process when this happens and why is Thorne different?

Thorne is committed to using only the highest quality, research-backed ingredients in our products that we make in-house at our manufacturing facility in South Carolina. Most supplement brands use outside contract manufacturers to make their products, but by making our products ourselves, we can control every step of the manufacturing process, which ensures maximum quality control. Not a single ingredient that is banned from athletic competition is allowed in our doors, nor found in any of our products, ensuring no accidental contamination. Thorne products also undergo four rounds of in-house testing and are screened for more than 800 contaminants, including substances banned for competition, as well as pollutants, toxins, pesticides, and heavy metals. In addition, more than 30 of our sport-specific products are then third-party tested by NSF International for its Certified for Sport program to further ensure they are free of banned substances.

-Recently Thorne and the UFC extended their partnership, what does this mean for UFC athletes?

Thorne is excited to renew our partnership with the UFC and support the UFC Performance Institute staff under Dr. Duncan French. The UFC Performance Institute is the global leader in human performance and the gold standard for health, wellbeing, and performance in MMA. Performance nutrition and health solutions are a big part of supporting UFC athletes, so renewing the relationship enables athletes’ access to high-quality nutrients to fuel training, performance, and recovery as directed by the performance dietitians at the UFC Performance Institute.

-Thorne has been working with the UFC for three years now and utilizes data-based solution, with the UFC athletes’ involvement, what are some of the advancements in this time?

One of the most exciting parts of working with the UFC PI is their willingness to share their data and findings with the greater MMA community, as well as the entire sporting world. Their annual UFC Performance Institute Digital Journal is one of the most highly anticipated releases in the high-performance world. Their 2022 edition covers 90 topics – from strength training to supplement protocols and includes 500 pages of data interpretation and application. Thorne continues to innovate our at-home test kits that allow UFC fighters to assess strategic biomarkers even when they are away from the UFC PI. Together, we are looking to better understand the impact of training and weight cycling on gut health and assess which nutrients in which forms best support optimal brain health.

-UFC athletes have the unique issue of having to consume enough food to do high intensity and cardiovascular workouts while cutting weight. What would you recommend for athletes who are reducing caloric intake while needing perform high intensity/cardiovascular tasks?

More and more, we see fighters live closer to their fight weight, decreasing the amount of body manipulation needed to make fight weight. Fighters who consistently plan their hydration, fiber, and fueling strategies can lose up to 10 percent of their body weight before a competition, while those who are inconsistent in their planning and preparation often struggle to make weight. Of note, this is a planned short-term loss in body weight, with an intentional plan for post-weigh in repletion. An athlete looking to manipulate body weight should always work with a registered dietitian and health-care providers to ensure a shift in body weight is done healthfully.

There are three main ways to manipulate body weight in the days leading up to weigh in: gut contents, glycogen storage, and water in the body. The body is constantly digesting the food you eat, and that food has weight. Water can comprise 60 percent of human body weight, which makes it an attractive variable for fighters to manipulate – but it must be done under strict guidelines. Glycogen is a stored carbohydrate mainly found in the muscles and is used to fuel training. Glycogen storage brings water along with it; hence the “hydrate” in the name carbohydrate.  500 grams of stored carbohydrate can contribute almost 2 kilograms of body weight. Athletes who change to a low-fiber, low-residue diet can minimize this weight. A switch to a low carbohydrate diet leading up to a weigh-in is often recommended. While an MMA athlete can routinely lose two to three percent of their body weight during a training session, no more than a four to five percent decrease is recommended during a supervised weight cut. With all these strategies, the goal is to keep restrictions to a minimum and plan to replete weight post-weigh in.

-What is missing in the standard American diet?

The standard American diet is bit of a myth, as culinary knowledge, food access, allergies, and food avoidances change and evolve. We do know the average American struggles to meet all their nutrient needs. When working with athletes and active individuals, we see several common nutrients that need addressing. Vitamin D levels are often low because we rely on sun exposure to raise its level. But during fall and winter, or living in a northern area, or wearing sunscreen or protective clothing can lead to a sub-optimal vitamin D level.  And an estimated 75 percent of U.S. adults fail to achieve the recommended daily intake of magnesium, a mineral that is involved in more than 600 of the body’s enzymatic reactions. Finally, we often see athletes struggle to consume enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diets. These fatty acids, found in fish, nuts, and seeds, support cardiovascular, joint, and brain health.

-What does Thorne do differently than other sports performance nutrition companies?

In addition to the steps to ensure quality discussed a few minutes ago, Thorne goes above and beyond sports nutrition companies by collaborating with research partners like the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins University on multiple clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of nutritional supplements. Thorne is the only supplement brand endorsed by the U.S. Olympic Committee to the various National Governing Bodies of Olympic sports – in fact, Thorne is the nutritional supplement provider to 12 national teams. We are also the trusted partner of top professional athletes from the NFL to UFC and Formula 1. Thorne employs full-time medical professionals, including PHDs, MDs, DOs, NDs, and RDs to provide medical support for product development, clinical research, and consumer education to substantiate the presence of every ingredient in every Thorne formula.

-How do the home tests kits identify nutritional gaps for athletes?

Thorne’s at-home test kits test biomarkers that we can validate as accurate by obtaining them from saliva, urine, or a finger stick. These biomarkers can be tested at the individual’s convenience, in their home, without needing to visit a doctor or a laboratory. We have identified key biomarkers that assess health topics such as sleep, stress, and weight management. Based on an individual’s test results, we suggest an action plan and recommendations for optimal lifestyle, diet, and supplementation.

-Are you an MMA fan? If so, what got you interested in this sport?

I grew up a boxing fan, so I’ve always had an interest in combat sports. Like many individuals my age, I first became a fan following Forrest Griffin in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter. As a sports dietitian, I’ve always followed the sport’s unique demands. Watching MMA competitions through their lens and all they’ve taught me has only grown my love and admiration for the sport. This interest has only grown through our partnership with the UFC PI. Clint Wattenberg and his Sports Nutrition team are so impressive in building the program to support athlete health and wellness.

Special thank you to Thorne, and Joel Totoro, R.D., Director of Sports Science at Thorne.

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Tim Wheaton has been with the sport of MMA since 2005. MMA & Boxing training and fight experience. From Canada, now in Scotland.
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