Georges St-Pierre reigned supreme over the UFC’s welterweight division for nearly a decade, cementing his spot as one of the greatest fighters of all time. Then, after a four-year layoff, he returned in 2017 to take Michael Bisping’s middleweight title for good measure—becoming just the fourth two-division champion in UFC history. If he’s not the undisputed GOAT, he’s probably the first fighter you bring up.
In the interim, he starred in Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the mercenary Georges Batroc. And now that he’s officially retired from mixed martial arts, St-Pierre is currently reprising the role on the Disney+ miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. (For the record, St-Pierre still often speaks about his MMA career in the present tense, so perhaps the door isn’t completely closed for a showdown one day with, say, the also recently-retired Khabib Nurmagomedov.)
GQ caught up with the living legend to find out how he prepared for fight scenes with Chris Evans, the benefits he’s found with time-restricted eating, and the long-term consequences for his health and diet of years of cutting and gaining weight for fights.
For Real-Life Diet, GQ talks to high-performing people about their diet, exercise routines, and pursuit of wellness. Keep in mind that what works for them might not necessarily be healthy for you.
GQ: Because of the line of work they’re in, I’ve always found the diets of fighters really interesting.
Georges St-Pierre: Right, for athletes in combat sports, we’re involved in a sport where we need to cut weight for the weigh-in. I’ve personally never been too big for my division, so I never had to do a drastic change like a lot of other guys have done. Normally, I eat pretty much whatever I want. When I’m in a camp—two months before a fight—I try to be a little bit healthier. Normally, I would always have a dessert after a meal. I love chocolate. That’s my weakness. I eat a lot of chocolate, but when I’m in camp, I try to not eat dessert.
There’s been a conversation around extreme weight cuts in MMA over the last few years. But like you said, you fought at welterweight, 170 pounds, for almost your entire career. If I had to guess based off of how you typically look, I’d say you’re a guy who probably walks around at 185, maybe 190 at the highest?
Oh, I’m even smaller. I’m like, 182 pounds when I wake up in the morning. I competed against guys sometimes as high as 200. They needed a much more severe weight cut and diet than me. Some people retain water much easier than others. I never had that problem. But in order to prepare myself, about a week away from competition, that’s the drastic change. Like, no potatoes, no pasta, nothing that contains carbohydrates. I try to eat a lot of greens, a lot of lean foods, and drink a lot of water. Then when I go in the sauna the day of the weigh-in, it’s much easier to sweat it out. Your body is like a sponge and when you cut weight, you want to evacuate the water outside of your body. Carbohydrates, sugar—they keep the water.
Then, after I got off the scale, it was the opposite. I wanted to put back some carbs inside my body. A bowl of pasta or something like that. Something that contains the carbohydrates, something that gives me some sugar that will allow my body to be like a sponge to hold that water that I’ve lost for the weigh in.
Was there ever a time in your career where you experienced a particularly tough weight-cut going into a fight?
Actually, my last fight [against Michael Bisping for the UFC middleweight championship], I competed in a heavier weight class and I made a mistake: I tried to put on weight. I overfed myself. I went on the scale and then I tried to gain weight, but I was worried because I couldn’t go back up to the weight that I wanted. So I tried to overfeed myself, to force myself to eat, and the morning of the fight I threw up my breakfast. I told myself, That doesn’t start the day off very well. You know, it affects your confidence. I was like like, Maybe you should have listened to your body.
I’m a big believer that you need to be aware of these things. I think you need to listen to your body. You eat, and when you’re not hungry, stop eating. Don’t eat because you feel like you need to eat and need to put that weight back. Your body will let you know when you have had enough. Of course, there is a protocol to follow. You know, after the weigh in, you need to put back the sugar, the carbs, and the nutrients that your body is missing. Obviously, you need to drink a lot of liquid because you dehydrate yourself, but don’t force it. I think it’s a mistake if you rush it. Because the weight that you’re going to put on yourself, like the extra weight I had when I fought Bisping, I felt a little bit like it was dead weight—I felt like I had a bag I was carrying on my shoulder.
You also dealt with ulcerative colitis around the time of your fight with Michael Bisping. A fight you ended up winning, by the way! How did you first come to learn you had that condition?
I had to follow this severe diet for that fight. I remember there was one morning in my training camp and I had a very severe stomach pain. I didn’t know what I had at first. Then the morning of the fight, I had cramps. I had to go to the bathroom, and there was blood. It was very scary, and in order to find out what was going on I needed to do a colonoscopy, but I didn’t have time to do the exam before the fight. I thought it could be cancer. I was very worried.
After the fight, I did the exam and I found out I have ulcerative colitis. It could be genetic, but I think because of the stress and the fact that I forced myself to gain weight for that fight I developed this condition.
I’m sure that diagnosis had a fairly significant impact on your diet and general relationship with food.
It changed my life drastically. 180 degrees. I got into fasting. I eat a lot of fermented foods for the gut, a lot of collagen, bone broth, fruits and berries.
Fasting has become more and more popular over the last few years, but also comes in a lot of different forms. What does fasting look like for you?
I would say it’s called time-restricted eating. I consume all my calories in a window of eight hours during my day. Normally, I wake up with an empty stomach and I go train. I have found out that training on an empty stomach makes me sharper, because I believe that when you eat in the morning and go train, part of your brain is focusing on digestion. Now, because my stomach is empty, I feel I have more focus on what I am doing. I wish I would have known that before, but like most athletes, we have been raised in a society where they teach you, Oh, you need protein. You need to eat a lot of protein after a workout to make sure you recuperate well. Buy this. This supplement is good. This. This. It’s a lot of consumerism. The reason we don’t hear so much about fasting is because there’s no money to make.
I realized after I started fasting that we’re overfed as human beings. That I don’t need to eat six times, or even three times a day to recuperate. And the fact that I’m fasting—my inflammation goes down, my water retention goes down, I sleep better. I don’t have those colitis symptoms, these cramps that I used to have. I feel so much better, and I’m much leaner. I’m retired now, I’m 39 years old, and physically, I look—in terms of a bodybuilding look—better than when I was 25.
If I would have done the fasting program when I was younger, it would have been amazing. I just regret that—I wish I would have known that at the time. But I believe that if someone would have talked to me about fasting at the time, I would have never listened to them because I was in that culture of consuming products. This idea that we need more protein to recuperate. I had to be sick to learn the efficiency of fasting—in order to believe in it—and I just wish I would have known that earlier in my life.
We all have different conditions, so I can’t recommend fasting to all other people. But I believe everybody should investigate fasting. They could be very, very surprised about how beneficial it can be, like I was.
So even though you made some dietary changes in the wake of your diagnosis, it sounds like the biggest change has been when you consume your calories. In terms of actual foods, what does a normal day of eating look like for you?
I just ate an hour ago. I had three eggs, scrambled, mixed with tomato, onion, and mushrooms. I had two croissants. I had a coffee. I had berries. Also, dates. Cheese inside my eggs. I think later today I’m going to have some salmon—some salmon with rice and probably this avocado salad that I love.
I try to eat as healthy as I can, but I don’t restrict. I don’t stop myself from any pleasures of life. Like I said before, I love chocolate. If we’re going somewhere and everybody has an ice cream, I’m going to have an ice cream as well. I just follow the group, and I think for me to be happy in life, you know, I just need to eat whatever I want. So I use fasting as a way to kind of keep the balance.
I saw on Instagram just the other day that you broke a 72-hour water fast. What’s the deal with that?
I do it three to four times a year. I think it helps to detox my body. It helps to diminish the water retention, the inflammation. It helps my immune system. It makes me feel better. When you break a fast, you realize how good food really tastes and it makes you appreciate a lot more.
You recently reprised your role of Georges Batroc from the second Captain America film in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier television series. We hear all these stories about actors joining superhero franchises who completely change their physiques for the role, but you already look like a real-life superhero. Have your co-stars ever come to you looking for advice on how to look the part for these roles?
For me, my [MMA] career was more oriented on performance. Lose my weight, step on the scale, and then get it back on. You know, What do I eat before I have a big fight? Stuff like that.
For them, I think it’s more about the looks, and most of the time it will be the stunt double doing the performance for them. So, if they want to seek advice for diet or training, I think they would be better off seeking advice from bodybuilders or nutritionists than a guy like me. They usually ask me more about my career —I’m asking them questions about their career as well. They ask me more about the psychological aspect of fighting. Were you afraid when you fought?
Were you ever afraid?
Before every fight, I was terrified, scared. I was extremely uncomfortable. But when I walk into the octagon, I can’t act like that. I have to put on a poker face and pretend that I’m excited, I’m confident, and I can’t wait to fight. Deep down inside, though, it’s totally the opposite. So, I’m acting the whole time. We always say you fake it until you make it.
So really you had experience as an actor long before joining the MCU.
There are a lot of similarities between a fighter and an actor. When you get ready for a fight, you do a lot of repetition and a lot of imagery, and when you get into the fight you realize quickly that your opponent is never as good and never as bad as you think they would be. They’re always different.
It’s the same thing in acting. When you prepare yourself for a particular scene, you do a lot of imagery, a lot of repetition, but when you get on set, you find out that it’s totally different to how you were imagining it. Sometimes the actor with who you’re playing against will give you a different reaction than you were expecting. So, there’s a lot of similarities between performing as an athlete, as a fighter, and an actor.
Given the fact that you were a professional athlete for so long, is there any added pressure to show up on set looking a certain way for a role like Batroc?
I’m always in shape, but there is a difference between being in shape and being in fight shape. I will always be in shape for the rest of my life, but of course I will not be in fight shape. And I don’t think it’s good to be in fight shape all year long, because you’re going to hurt yourself. Your nervous system, your muscles, your joints, the ligaments—your body’s not made to sustain that much impact all year long. So I train every day but it’s just to maintain my shape. As I’m getting older, my athletic abilities will diminish, but I will always be in shape.