Those biceps, those pecs, that chiseled eight-pack. The old saying is that form follows function. Well, the function of MMA fighter Chad Mendes is to K.O. anyone who steps into the cage with him. The UFC’s top featherweight contender, with a professional record of 16 wins and just one loss (to champion José Aldo), Mendes spends more time holding people in headlocks than he does pushing iron in the weight room. As he says, if you want a fighter’s body, you have to do the actual fighting—that, and eat 5,000 calories per day without giving in to the greasy siren call of the nearest In-N-Out.
Training grounds: Sacramento, Calif.
Height: 5’ 6"
Weight: 160 lbs
Body fat: 5 percent
Total years as an athlete: 23. “I started wrestling when I was 5.”
Hours spent training on a hard day: 6
Hours spent training on an easy day: 2
Days spent training per week: 6
Hours spent in the weight room per week: 2
Calories consumed per day: 5,000. “I’m always trying to eat more because I have the tendency to get small.” We didn’t notice.
Favorite pre-workout meal: His “Hulk shake,” or a blend of raw kale, spinach, carrots, bananas, apples, strawberries, blueberries, and whey protein. “I like this because it’s easy to get in all your vegetables really fast. I don’t always have to cook or make a big-ass salad, so the Hulk does it for me.”
Favorite post-workout meal: Three rolls of assorted sushi (18 pieces total), with a seaweed salad. “I go to this place, Mikuni Sushi, in Sacramento, and I just kill it. I’m not always necessarily the healthiest as far as sushi goes, but I like fish, and the carbs in rice help me keep my weight up.”
Typical dinner during training: Venison with brown rice and a spinach salad. “I’m a big hunter, so I eat a lot of wild game—venison, wild hog, wild turkey. I’d say 80 percent of the time I’m eating wild game.”
Celebration meal after a fight: A Double-Double at In-N-Out Burger, with large fries and a lemonade. “The Double-Double is a big-ole, sloppy, nasty burger, and everyone loves a big-ole sloppy burger. There are no health benefits to it at all.”
Beverage of choice: Sweet tea. “I like the taste of it. But 90 percent of the time, I just drink water.”
Biggest dietary temptation: Beer. “I only drink after a fight. I’ll go through an eight- to 10-week training camp where I don’t drink at all. But in the month after a fight, I’ll allow myself to have a beer now and then.” Mendes estimates he drinks four beers per month at most.
Essential workout: Wrestling drills for one hour, followed by “live wrestling,” or sparring, for one hour. “It’s probably the most physically demanding wrestling I’ve ever done. It’s a mix of high-pace cardio, and you’re doing a lot of squeezing and grabbing, so it’s almost like you’re lifting weights—so you’re doing cardio and weights at the same time.”
Secret workout: Outdoor circuit training. “I like to get outside and in the sun. I do plyometrics, some kind of cardio, leg pushes and pulls, and a lot of the kind of stuff you’d see in CrossFit.”
Biggest physical challenge: Proper recovery. “There are so many different aspects of mixed martial arts you have to cover. You can’t just be good at one thing to be a champion—you have to work on your wrestling, kickboxing, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and strength and conditioning. It’s hard to find time to fit all those in without getting overtrained.”
Best recovery trick: Ice baths. “I do a lot of ice baths. I absolutely hate them, but I know its one of the best ways to recover.”
Best advice if you want to win a street fight: Run. “Especially if you don’t have any training or you’re outnumbered.”