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The Real-Life Diet of Marlon “Chito” Vera, Who Eats Steak to Cut Weight

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The rising UFC bantamweight caught up with GQ about cleaning up his diet, post-fight celebrations, and the only thing he doesn’t like about MMA. 

UFC fighter marlon vera on a red and yellow swirling backgorund

Photograph: Getty images; Collage by Gabe Conte

Marlon Vera fights in one of the most competitive groups in all of combat sports. UFC’s bantamweight division features celebrated veterans like Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo, the loudmouth Sean O’Malley, and a murderers’ row of rising talent, and the division has consistently provided some of the company’s most entertaining builds to top-notch bouts. But even among a stacked weight class, Marlon “Chito” Vera has been a standout. The Ecuadorian fighter has proven a fan favorite for his iron chin and show-stealing performances. Never knocked out or submitted inside the octagon, Vera has been steadily ascending the bantamweight rankings. And after winning his last three contests, whispers have started about a title shot.

In his recent main event battle with Rob Font—Vera’s first time headlining a UFC event—Vera proved he belongs at the top of the card. Despite a shaky first round, which saw Font land a staggering number of significant blows, Vera showcased his undeniable grit, versatile arsenal, and signature swagger on route to victory via unanimous decision. The bout is sure to be a contender for fight of the year come December, and defeating a top-five fighter also put Vera one step closer to the bantamweight belt.

Just before his big win, GQ caught up with Vera to chat about his nutrition plan as a pro-fighter, how he thinks of food as fuel, and why he doesn’t like the term diet.

GQ: Nutrition is part of prep or any fighter, so what does your diet look like leading up to the main event?

Marlon Vera: Because I’m an athlete people think I’m on a certain strict diet before the fight. But the only time things change up in my life is when I’ve got to cut weight and get down to 135. I eat very small meals but they’re the same types of food I’m regularly eating. If you’re eating the wrong things or changing too much just to lose weight you’re going to be weak. You won’t be able to perform. 

I eat how I eat because I’m not a regular person. I’m going to get in a steel cage and try to beat the fuck out of another man. I need to fuel my body to do that. There is no such thing as a diet for me. I just eat healthy whole foods—nutritionally dense foods. And I do that all the time.

If you win this fight, many believe you’re in line for a title shot.

That’s everything. That’s the only thing that matters in this game. I didn’t get involved with MMA to be just another fighter. I want to be a world champion. I believe getting the strap will be one of the biggest achievements of my life. It’s all the matters. But that can be very far or very close depending on how this fight goes. So…I’m willing to do anything to win this battle. 

Are there any kind of delicacies or cheat meals involved?

I don’t believe in cheating. I don’t want to sacrifice my body for five minutes of pleasure and then feel like shit for an hour. Everything is very clean. That’s the way I think any human should eat. You feel better. You think better. 

It seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on what works for your nutrition. Did you always eat that way or was it something you learned when you started fighting? 

Before I moved to the US, my wife started getting into fitness. There were vegetable juices. Cooking proteins with raw butter. Getting the good salts, because many salts are bad for you. Avoiding any types of sugars or processed foods. When she started I was making fun of her. I grew up eating anything available. If you were full that’s all the was important. But she was introducing me to all these kinds of new ways of doing things and I realized: Wow, I feel better like this.

When I started getting close to the top in the UFC, I got to meet this group of ladies called Perfecting Athletes. That was what put my game on top. I’ve now learned from them for so long that it’s all dialed in. Between my wife and them, they do such a great job of keeping me healthy and helping me to eat the right things. When I get closer to the fight, it’s all just doing what the nutritionists at Perfecting Athletes tell me to do. I wish more people understood about nutrition and eating foods that are good for you instead of focusing on diets. Because the better you eat, the better you can do anything. 

Can you elaborate on what the nutritionists do for you? Is that looking at macros? A calorie count? Giving you a list of foods or meals?

Yeah, they do count the macros. They make sure everything is very balanced. For example, you need good starches, good fat, and good protein on a plate to be satisfied for the next five hours. I think most people eat one plate and then in thirty minutes they’re hungry again. If I have a good balanced meal I can last for at least five hours without feeling hungry and without having any crash. I’m very active: I go to the gym twice a day, every day. I also have my family. My hands are full. But eating like this I always feel great. 

If I feel weak or a little sluggish, I’ll have some sashimi, avocado, and a little sweet potato.That’s a great meal, right? If I feel like I need more or I’m a little distracted in my mind, then maybe I add some more fats or an extra cup of starch. I text my nutritionists and we play it by ear. The company does a really great job of responding to my needs, no matter what time I text them they tell me what to do and how to adjust.

You mentioned the weight cut. I think people outside of fighting are always fascinated with that process. How taxing is it?

These last couple of weeks, in order to get down to 135 pounds, I’ve been eating a lot of steak. A lot of vegetables. For breakfast or dinner I’ll do something light like yogurt and granola. I throw in a bit of olive oil just to keep the fat on my body and have the energy to do my workouts. It’s two weeks of a little bit less food. But it’s still the same clean and highly nutrient-dense food. 

You also have to stay very hydrated. We water load, drinking close to two gallons of water a day on the week of the fight. It’s crazy. You don’t need that much water in your body. But you have to drink it in order to lose all that water weight for the weigh in. That’s one part I hate about it. I’m a fighter. I’m not a weight cutter. I would love to fight at the weight I walk around, which is about 155. But if I went one weight class up, which is 145, I’d have to fight dudes who cut from 180.

I don’t like it. I wish we could weigh in ten seconds before we get into the cage. I wish we could fight at our natural weights—don’t be a bitch about it. Cutting weight is the only thing I don’t like about MMA. But I get paid to do it, so it is what it is.

You said you generally stay away from cheat meals, but do you ever have something to celebrate after a big win? A delicious meal? A drink?

If I can find a really great Italian place to eat with my whole crew and family, that’s the best case scenario. But sometimes that’s not possible when the fights end late. So we’ll order some pizza and ice cream and take a couples of bites. I’m not too much of a drinker but I’ll take couple shots of whisky. That’s more just celebrating—cheers to life.

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