Before embarking on a career as a professional athlete, Tyler Jeffrey (TJ) Dillashaw, was studying to become a physician's assistant in college. A word of wisdom from a friend changed his life forever and TJ decided to drop out of university and give himself one year to make his mark in the world of mixed martial arts.
Today TJ is a two time UFC Bantamweight champion. Despite his loss to Henry Cejudo in a fight that was cut short to 32 seconds, TJ is still working achieving his long term goals.
TJ joins LetsGetChecked to discuss his secrets to success from where he started to how he prepares for where he's going next.
What sparked your interest in fighting?
I started wrestling at the age of eight years old, my dad was a college wrestler and he was teaching a youth program in my hometown. He got me really interested in wrestling and I became really good at it.
I was able to get a full ride scholarship to Cal State Fullerton and I did five years of school. I did really well in college you know I was ranked top in the nation but I never really reached my goals, I set my goals really high.
I wanted to be a national champion, an “all-american” but I always came up just a little bit short, I would never end up reaching my goals in wrestling and that really, really bummed me out, because I worked hard, I worked too hard actually. By the end of the season I was always hurt or overworked.
I was ranked top ten in the nation but then I bombed out, my body wasn't holding up.
I wish I would have known what I know now because I would have done so much better but if I would've done better then I wouldn't want to push on so I never reached my goals in wrestling. I just felt like it wasn't done competing.
I had an assistant wrestling coach at the time Mark Munoz, he was a UFC fighter and he always told me what an aggressive wrestler I was. He thought I'd be a good fighter and should give it a shot.
At the time I was enrolled in grad school to become a physician's assistant, and after my first summer I was taking a bunch of classes. It was going to be another three years of school. My assistant coach said "I think you should fight, and it was like, "yeah"."
I decided to drop out. I gave myself a year I said if I'm any good at this I'll stick with it if not I could always go back to school and then I started training, loved it and never looked back.
What was the turning point in your career as a professional athlete?
There are so many different turning points, there's a turning point to where I wasn't just going give up competing you know like after I graduated college and that's when my assistant talked me into fighting that was a word from a friend that kind of intrigued me to keep pushing on that.
Then once I started fighting I became really good, fast, but I had a turning point of also of being good, then being the best in the world and that turning point was when I met Duane Ludwig my coach now, he's the one that pushed me to the next level and made me more of a well rounded fighter and I guess his guidance is another turning point for me in becoming a real martial artist and to really train my things together.
I started having fun with fighting instead of putting so much pressure on all the time. He kind of taught me to make sure to have fun and just to let loose which is important because if you can get so bogged down you're gonna be a little bit slower and you're gonna overthink the situation.
Like yes, you should get nervous but it should be something you enjoy. You know if you enjoy it then your brain's gonna work faster and your reaction times are gonna be faster.
What are the differences in your lifestyle in and out of fighting season?
I mean it's a fulltime job, my supplementation, my eating, in my workout. It's actually more than a fulltime job.
You got to be dedicated to get to where I'm at. I'm on a very strict diet. I don't eat any complex carbs, so no like no grains no flours, no complex sugars.
I take my body in and out of ketosis to get it to where I want to because you can boost your hormones very high with a ketogenic diet but it's not the healthiest way to live all the time you know I think you need to come in and out of it but I'll come out of it by eating simple carbs, some sweet potato every now and then, sometimes I’ll have some white potato.
Right now, I'm enjoying some time with the family and staying in shape I'm staying in the gym but it's not two practices a day like in camp, it's every other day.
I'm staying active now but when I'm getting ready for a fight, I'm doing kickboxing in the morning and jujitsu at night or the next day maybe I'm sparring in the morning I'm hitting mitts in the afternoon and usually in the evening but if I have a really hard day like that you need to make sure to take off because if I do two hard days back-to-back your body and you will crash so bad that just puts you in a hole that you can never come out of.
Can you tell me about the "Killashaw Package" that you created with LetsGetChecked?
The Killashaw package is something that I put together because they are things that I check on the regular.
The Killashaw Package included:
I mean male and female hormones are so important. Everything I do is to enhance my hormones I want my testosterone to be as high as possible, being a professional athlete or even just being a healthy human being. I want high testosterone and low estrogen and my diet is a big part of that, the way I exercise is a big part of that. The other things I test are stepping stones to get my hormones as high as possible.
Cortisol is created, mainly in my life, from stress. Everyone has stress. No matter what job you are or what your profession is or even if you’re a student or a kid growing up. I wish I had known more about cortisol when I was in college wrestling because from working too hard being stressed out from outside sources of life it can produce more cortisol in your body. The more cortisol in your body the less it’s going to regulate your hormones. You need to have balanced cortisol to keep yourself from getting sick and to build more muscle.
Cortisol will prevent you from growing muscle and from putting lean mass on your body. That’s a big one to keep down and obviously it’s hard to say “Just don’t be stressed out!”
Say if you’re working out and you’re working out all of the time it’s hard to not push too hard. You can get to the point where people are like “Are you overworked?” and you’re like “I don’t know!”
A better way to find out is by testing your cortisol levels and if your cortisol levels are through the roof then things need to change with the way you’re working out you’re outside lifestyle and maybe your diet.
Your diet can be producing a lot of cortisol in your body alongside inflammation the inflammation that comes with cortisol is big and that prevents an inability to recover and so much more. That was the reason why I wanted that test in there.
It’s important to know all of your vitamin levels but particularly vitamin D and hydroxy. The reason why is, again maximising my hormone levels and vitamin D is huge, especially when you’re working out really hard and pushing your body to extremes.
In the last camp I was going down to weight so I had to do a lot of work. Within that work I wanted to make sure that I had a lot of Vitamin D so testing my vitamin levels was big. I usually do supplement vitamin D anyway even though I do live in California in which we get plenty of vitamin D from the sun it wasn’t enough.
I was in the normal levels but as a professional athlete I wanted to be on the far extreme I was within normal range but I wanted to be able to produce more DHDA. DHDA is going to transform into my testosterone levels so again that was another big one.
Just regulating all of my vitamins is really important. My vitamin B is always through the roof but I don’t mind that because I need to take a lot of vitamin B for the way I’m working out and for my energy levels.
The last test on the Killashaw package something I just talked about on my Instagram actually, and that's my Omega levels. Omega and omega ratios is a big one for fuelling my body in fat burning. I want to make sure that my body is burning fats.
It helps with soreness if I have a super hard workout and I am not supplementing enough omegas in either my diet or from krill and fish oil I’ll be ridiculously sore but the more fish oil I take after these hard workouts the more it helps with the soreness and helps with recovery which helps with the muscle building process.
And then as well, it's really great for your brain, your lungs, your heart so even for the average human being that is not a professional athlete it’s for people who just want to be healthy.
Omegas are great because they will help you burn fat too. It’s a great fat source that you need, the brain runs on good fats.
Omegas are really important and I usually track that because it combats inflammation in my body. If I do a really hard workout I’m going to have more omega 6 in my body so I will start to supplement with omega 3 because omega is released in your body when you break muscle down. It’s a great way for me to make sure that I’m doing everything right.
I just cross my "t"s and dot my "i"s when I’m doing all of these blood tests. Ultimately the hormone tests are what I want to see at the highest but the other tests are a way for me to make sure that I’m doing the right things to get my testosterone as high as possible.
I had to track it even more so than I do normally because of the amount of work that I had to put in. I had to do a lot of long distance running and intermittent fasting so it was really important that I was getting enough vitamin D. I needed to make sure that all of the work that I was doing was not going to make my cortisol levels through the roof and ultimately that my hormone levels were staying where they were at when I was in the 135s.
It was the only way to lose that much weight without losing strength. At that time it was actually the lightest I’ve ever been and the strongest I’ve ever been and so it was a pretty cool little science experiment that me and my coach Sam Kalvita out of the training lab did.
You said before, that testing biomarkers isn't something that fighters would have considered before. How do you think this landscape has changed?
Sam Calavitta is the one that has me do all this testing, he's the one that's always got my body on a perfect point you know. He's the one that's always kind of guided me in the right direction and kind of guided me towards you guys you know because otherwise I was just a old school wrestler that would just work harder than everyone and thought I was doing it the right way until I found out all the science behind it, you know if I wouldn’t have know about all of the science behind it, I probably would have pushed my body to anemia during this weight cut. The lack of certain nutrients I needed could have pushed me there but luckily, I was able to track that.
I mean so many people did I mean I feel, like people are becoming more and more knowledgeable with diet in the way to work out and things like that but especially in the wrestling world, when I started out, wrestlers were just hard nosed. They're just really, really hard workers and we've always been told growing that you just need to outwork the next guy you know, push the limits.
Really, you're kind of hindering yourself, we do this thing that I like to call "bro science" that were we're like “Oh I think I feel better, or really good but you really if you were to go and test your levels you'd be all thrown off because you're pushing yourself too hard you know and I'm one of those guys that's always been OCD about training and wanting to be the best so I obviously thought training harder was the way to get by my opponents but really it's smarter if there is no cutting corners with anything like, my diet and with my event scheduling my work week you know.
If I know what days are gonna be really hard I gotta know what day's my recovery, before I never did that I just worked hard for days in a row and then I would crash, maybe get sick, so there's just so much behind it and be able to check my biomarkers helps me guide that.
How do you stay in shape from a nutritional point of view?
Usually (eating clean) is very bland but if you can make it taste great it's a lot easier to stick to the diet and so that's why our company's been so successful, because people are getting a lot more knowledgeable in the diet area you know they're becoming more just the world in general is becoming very more knowledgeable on how to eat but obviously when they learn how to eat.
Everything's organic. Everything's made fresh I don't eat anything that's been processed, because your body's going to hold onto it.
Even if you go to a nice restaurant, you think you're eating healthy, but most of the time, it’s not. They don't use the same ingredients you can make yourselves so I have a partnership with Thrive Market which is here in the States.
It's an all organic high-end online grocery store you know so obviously I don’t have time to go shopping all the time or go to Whole Foods or anything like that so I have stuff delivered in my house and then I meal prep with clean organic foods. This includes a lot of salmon for those omegas for me when I was losing my weight, clean chicken, and grass-fed beef. I'm high on protein and lower on carbs but obviously simple carbs, and then super high on fats so tons avocado.
I'll eat sweet potato, lots of grass fed butter and tons of greens. Obviously I overload on the greens, salads, and I juice every day. I make cold pressed juice myself every morning.
Eating the same food everyday is the part of meal prepping people find hard to I feel like people stop meal prepping because of the taste of the food. That's what's made me create my own company called Flavor Republic it's a big part of my meal prep you know so whenever you make like you know bare chicken it's gonna taste pretty bland.
If I ever wanted to season it with other people's seasonings it would have a ton of sugar in it table salt in it so that was something I couldn't do so we decided to start our own company. It’s all low and low sugar low carb low sodium seasonings that taste awesome.
I'm obviously biased because it’s my company but it means I’m not cheating.
What is your main piece of advice for someone who is trying to get into the best shape of their life?
Sugar is the root of all evil. I'd say avoid sugar at all costs but you don't realize that there's some stuff that produces sugar when you eat like breads, you know wheats flours, heavy heavy carbs, they turn into sugar in your body which produces more estrogen. That is gonna bring your testosterone levels down, I really feel like that as well as me learning to do my own juicing in the morning.
Workout plans are a dime a dozen, everyone's got their own little workout plan that helps them you know but when it comes to diet, all of our bodies are exactly the same. All of our bodies break things down the right way if you treat the right way so I feel like diet could be one of the hardest changes until you really figure it out.
Once you do you'll never feel the same and so I feel like once I've learned to stop eating sugar and complex carbs and start juicing it's helped me with visible results.
When it comes to testing my biomarkers, it's just made it so much more convenient for me to to track everything, it's done just the same way I grocery shop it's the way the world is you can go and grocery shop online, now, I can get my blood works into my front door and I can put it in the mail and it's sent out and I get the results back.
It is so convenient especially for people that are busy or want to save time and money and then another thing that's been really cool with LetsGetChecked is that they have a nurse call you, you know so say you don't know you don't understand your blood work comes back, a nurse tells you what your results actually mean.
That's a huge feature you know because you go into the doctor you get your blood work done but the that's kind of it, I feel like there's not really a follow up and if there is a follow up you're in they're paying for it you know so I think it's really cool that you get a phonecall and someone tells you what you need to do.
I like to check my levels and check my blood work because it’s the most honest and real way to tell you what your body is doing. There’s so much that I track obviously with the way I sleep and the way I eat and the things I do and everything has a reaction every form of training every form of diet every form of what I do has a reaction within my body and so I’m never just guessing about how it’s doing or guessing how I feel or guessing if its working.
I'm the CEO of TJ Dillashaw and it's really helped me guide my schedule.
What would be your last bit of advice for up and coming fighters?
Learn from everyone you know don't be stuck in one gym. Don't be stuck, just because you live in an area doesn't mean you can't learn technique from someone else, I traveled the world to learn from the best I went to train in Montreal, I went out to Colorado, I was out in New York, I made sure to travel the world and learn from everyone.
There are so many different ways to do something and you want to find what works best for yourself don't be on a one track mind of “it has to be done this way” because not everyone learns the same that everyone uses the same kind of technique so there might be something you can learn from someone that you're you're not letting yourself get the chance to.
That's kind of why I started my online academy Fit To Fight, it’s an online Academy that teaches all sorts of MMA techniques, it’s kind where I teach boxing and kickboxing, wrestling and jiu jitsu and also strength and conditioning to kind of tie it all together, so if you're looking to be a professional fighter I can take you through a fight camp or if you're just looking to get in shape. If you just do martial arts in general it's also great for you I teach everything from the beginning all the way to super advanced techniques and that's why I did it because the thing I'm saying is you learn from everyone and all the information I've learned over my whole life of competing, I put onto this website. It's done so much better than I even expected so it's it's a pretty cool little thing.
What's coming up next for you?
Nothing is lined up yet, I'll be continuing to train, develop Flavour Republic and work on achieving my goals this year.
Written by Hannah Kingston