Here’s How Dustin Poirier Got In Shape for UFC 281
It’s been almost a full year since Dustin Poirier last stepped inside the Octagon. One might imagine there might be some element of rust, especially in a sport as physically and mentally demanding as mixed martial arts. But throughout the layoff, Poirier (28-7 MMA, 20-6 UFC) remained perpetually in the gym, either training local fighters or fine-tuning his own skillset in anticipation of when his next bout would present itself.
While speaking about his fight against Michael Chandler this Saturday on the UFC 281 pay-per-view main card, there was a sense of excitement in his tone, but also one of motivation. Being out of the spotlight for an extended stretch tends to lead to the voices of detractors becoming louder and more frequent. Not that he needs any further fuel to the fire, Poirier is looking to put on a show and place himself in line for a shot at the lightweight title.
Poirier spoke with GQ midway through his training camp on how he manages to keep camp refreshing after 13 years years, why he doesn’t cheat himself on carbs any further, prioritizing his brain health, and his hot sauce side project.
GQ: How has training camp been and how has the body been feeling after such a long layoff?
Dustin Poirier: Good. I’m actually injury-free besides bumps and bruises because you can’t get around that stuff in training camp. But I feel good and everything is right on track.
In training camp, are you more so focused on just fine-tuning what you need or are you focused on exploiting the weaknesses of your opponent?
It’s definitely a mix of both. Of course, I have to sharpen, fine-tune and get everything done that I need to. Me and my coaches break down things [my opponents] are good at. Where there are holes in their game? We try and exploit those things throughout training camp and implement them in the fight. But I have to also worry about myself as well, continue to evolve as a fighter and martial artist. I’m always working on my own skills and trying different things. As the fight gets closer, that tunnel vision gets more focused on the opponent’s style.
What are the phases of your training camp?
I would say the last 10 fights, it’s been a similar process. I’ll do eight to 10 weeks in South Florida. When I’m in Louisiana, I’ll start my dieting even before entering training camp and flying out to Florida just to get ahead of the game a little bit. It’s a lot of skill work to begin. Of course, there’s strength and conditioning, cardio, worrying about the weight cut, making sure I’m burning calories, and staying on a diet where I’m calorie deprived, where each week. I’m losing a bit of weight but not too much where I crash because I still need to heal up in between each training session. It’s just a systematic approach that me and my team have refined. Things that we thought worked well, we’ll use again the next camp. Things that we think we need to switch, we’ll do that. Every fight is different. What I do, another fighter might not have success in doing.
Is the relocation to Florida just for a change of scenery?
Over the years with a lot of fights, I know when I’m feeling burned out and if I’m pushing too much. It gets monotonous going to the same place for 10 weeks in a row, twice a day. Everything is under one roof. I’m boxing there, doing jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and kickboxing. It’s walking through the same door twice a day for that many weeks—you kind of get burned out. To find that middle ground to where you’re excited to go.
At this stage of your career, what is your favorite part of camp and the least favorite?
My favorite part is going live—sparring, live grappling, pushing each other. I like to scramble, have fun, and put myself in weird positions during fighting to be prepared for anything. The part that’s not my favorite is drilling the same technique a thousand times a week. Showing up at night, in the morning, and drilling the same stuff over and over again. I have, like, ADD and if we keep doing the same stuff, I’m looking around the gym, watching flies go around the room. My attention is short so I try and keep it fun.
What does recovery look like for you?
I’ve been fighting for a while now and the older I’ve gotten in my career, the more focus we put toward brain health, honestly. We see it being a big deal in football nowadays. It’s eating more fats, allowing the brain to recover. We’ll pull back on sparring if we had a really tough day where we went at it—maybe even separating those hard live “gos”. When I say live—and I do go live a lot—we’re not beating each other’s heads in every day. We might be live wrestling and live jiu-jitsu. I think there are times when you want to push yourself, especially in training camp, but you have to be very careful because you only have one brain and that’s very important for longevity in a combat sport.
Your daughter walked into our conversation earlier. Is there anything you tell her so she’s not fearful when you come home with a black eye, or stitches?
She’s only six and she was born into it. When she was one, she would come into my gym and watch me train and fight. Fighting isn’t a big deal to her because her first memories are of me fighting and training. It’s everyday life to her now. She knows that’s what daddy does. We don’t let her watch live fights, but she will watch replays when I come back home. If I come home with stitches, she knows not to pull the stitches out. She’s kind of tempered to it and it’s not a big deal to her even with how extreme and dangerous it is.
You mentioned the dieting starts before training camp and with the layoff, you don’t seem like you put on a ton of weight. What is your philosophy when it comes to dieting?
It depends on how active you are. I haven’t fought since December. If I would’ve been crazy, I could have put on some serious weight by not fighting for 10 months. It’s easy to drink beer and eat chips when you’re back home and you’re outside of training camp. But I was still training. I have a lot of local fighters in Louisiana who prepare for fights. I’m helping them, coaching them, and being a training partner. I’m always in the gym but that’s not enough. The nutrition side has to be locked in as well. I’ll give myself the weekend as long as a majority of my everyday life involves me thinking about health, what I’m doing is health orientated and I’m drinking a lot of water. Getting back into shape isn’t that big of a deal as long as you aren’t too far from it.
What’s a current day of eating look like?
Right now with being midway through training camp—this morning, I ate two eggs, half of a banana, a little bit of oat milk, and some walnuts. That’s maybe around 300 calories, so it’s a pretty small breakfast. For lunch, I came home and had four ounces of chicken. I had some almonds, grapes, and an apple. In a little while, I’ll have a protein shake with some yogurt and greens. I’m eating about four to five times a day depending on what time I’m waking up and when my first session is with breakfast, lunch, and dinner being the highest-calorie meals and small snacks in between. It’s enough food to make you feel like you’ve eaten something but there’s still room to eat more. From the beginning of training camp to now, it’s tough to do because at the beginning and in between those meals, I want to eat more. As your body gets used to the calories, your stomach starts to shrink and it gets to be an easier process as it gets closer to the end of camp.
With a lot of athletes, nutrition is trial-and-error until they find what works best for them. What would you say is different at age 33 than say 25?
When I was younger, I used to try and avoid carbs during training camp. I know it sounds crazy but I tried to avoid carbohydrates at all costs. I thought if I ran my body off of protein and fats, and get some fiber from greens—I thought my weight would go down but I just didn’t understand the process of healing. I need those carbohydrates and the sugars from fruits after training sessions to allow my body to recover and to be prepared for the next session. At the beginning of my career, I was reading a lot, buying magazines, going online, and reading articles. A lot of that stuff is beneficial to a lot of people but whenever you have a specific sport that you’re doing, it doesn’t work for everyone.
Being from Louisiana, you’re no stranger to good eating. What are some foods you enjoy when you want to have a cheat day or even a cheat week?
A cheat week is pushing it unless I’m on vacation. Being from Louisiana, it’s easy to eat badly. Just the culture there is a lot of fried food, a lot of rice, gravy, carbs, and big portions. Everywhere is serving alcohol and it’s just a part of the culture. As it starts to get cooler, gumbo is a big deal for me. As the temps start to drop, everyone is cooking gumbo and watching football.
Hot sauce is also big in Louisiana culture, and you have the Poirier Louisiana Style with Heartbeat Hot Sauce. How did that partnership start and what are some things you learned while crafting your own sauce?
I’m thankful that this partnership developed with the teammates and people we have with Poirier’s Louisiana Style. It’s been great because they’re experts in the field, first of all, but they’re also fun to work with. Everyone is on the same page and it’s been a really fun process. The sauce was birthed from COVID and being trapped at home. I love cooking and I always knew I wanted to be involved in the culinary world somehow. Being stuck at home, having downtime, and being able to put pen to paper, put ingredients together, and reach out is how the opportunity took off.
I’ve learned a lot of things business-wise but also culinary-wise in the short amount of time since we launched Poirier’s Louisiana Style. One thing that stands out is when you bring things to scale. When you make a small batch at home, there might be five bottles of sauce. You put all the ingredients together, cook it in a pot, and it tastes a certain way. When you bring it up to scale and you make 5,000 bottles, you can use the same ingredients, but scale it up, things can change. Peppers taste a little bit different and different flavors come through stronger when you scale up the ingredients.
What would you say separates your sauce from all the choices on the market?
It’s a vinegar-based, Louisiana-style sauce. So it’s similar to a lot of sauces that are out there. However, there is a fine line between developing flavors and just having a sauce with peppers and vinegar. The celery and a lot of small things really come through when you taste the sauce by itself. You can also cook with the sauce—I cook with it a lot. Buy a bottle of any other Louisiana sauce and taste-test it side by side. You’ll definitely pick up some small things that place it ahead of the pack.
With how late your fights typically are, what is your routine on the day of the fight?
I try and sleep in as long as I can because I’m not fighting until usually 11 or 12 p.m., especially on a pay-per-view. The fights don’t actually start until about 10:00 on the east coast. I try to sleep until midday if I can. I’ll wake up and have breakfast. I like to eat a light lunch and go to the arena that afternoon feeling a little empty—not hungry, but I don’t want to be full. At the weigh-ins the day before, we’ve been dehydrating ourselves and cutting all of this weight for so many weeks, you want to eat because you feel like the chains have been broken and you can do whatever you want. It’s important to know that whatever you put in your body, you’re going to be competing with that in your body the next day, so the diet still has to be very calculated up until after the fight.
Afterward, all of the things that I have deprived myself of for all those weeks, I have to get back. As you mature through the sport, if it’s a tough fight, you have to be careful. You can’t go out drinking and get crazy if your brain just took a lot of trauma. You take that as the fights come but, for me, it’s definitely a lot of pizza and junk food. I’ll go back home, spend a couple of days eating, relaxing, resting up, letting the swelling go down, and get back in the gym and get back to normal life slowly. But you do have to decompress from a fight camp and fight night. Have fun, loosen up and enjoy yourself.