How Do UFC (MMA) Fighters Recover After a Fight? (6 Ways)

Photo of Rachael Ostovich by MMAnytt

Are you wondering how UFC (MMA) fighters recover after a fight?

In this article, we’ll examine how UFC fighters recover after a fight, the initial process of recovery immediately after a fight, and the most common MMA injuries.

How Do UFC Fighters Recover After a Fight?

After a fight, UFC fighters have to recover their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. There are 6 main ways UFC/MMA fighters recover after a fight, which are:

  1. Nutrition and Hydration
  2. Sleeping and rest
  3. Health checks
  4. Passive and active recovery
  5. Recreation
  6. Communication

Immediately after a fight, fighters are examined by the ringside physicians and commissioners at the event. They ask fighters questions, test their vision, check for visible injuries (breaks, lacerations), check their vital signs, and scan the brain if an infrascanner is available.

If an infrascanner isn’t available and there’s even a slight concern of brain injury, fighters are sent to the hospital for scans. If the ringside physician feels the fighter needs further checks or treatment, the fighter is either sent to the hospital or referred to a doctor back home.

Based on these initial tests, fighters are also given a compulsory medical suspension by the commission of the event – a minimum of 7 days for all fighters and a maximum of 180 days for broken bones.

Now the fighter has a rough timeline of recovery, here’s how they recover after a fight.

1. Nutrition and Hydration

The first things UFC fighters do to recover after a fight is focus on eating good quality food and drinking plenty of water to fully rehydrate. 

As the majority of UFC and MMA fighters have been cutting weight before a fight, they’ve been undereating to drop body fat and dangerously dehydrating themselves in the 3 or 4 days before weigh-ins to flush water weight.

And despite UFC weigh-ins being moved back from the late afternoon to 9 to 11 am the day before a fight, some fighters aren’t 100% when fighting as it can take up to 72 hours for the brain to fully rehydrate after an excessive water flush.

For this reason, the best thing to aid a fighter’s recovery after a fight is drinking around a gallon (4.5 liters) of water every day.

In terms of nutrition, a UFC fighter’s recovery after a fight is kickstarted by eating a high-quality nutritious balanced diet, just as they’ve been eating in the months leading up to a fight, but now in a 500 to 1000-calorie surplus.

This is a diet full of high-quality proteins, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, complex carbohydrates, fiber, and plenty of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from fruit and vegetables.

Aside from what they eat and drink, what they don’t eat and drink is equally important for effective recovery. Fighters need to avoid alcohol, excess sugar, processed foods, and foods high in saturated fats.

2. Sleeping and Rest

All UFC/MMA fighters are given a minimum 7 days suspension after a fight, which is time to rest and recover both physically and mentally. Even if a fighter isn’t hurt, 7 days gives them time to recover from a potentially taxing weight cut. 

It’s also to stop MMA fighters from fighting in a different promotion within 7 days. However, this doesn’t apply to UFC fighters as their UFC contract doesn’t allow them to fight for another promotion.

Here’s a table of the minimum medical suspensions, which dictate the time before a fighter can compete again.

InjuryMinimum SuspensionMaximum Suspension or When Cleared by Doctor
None7 Days or 168 HoursN/A
Choked Unconscious (Didn’t Tap)30 DaysN/A
Technical Knock Out (Referee Intervention)30 DaysN/A
Knock Out (Unconscious or Unable to Continue)45 Days90 Days
Facial Cut (Laceration)60 DaysOr When Cleared by Doctor
Limb or Joint Injury30 Days120 Days or When Cleared by Doctor
Broken Bone180 Daysor When Cleared by Doctor
Compulsory medical suspensions in MMA

A fighter’s coach, team, and doctor should also give their fighter advice on how long before they return to training, whether it be cardio, weights, or skills training. This advice will be different depending on the injury and how a fighter personally feels.

Along with a plan for daily rest, UFC fighters should be getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night as this is when brain and body injuries are healing. They can get better sleep by limiting or removing caffeine from their diet and removing/reducing light intake a couple of hours before sleeping.

3. Health Checks

Depending on the injury sustained from a fight and the medical suspension given, UFC fighters have health checks to monitor their progress and/or get clearance from the doctor to enable them to fight earlier.

As the UFC only pays for medical procedures and bills up to 30 days after a fight, most fighters have these health checks done within 30 days. That way, if an injury isn’t healing as it should or something else is noticed by the doctors, it can be dealt with and the payment is covered by the UFC.

4. Passive and Active Recovery

Immediately after a fight, most UFC fighters use ice packs to reduce swelling and inflammation of injured areas. They also take anti-inflammatory medication such as Ibuprofen or Naproxen.

The recovery process is very different for each fighter, depending on the injury sustained, how the injury is healing, how soon they want to or need to fight again, and more.

After a few days or when they’re ready, they’ll start passive recovery methods such as:

  • Massages – increase blood flow, relaxation, and muscle elasticity, and reduce inflammation, muscle tightness, pain, and the formation of knots
  • Saunas – promotes tissue healing, and pain relief, and increases blood circulation, muscle relaxation, and heart rate (similar to exercise)
  • Ice baths – reduce swelling, tissue breakdown, inflammation, and muscle soreness, and increase blood flow (after), immune response, and mental clarity
  • Cryotherapy – reduces pain, inflammation, and swelling, and increases recovery time (sessions are only 3 minutes long too)
  • Compression – reduces swelling and keeps blood moving efficiently in an injured area, and gives support to injured joints (compression boots are popular among MMA fighters for recovery)
  • Cupping decompress muscle tissue to aid and speed up muscle recovery, ease pain, and reduce inflammation
  • Physiotherapy – restores function, reduces pain, and prevents further injury by giving the fighter a treatment plan to follow
  • RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) method – helps to heal sprains, strains, and swellings.

Essentially, any recovery method which heals them as they rest. These methods aim to reduce inflammation, pain, and stress, increase blood flow/circulation and heal injuries as fast as possible so they can get back to training and booking another fight.

Next, after a week or so or when they’re ready (as per their injury), a fighter starts their active recovery with light activities such as:

These aim to ease the movements of joints and increase their range of motion through all planes of movement, as well as increase muscle flexibility, strength, and range of motion.

Slowly they’ll integrate cardiovascular exercise starting with low-impact forms such as swimming, cycling, skipping rope, or shadowboxing. These get the blood flowing to all muscles which helps with the healing process. It also allows a fighter to keep fit, loose, and flexible.

Once they can perform low-impact exercise without pain, they’ll move on to skills training such as light/touch sparring and bag workouts, and higher-impact cardio activities like running and chain wrestling.

Fighters should be fully recovered before they return to full sparring, heavy weight lifting, and intense skills training. For most fighters, this is at least a month, even for those who haven’t suffered a knockout but who took a fair number of head strikes.

5. Recreation

While sleeping and resting after a fight allows a UFC fighter to recover while simultaneously taking a break from fighting and training, time for recreation, and doing things they’re passionate about outside of MMA is especially important for mental recovery and well-being.

MMA fighters only fight 2 or 3 times per year on average and experience an emotional rollercoaster every time they fight. Win or lose, fighters are known to suffer depression or feel low after a fight.

For many fighters, competing is like a drug with a euphoric high, especially as they’ve spent months of grueling training and cutting weight in preparation. 

After it’s over, fighters can feel lonely during their recovery because of how quiet their life becomes. They can feel a lack of purpose since they’re unable to (injury) or aren’t allowed to train, and they have no fight on the horizon.

This is worse for the losing fighter, who’s worked tirelessly for months to come out injured, without the win, and in most cases without half of their base pay (fighters are paid show and win pay).

Therefore, recreation for UFC/MMA fighters after a fight is an important part of emotional and mental recovery. They may spend time with friends and family, meditate, eat food they normally don’t eat and do whatever they like to raise their spirits.

For some UFC/MMA fighters, their recreation includes drinking alcohol and socializing with fellow fighters and friends. And while alcohol may hinder their recovery, many feel the trade-off to be worth it as this type of recreation helps them recover mentally – as long as they don’t overdo it.

6. Communication

As mentioned, fighters can get low in spirit and suffer bouts of depression after a fight, and no amount of recreation can help them fully recover.

For some fighters who lost, going over the mistakes they made in the fight or the things they could’ve done better may help them mentally get over the loss, move on from it, and progress as a fighter. This is why having a great team and coach is very important in MMA, as it can be a lonely sport otherwise.

Others may seek professional help from a therapist, psychologist, or counselor, and others seek advice from fellow fighters or former fighters who’ve been through similar situations.

What Are the Most Common MMA (UFC) Injuries?

How UFC fighters recover after a fight is highly dependent on some of the most common MMA injuries, which in order are:

  1. Facial lacerations/bruising – lacerations see a fighter given a minimum 60-day medical suspension or until they’re cleared by a doctor
  2. Leg/body bruising – the common use of leg/calf kicks mean legs get frequently beat up, but they should heal within a month or two
  3. Fractured/broken toes, hands, wrists, and forearms – fractures/breaks see a fighter given a minimum 180-day medical suspension or until they’re cleared by a doctor
  4. Concussions/mild brain trauma injuries – TKOs result in a minimum 30-day medical suspension and KOs result in a minimum of 45 days and a maximum of 90 days as determined by the commission
  5. Knee injuries – calf and oblique kicks cause a lot of knee injuries in modern MMA, resulting in a minimum 30-day medical suspension or a maximum 90-day/when cleared by a doctor

Do UFC Fighters Go To the Hospital After a Fight?

UFC fighters go to the hospital after a fight if the ringside physician and commissioner of the event feel it necessary for them to get more checks and/or treatment.

UFC fighters go to the hospital after a fight if they’ve suffered a fracture/break, deep laceration, a joint injury, or a concussion. All UFC events have ambulances ready to take fighters to the hospital.

A UFC fighter doesn’t go to the hospital after a fight if they pass the ringside physician’s routine checks. They check a fighter’s vital signs, ask them questions, check their vision and visible damage, and scan their brain using an infrascanner if the event has one available.

If an infrascanner isn’t available and there’s even a slight concern of brain injuries, UFC fighters are sent to the hospital for scans.

The Bottom Line

So, ‘how do UFC/MMA fighters recover after a fight?’

UFC fighters recover after a fight in 6 main ways: nutrition/hydration, sleeping/rest, health checks, passive/active recovery, recreation, and communication. Each stage of recovery is very different for each UFC fighter and highly dependent on the nature of the injury.

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