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Athletes normally look back on their sporting debuts with fondness, but for MMA fighter ‘Meatball’ Molly McCann, her UFC bow was the night she realised something had to change.
McCann accepted her debut fight on five weeks’ notice and needed to lose 35lbs before the bout to reach her target weight, but despite her best efforts it simply wasn’t enough.
She weighed in one pound over the lightweight limit of 127 pounds, which saw her fined 20% of the fee she was paid for the bout. The following night she suffered a punishing second round defeat.
After the fight, McCann turned to science as she sought to fulfill her physical and mental potential. On episode 12 of the From Paper to Podium podcast, we spoke to the Liverpudlian about the changes she’s made to her training camp and how she’s reaping the benefits.

The amateur diet

Prior to breaking into the UFC, McCann had amassed a 7-1 record in the Cage Warriors Fighting Championship and won a vacant world title in the flyweight division.
But, McCann says her success was down to heart and talent rather than optimal preparation. “I got to the UFC, the elite level, by just being a scouser, just being game,” she says. “I just gave 100% at everything I did, I wasn’t the most scientific.
“My diet used to be tuna pasta with all the mayo or a jacket potato and beans. It was ill informed but I thought it was a good diet at the time. In training I’d be running myself into the ground and overtraining. My body was overloaded and stressed and I knew that things had to change.”
After her debut UFC defeat, McCann was approached by Carl Langden-Evans of Science in Sports’ Performance Solutions Team , who is an expert in helping fighters in combat sports to reach their physical peak and make weight for fights. Under his watchful eye, she began the transformation to elite athlete.

Periodised training

Before embarking on her new training regime, McCann underwent a series of tests to establish her current fitness levels and body composition, so she could target areas of improvement.
A VO2 max test revealed the maximum rate of oxygen she could use during exercise, while a DEXA body scan showed where she needed to add muscle mass. A BMR test (Basal Metabolic Rate) test assessed the amount of energy her body used at complete rest.
“Sports science changed my life in a really positive way,” she recalls. “I literally felt that I’d hit the jackpot, my mental health was in the bin after losing my first fight but sports science brought me back.”
In the build up to her previous fights, McCann says she was guilty of overtraining. “Previously if I didn’t feel like I was absolutely exhausted after every session then I didn’t think I was training hard enough,” she adds.” Now I know I was putting my body under too much stress and not recovering well.
“On a Thursday I normally do 6 x 3 minute sprints, working as hard as possible, but this week I changed that to 10 x 1 minute runs because from monitoring my training I know I’ve trained too much in that high end zone.”

The weight cut

One of the key areas of her new scientific approach was learning how to lose weight properly by shedding fat rather than muscle mass, to ensure she’s as strong as possible at 127 pounds.
From Paper to Podium host and Professor of Exercise Metabolism, James Morton, says McCann and many other fighters now use modern methods to lose weight.
“Typically fighters would eat the same food every day for 10 weeks on an extreme diet and then of course they would crash,” he says. “Fighters now are changing what they eat day by day to prepare for different types of sessions.
“Molly has been able to periodise her training for the past two years and we’ve collected so much data from her that will benefit and change what other fighters do in the years ahead.”
McCann’s next fight after her debut defeat was against Brazilian Priscilla Cachoeira at UFC London, but this time she weighed in with a newfound confidence.
“Normally I’d cut 14lbs in fluid on fight week, “ she says. “I was a skinny fat thing, but to look at me you’d still think I was in good shape. Before the UFC London fight I made the weight the night before with none of that. I have to credit all the staff for getting me in that shape.”

Click here to listen to the full episode of our latest From Paper to Podium podcast with UFC star Molly McCann.

Written By

Alec Fenn | Health and Fitness Journalist and Copywriter

Alec has been interviewing athletes and coaches and writing about health, fitness and nutrition since 2010. He's contributed to a host of national publications including BBC Sport, FourFourTwo magazine, The Independent and the Daily Mail. As an amateur sportsman and avid gym-goer he has a passion for finding out how sports nutrition can help athletes reach peak performance.