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    The Dos and Don’ts of Weight Cutting in Combat Sports – An Athlete’s perspective

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    The Dos and Don’ts of Weight Cutting in Combat Sports – An Athlete’s perspective

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    Weight Cutting in Combat Sports – The Athlete’s perspective

     CAVEAT – All the weight cutting principles, techniques and strategies written below are utilised by professional athletes in conjunction with their firmly established training teams.  You should not attempt anything similar without first consulting a qualified coach, nutritional expert or medical professional as each of these individuals has already done.  Your health should always come first.  Healthy diets and regular training should always be the cornerstone of any combat athlete’s arsenal in making weight.  Junior competitors and inexperienced adult athletes should certainly not be doing anything other than focusing on these key elements.

    The subject of weight cutting in combat sports (such as Boxing, Wrestling, Muay Thai, BJJ, Judo and MMA) is one that every athlete or fighter has to face if they are serious about reaching the top.  Get it right and you have not inconsiderable advantages on your side in the shape of greater strength, height, energy and more.
    Get it wrong however and there are often very serious health implications that can take hold alongside what is often a competitive (bad cuts leave an athlete without the necessary endurance to fight at the level required), financial (missing weight often comes with a greatly reduced purse) and mental (there is nothing more soul destroying than working hard in training and cutting out food/water only to see no success at the end of the tunnel) loss.
    Combat sport athletes, when actively training, are always usually lean (unless of course they let themselves go in-between competitive bouts/tournaments) and as such will often have to stick to rigid formulas in different areas to ensure they consistently make weight without having their health or performance suffer.
    These can be broken down into long term and short term weight cutting strategies.  Long term involves both regular training (longer distance cardio being a firm favourite exercise supplement of most fighters) and maintaining a healthy, balanced diet structured week by week to drop weight gradually.  The more an athlete puts on in between competing, the greater the difficulty is faced when trying to make the target weight (especially if it is a short notice fight or event) again.
     

    Depending on how far away the athlete’s bout or tournament is, they will need to fully understand their calorific needs so as to keep their energy levels up for training until that necessary point comes when they will need to reduce it in stages to incrementally bring their weight down.

    Short term strategies are often the ones which have the most risk and thus cause the most controversy.  Water loading is a widely used tool in which to cut water over a period of days leading up to a weigh in.  As are salt baths and certain other sauna or hot tub related water loss methods.

     

    A photo of an athlete in the middle of weight cutting

    In the following short interviews I speak to a number of the UK and Ireland’s leading combat sports athletes specifically about their own approach to ensuring they make weight when competing;

    Panicos Yusuf – World Muay Thai Champion and One Championship signed Pro Fighter

    Can you describe your approach to weight cutting leading up to a fight?
    When starting a camp, I allow for 6 weeks to prepare. Week 1 and 2 are generally based on slowly getting my fitness, technique and timing up to scratch before getting stuck into the hard stuff. During these 2 weeks I would just cut out any junk as well as unnecessary carbs before bed time.
    Week 3 and 4 I keep well hydrated and increase my complex carbs to assist in my long intense work outs. Week 5 (This is where it gets hard and your mood changes) Here is where I begin to decrease my calorie intake and become pescatarian for the last 2 weeks(no meat).
    I don’t measure my food as such as I’ve been through that many camps that I’ve learnt to gauge how much food I can sacrifice by the way I feel in training, i.e strong/weak. During all this I remain well hydrated. I’ve only ever water loaded once and found it very hard so I just stick to making sure I’m taking adequate fluids without the feeling of “drowning”.
    Week 6 Is the hardest as you’re essentially trying to maintain the same intensity in your performance with practically no fuel. I continue to have carbs, but in very small amounts when I know I’ll have a hard session later that day. The last 2 days on the eve of weigh in training would have ended.
    I have carb based breakfast with plenty of fiber and as day goes on I have less food with no carbs. I continue to stay well hydrated (mainly because I can’t eat) until I go to bed. On weigh in day, I begin my salt bath about 5-6 hours before weigh in as to only be dehydrated for as little time as possible.
    My water cut process: – Turn on all the heating on so the bathroom is warm. -fill the bath with hot water (as hot as I can take it) -pour table salt in the bath (1/3 of my body weight) I buy a couple of 12.5kg salt bags Some people jump in with shorts, but I wear a sweat suit and a wooly hat. This way my body sweats even faster.
    I always lose most water in the first go as is hottest so in that case I tend to stay in for about 30-40mins. Once done I get out (call for assistance as feel very weak) and wrap myself as much as possible with two layers of socks, a dry hat, gloves, scarf etc (I think you get my point).
    I then lay next to a radiator and cover myself with towels. At this point I’d lay here for 20-30mins or as soon as you start feeling like you’re cooling down and not sweating. After this process I dry myself check my weight and repeat if necessary. Most I can do in a cut is about 3kg, anything more and I start getting shooting pains behind my eyes, sore ass from sitting too long, sore back from kidneys as well as fatigue and weakness.

    The amount of water you can lose is dependent on your body mass so the bigger you are the more/ easier water you can lose. I’m sure some people reading this will be thinking, ‘that’s nothing I can lose more’, but I tend to lose more through diet than water.
    How do you keep your energy for training whilst cutting?
    There is no real secret of keeping your energy up for training while trying to cut a lot of weight. Unfortunately this is part of the process.
    Have you ever made a mistake with a weight cut?
    The only time I’ve made a mistake in weight cut is when I’ve given in to temptation and had more food than I should have.
    What would be your best advice be to someone wanting to weight cut for the first time?
    The advice I would give when cutting a lot of weight is to always have someone (coach mainly) know how you feel at all times as they can gauge if you need more rest, food etc. and lastly make sure you have someone present when water cutting.

    Paul Daley – World Level MMA fighter and Bellator signed Pro fighter

    Can you describe your approach to weight cutting leading up to a fight?
    The most important thing for me has been to maintain a healthy life style and diet outside of preparation. This has meant that my weight cuts are gradual, and very comfortable. The final part of the cut use to be difficult.
    But through water loading, reduced calories/food intake, has meant the dehydration part of the cut if easier on the body. I also avoid saunas, I prefer sauna suit running, and Epsom salt baths.
    Have you ever made a mistake with a weight cut?
    Mistake with weight cutting is starting to late, I think if you lead a healthy lifestyle, enter into camp at a good weight. It shouldn’t be that much of an issue.
    How do you keep your energy for training whilst cutting?
    Not doing to much is the best way to keep energy store during the hardest part of the weight cut. Steady down to weight on the last 6lbs.

    Keith McLachlan – World Level Muay Thai Fighter and Sandee Sponsored athlete

    Can you describe your approach to weight cutting leading up to a fight?
    I’m pretty meticulous when it comes to cutting. I have set times for eating and when I start loading water and carb cutting etc
    Have you ever made a mistake with a weight cut?
    I think everyone has. Sometimes things work brilliant and sometimes the same things just don’t. I have no idea why this is.
    Usually for me it’s down to timing of different things and to be honest the issue usually isn’t the cutting it’s the rehydration afterwards where I’ve majorly went wrong e.g. eating too much too soon, not drinking enough before eating or drinking too much too quickly that my stomach doesnt get the time to recover
    How do you keep your energy for training whilst cutting?
    I try to keep drinking water and eating the correct foods
    What would be your best advice be to someone wanting to weight cut for the first time?
    My advice would be don’t cut too much without testing the water to see what you can safely do while being able to rehydrate properly and give plenty of time to drink before eating if you cut a lot of water.  I wouldn’t advise cutting a great deal for your first and just focus on getting fit and sharp for the fight

    Danny Williams – Team GB Judo Olympian

    Can you describe your approach to weight cutting leading up to a fight?
    I aim to maintain a ‘good weight’ all year round by eating the same things monday to friday, I can play around with the portion sizes to see how that can affect my metabolism however the actual food types remain the same. I will then keep it the same during the weekends in the last couple of weeks leading up to contest.
    Closer to the weigh in date I may begin to lower my energy food intake. On the day of weigh in I will use a hot bath to dehydrate the remaining weight, ideally around 5 percent of my fighting weight.
    Have you ever made a mistake with a weight cut?
    A common mistake I used to make was to remove energy foods to early which would dramatically lower my metabolism, my weight stayed higher and I had a lot less energy.
    Big mistakes I see is people not maintaining a realistic weight or body composition all year around. Even if they cut well they tend to ‘bounce’ making it a more drastic cut next time around.
    How do you keep your energy for training whilst cutting?
    I always make the biggest meal breakfast, I’ve found I still have reasonable energy supplies even towards the end of a cut.
    What would be your best advice be to someone wanting to weight cut for the first time?
    My advice is just to be realistic with choosing which weight to fight at. Try things out of comp period and you will begin to understand what works best for you.

    Lloyd Cooper – Internationally renowned BJJ Black Belt and Scramble Sponsored Gi/No Gi Athlete

    Can you describe your approach to weight cutting leading up to a fight?
    My approach to making weight is Diet diet diet – do the work earlier on in the training camp to avoid the stress & strain around the last few days ! Is that biscuit really worth it 5 weeks before.
    Where do you see most people going wrong with cutting?
    Most people make the mistake of not dieting enough – I’ve seen people do zero dieting then cut 4 kilos of water for a same day weigh in competition & then get beat easily!
    Remember the more water you cut the more vitality you’re taking away from yourself Also is people not altering their diet throughout the entire weight loss period The way I keep my energy is use high fats selectively throughout non training hours for example I have avocados & bacon for breakfast!
    How do you keep your energy for training whilst cutting?
    But don’t be afraid of a few carbs around training time – worst thing I’ve seen people do is go zero carb & perform like a pensioner in the gym & then turn up like a zombie for weigh in! Don’t over do the carbs but the right amount around training is a great combination However if all of this still doesn’t put you under & you need to cut the water here’s a few tips & tricks I’ve used Take a Senekot tablet – clear your bowel out – could be worth an easy 0.5kg
    Keep high sodium foods out in the last couple of days you don’t want to be retaining extra water. Cut carbs completely 48-72 hours out again these retain a lot of water weight so won’t help you Increase your water intake the last week – therefore your body will get used to passing water for when you restrict water 24 hours you’ll drop below your baseline.
    Slow release vitamin c – don’t ask me on the science but again felt like i went to the toilet more when I took it!
    What would be your best advice be to someone wanting to weight cut for the first time?
    My advice to someone doing it for the first time is don’t do it alone – get someone with you – your mind plays funny tricks on you when you are depleted & tired so get someone experienced to support you

    Cian Cowley – World Level Muay Thai and Pro MMA Fighter

    Can you describe your approach to weight cutting leading up to a fight?
    Weight cutting for a fight for me starts in the weeks before more so then depending on a big fight week cut like a lot of fighters. I’m lucky enough to have a nutritionist help me with my weight cuts so cutting weight over a 6-8 week timeframe is my way of doing it now.
    Have you ever made a mistake with a weight cut?
    Yeah I think every fighter has messed up at one stage cutting weight. I definitely have but it’s all a part of the process. You learn from your mistakes and I find after every weight cut I learn more and more about my body.
    Where do you see most people going wrong with cutting?
    I think the biggest mistake people make is not being strict with their diet 6-8 weeks from a fight and thinking that 2 or 3 weeks of “eating clean” will do it. The leaner you are the easier the weight cut will be on fight week. So when I’m fighting I make sure I’m lean as possible going into the final stages. Eating clean isn’t starving yourself either it’s eating when your hungry and eating good organic foods.
    What would be your best advice be to someone wanting to weight cut for the first time?
    For someone cutting weight for the first time the main thing would to go easy on yourself, give yourself a good time frame and set a realistic target weight to get to. Listen to your body and keep track on what foods you take in – that way you will get to know what foods suit you best.
    Also stay away from google telling you that this juice diet will help you loose 10kg in 10 days and then think you can eat pizza and crap right up to 10 days out from a weigh in haha. You need to eat well and train hard to lose weight it’s that simple.

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