Best shape of his life? How a nutritionist is helping Conor McGregor prepare for UFC 257

The last time Conor McGregor fought at 155 pounds was Oct. 6, 2018, when he was submitted by Khabib Nurmagomedov after an admittedly undisciplined camp. He's now focused on nutrition and by all accounts is in the best shape his life. Dave Fogerty

Every time Conor McGregor fights, he creates a buzz that no other UFC fighter can come close to reaching. And as he prepares for his UFC 257 main event on Jan. 23 against Dustin Poirier, part of that buzz is centered around how strong McGregor has looked in some of his social media posts.

McGregor hasn't fought at the lightweight limit of 155 pounds in over two years, since losing to Khabib Nurmagomedov on Oct. 6, 2018. And while McGregor admits he was undisciplined for that training camp, the opposite appears to be true as he gets ready to head to "Fight Island" in Abu Dhabi.

McGregor returned to Ireland three weeks ago after spending the first six weeks of his camp in Portugal, and some are saying he's in the best shape of his life.

From Ireland to Portugal to Abu Dhabi, McGregor's inner circle includes one man whose work has been vital in McGregor's physical preparation. Tristin Kennedy has been McGregor's nutritionist for two years, and he has unique insight into the depth of preparation of McGregor, who last fought at 170 pounds in January 2020 against Donald Cerrone.

"It entails seven-days-a-week work," Kennedy told ESPN of his duties with McGregor. "Obviously, you get time off and things like that. But it entails daily nutrition plans, supplementation guides, cooking, being at all his training sessions, observing, taking data -- the more data you take, the better.

"If I need to cook, I need to cook. We're obviously constantly in contact as well. The better you know your athletes, the better results you can give them and the better program you can give them. And that's what you see when you see his body composition and his performance in training."

Kennedy, a native of Monasterevin, Ireland, has a master's in food, nutrition and health from University College Dublin. He first started working with McGregor under MMA nutrition guru George Lockhart after McGregor's fourth-round submission loss to Nurmagomedov. Kennedy took over full time before McGregor's UFC 246 training camp as he prepared to face Cerrone on Jan. 18. McGregor won by TKO in 40 seconds.

"I actually wanted that to go on for longer, just to see it from the hard-work perspective," Kennedy said. "But he cut that short -- very, very quick. He was in a great spot for that. We're gonna have much of the same come Jan. 23."

Kennedy discussed McGregor's current nutrition status, the plan to get him down to the division limit of 155 pounds, what he eats and more.

Editor's note: Some quotes were edited for brevity and clarity.

How the team works

In particular, I'm involved with the McGregor FAST workout team, which is mainly Dr. Julian Darby and Colin Byrne. I don't think they ever get much recognition for their work, and they're a massive part of Conor's team. They run the coaching side of McGregor FAST. That's all cardio and the training.

Obviously, head coach John Kavanagh and all these other people are involved as well. It's a day-to-day nutrition practice, and correlating nutrition plans and protocols and supplementation and all those things around Conor. It's not just one fixed plan every day. It's all based on his metabolic activity, his metabolic rate in training. Things of that nature. It's a very individualized, specific approach. Obviously, I wouldn't say a lot of other MMA athletes could have that resource. But he obviously is able to have that.

I lay everything Conor puts in his body out to the gram. From a macro level -- which means your proteins, fats and carbs -- down to a micro level, where you're talking about specific nutrients, Vitamin A, Vitamin B -- everything. It's all mapped out. It's all cared for, all accounted for down to the gram.

We really had everything we needed in Portugal. We accessed Colin's Shinobi Academy gym in Lagos and other gyms if we needed to. The facilities were great. The collective was there. When you have the collective together, you're able to touch base on what's going on. "What's happened today in the striking, Owen [Roddy]? What's happened today with the cardio, doc?" When you're able to go into the specifics with conditioning, you're going to get better results every time. Having the team out there and having everyone in one position was great.

Knowing your subject

When I started, I was like, ''Oh god, this is Conor.'' But as a [fellow] Irish person, you get on that level fairly quickly where you get to know one another. He took me on board, and he let me flourish as a nutritionist. I'm mad into researching different nutrition protocols and getting different resources in terms of metabolic tests and all the stuff that's available now from a science perspective. He's always supported me in getting all that stuff and constantly evolving as a nutritionist myself. Which is huge, because it's a never-ending cycle of learning.

In terms of knowing him as this big superstar, of course he's that, but I've known the man for two years now. We've got a really good relationship. The more I know him, the more I know his training sessions, the more I know his body -- that's only good for him as well. I think if a nutritionist can be as close to their athletes as possible and get to know their body -- the foods he likes and the different things he likes to do and the way he likes things -- it's huge.

You see how hard he works. That drives us all to be at our best, at our pinnacle. It filters down.

'The best shape he's ever been in'

He's in great shape. Consistency breeds success in nutrition. When he focuses on something and gets down to it, he's the most consistent man there is.

On top of that, you have this hard work ethic. I can guide the man, but I can't eat the food for him. It's up to him to do all that. And that's what he does in abundance. He stays consistent to it. It's that hard work and that professionalism. And then you'll see the results. Like on social media, the kind of condition he's in. You can see with your eye. But a lot of athletes, they look well, but it's the performance that really matters. That's where I take great pride when I see all these fantastic results we're seeing in how he's performing.

Several people have commented already that this is the best shape he's ever been in. They're the people that are closest to him throughout all the camps. [Striking coach] Owen Roddy just said it. John Kavanagh just recently said it. I would absolutely agree. I guess going from what I've seen and what I know, the man is phenomenal and ready to take on this fight and do well.

On getting to 155 pounds: 'He's on point'

It's all about calories when you're trying to get down body composition. If you go too low on the calories, you're going to have fatigue. You're going to have muscle degeneration. You don't want that. So it's about the gradual step-down in calories and food. Then it's about distributing the macros and having supplementation on point. And correlating all that nutrition to his training program.

When I follow the data of the training program, his schedule coming up, we can design a plan on the daily -- recipes catered to his liking and to his body composition. It's not just, ''Hey, here's a piece of chicken -- eat that.'' We have full recipes catered to his liking and his body composition. We create a plan, we do a gradual descent in weight. On fight week, we'll have specific protocols. We've got benchmarks we want to hit along the way, which we've hit. And then on fight week, we'll be going into the more detailed manipulation of water and sodium and things of that nature to get him on the scales. And get him on the scales safely.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to speak too much on how much he weighs currently. We're going into our final few weeks on point. We've started the gradual descent for a few weeks now. It has not been mad drastic in terms of calorie cuts. We have to, again, make sure he's fueled. Make sure he performs in training. You don't want these camps to turn into fat camps where it's just calorie restriction and then the athlete can't train. It's about getting that balance right between energy and weight loss. There's a fine line with all that. Because I've been with him so long and know his body and know how he performs -- using all those resources as a team -- you get a fairly good idea and a fairly good direction on where to go.

The amount of daily calories can fluctuate. I'm not going to give away specific calories and macros. It's kind of a personal thing. But again, it's measured on the daily. What's his output? What's he doing that day from a social standpoint? Is the training session a green zone, meaning a light training? A red zone, which means hard training? It's really down to a science. And no guesswork.

McGregor's diet

His diet consists of lean sources of protein: chicken, fish, salmon, beef, eggs. Good complex carbohydrates. Good micro elements -- your herbs, basil, oregano. All these things are incorporated into the diet as a whole.

We have a great balanced diet. From multiple protein sources, multiple carbohydrate sources of wholesome foods. And that's the key. I hear people these days, they're focused on one food or two or three foods. The key is to get nutrients from all foods. And that's what we incorporate and that's what we do.

A sample daily meal plan would look like this:

  • Breakfast: Oats with eggs and sauteed green leafy vegetables

  • Morning snack: Fruit and herb salad with organic honey

  • Lunch: Chicken breast with rice and asparagus

  • Midday snack: McGregor FAST vanilla whey protein shake with nut butter

  • Dinner: Irish lamb stew with potatoes

  • Evening snack: Homemade McGregor FAST chocolate whey protein balls and organic tea

Could McGregor ever return to the 145-pound featherweight limit?

He's a big guy these days. I wouldn't like to see it from a personal point of view.

Everything is achievable. Look at Jose Aldo at bantamweight. But at what cost? Going down so low nowadays -- when you see a man who fights at 170 no problem and competes very, very well at 170 and has no issues, why would he go down to 145? Especially when he conquered all that.

"Several people have commented already that this is the best shape he's ever been in." Tristin Kennedy

Conor loves challenges. The 155 division, he'll capitalize on that next, no problem. He's already capitalized, and then probably the 170 division or whatever. That's the great thing about Conor. He can go in between weight classes. Once you're consistent with the diet and the training, you can point it wherever you need to go. Right now, it's 155. Who knows what it'll be in the future?