Posted by Tommy Hackett on April 28th, 2009
In a recent interview with Fight Magazine, Lyoto Machida was asked what was in his refrigerator. The Brazilian MMA phenom known as “The Dragon” (or, as I prefer to call him, “The Next Light Heavyweight Champion of the World”) didn’t surprise me when he included açaí (pronounced a-sigh-ee, more or less) in his response. Why? First, I enjoyed açaí for the first time last year and have been hooked ever since. Second, and more relevant to this site, the purple berry has made mention all over the MMA world lately.
For the uninformed, açaí is a berry native to Brazil, and the food made from its pulp, hailed as a “superfood” on Oprah and others, has gotten particularly a strong amount of talk in MMA circles of late. In fact, I first heard about açaí on the Underground Forum from guys who had enjoyed açaí bowls in Brazil, where the purple pulp is blended with other fruits to a texture like soft-serve ice cream. This combination of sweet and a mild cocao-like bitterness is often topped with sliced fruit and granola. The fans’ excitement about finding it back home in the US recently was echoed by the likes of UFC lightweight Sean Sherk, who was seen picking up some frozen açaí at a market in his UFC special preceeding his bout with Hermes Franca. Sherk famously noted that unlike almost everything else he has to eat, açaí actually tasted good!
Closer to the source, Rio native Mario Sperry spoke to Mark Kurano about his love for it in a recent interview on Fighters Club TV, where the jiu-jitsu legend mentioned, “It gives you a lot of energy… a lot of vitamins and minerals that you need.” Kurano was gracious enough to put the video back up at my request and you can find it here.
In his book A Fighter’s Heart, Sam Sheridan mentions fondly recalls his days in Ipanema while training with Sperry’s Brazilian Top Team during their heyday:
There are stands on every corner where fresh fruit is available for a pittance; Brazil has about five fruits you’ve never heard of, unique to its jungle. I ended up hooked on açaí and morago… Acai is supposedly wonderful for you, twenty grams of protein and trans-fatty acids and vitamins. It’s relatively new from Rio, from the north; Wallid Ismail brought it south with him.
In an article which Fight Magazine has made available online, Kim Gracie recalls that açaí has been a staple in the Gracie diet for generations.
Since the first generation of the Gracie brothers were from that area, they discovered that mixing the Acai pulp with other healthy ingredients could create a powerful smoothie that would replace a meal. After they moved to Rio de Janeiro, they located a supplier of the rare frozen pulp. They kept the consumption of this fruit within the family as a tradition.
From memory, one of the most memorable stories about açaí coming from the days US wrestling standout Robert Anderson travelled to Brazil in the late 1980’s to instruct Rolls Gracie (among many others) in wrestling. Sadly I can’t find it online, but as I recall, Anderson enjoyed bowl after bowl of açaí in one sitting before anyone told him about guarana. Anderson, who does not take caffeine, found himself bouncing off the walls. Unfortunately I can’t recall where I heard this story and can’t find confirmation of it anywhere. If it did happen, he left it out of his classic interview with Fightworks Podcast, but that’s also worth a listen.
In addition to the healthy fats which Sheridan mentioned (and it should be mentioned that I don’t find the protein content to be as high as he does), açaí is generally known for its antioxidant benefits and good fiber. Last week the New York Times ran an article questioning some of the heath benefits of açaí, but doubts seem to focus on odd concoctions made of freeze dried açaí. Everyone appears to agree a good açaí bowl is a good thing for your body. If you’re a mixed martial artist, maybe it’s the kind of thing that can help your opponent’s body feel worse.