Making The Cut: A Fighter’s Diet
It’s daunting… terrifying… and downright HARD to do…
There is an area of MMA, Muay Thai, and other combative sports that all competitors have to face. Yet, none look forward to. Often referred to as the single most difficult part of the competition. No, I’m not talking about the actual fight, this happens hours, days, or even weeks in advance. Some refer to it when taking about a fighter’s diet, others call it making the cut or just use the generic description, watching their weight.
I am of course speaking about cutting weight.
Cutting weight is a skill few amateur fighters fully understand, yet professionals have mastered. And while every fighter has his or her own routine to lose the weight, they often overlap. Techniques include:
- Low-Intensity Exercise
- Sauna Suite Sweating
- Sitting in a Sauna
- Epsom Salt Baths
- Laxatives, Diuretics, and Decreased Water Intake.
Regardless of the techniques used, many risks appear with losing large amounts of weight in a short amount of time. Some of these risks include:
- Poor Performance
- Elevated Heart Rate
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Increased Risk of Injury.
When fighters cut weight, they do so to gain a size advantage over their opponent. In the realm of professional fighting, size does matter. The bigger you are, the harder you hit, and the harder you are to hit means the more your attacks exhaust an opponent. The fighter who masters how to effectively cut weight will always have the upper hand.
But it can also be very dangerous if done wrong. Muay Tai Fighters have sabotaged their performance, gone into kidney failure, and even died after a poorly designed cut. Cutting weight should never be attempted without a knowledgeable coach and medical supervision. However, here are some of the things to look out for, and how to combat them.
Death to Dehydration
Oftentimes, fighters dehydrate themselves to compete within a specific weight class. Individuals can lose up to 30lbs within a 48-hour period. In a professional bout, after weigh-ins, fighters have 24 hours to rehydrate before the competition. This means that a fighter weighing in at 170lbs on Friday could potentially show up to the Saturday fight weighing 190 or 200 lbs. Amateur fighters, however, are given only several hours before a match to make weight.
Low-intensity cardio… drilling… mitt work… wearing extra layers or sweatsuit… these are all forms of active dehydration. Active dehydration — or sweat loss due to exercise — affects performance to a lesser degree than passive dehydration methods.
By releasing water via extracellular fluid, active dehydration limits the amount of dehydration experienced. Whereas passive dehydration tends to let go of water from all compartments. Although more beneficial physiologically, active dehydration can additionally tax the body in a way that could fatigue you.
If you feel conserving energy is more important. Go with passive dehydration. For example: Sit in a hot tub for 10-20 minutes (Ideal temperature between 102-106 degrees). Dry off completely, then check your weight. Wrap your entire body in robe/towels. Lay down and relax until sweating stops. Repeat.
If there is one thing your body hates, it is being dehydrated. Since your body is made mostly of water, dehydration of this level puts your body into a state of massive shock. Everything stops functioning the way it should and you become tired, weak, and brittle. Even performing seemingly simple tasks takes the life out of you. Follow some of these mindfulness tips before extreme dehydration kicks in:
A Fighter’s Diet – Eating Clean
If you are serious about being an athlete, your career starts with what you fuel your body with. Whether professional MMA Training or amateur, having the correct nutrition for a fighters diet is imperative. I recommend staying within five to ten pounds of your competition weight at all times. Educate yourself through reading, talk to your coach, and schedule an appointment with a nutritionist. Until then, here are some suggestions to remain healthy while cutting weight for fights.
Slow Down the Cut
- Begin your dieting at the beginning of the fight camp. A fighter’s diet is best thought as of a gradual process as opposed to an all in one drop. Also, make sure you are consistently checking your weight. This will allow you to get an idea of how much weight you lose on a daily basis. The more information, the easier it will become to manipulate your weight in the future.
- Cutting MORE than 10% of body weight should be avoided as you will unlikely be able to replete fully given 24 hours. Even having 32-34 hours may still be pushing your body too far. Think about it like this:
You have a Maximum Starting Weight (MSW) and an Ideal Starting Weight (ISW). MSW is the absolute or near-absolute highest weight you should feel comfortable cutting from. From there, create your 10% deficit for an Ideal Starting Weight. This will help your nutritionist/coach create a plan fit for you.
- Only begin to cut back your water intake a few days before the fight. Remember dehydration = a weak body. The last thing in the world you want is to feel weak when fighting someone.
- Leading up to the weigh-in week, begin getting the body accustomed to sweating. Continue this process throughout the weight-in week. If the body is accustomed to sweating, it will begin sweating sooner and the weight cut will seem easier.
The biggest downfall of fighters aiming to cut weight happens afterweigh-ins but beforethe match. They often forget to focus on replenishing water, electrolytes (sodium/potassium), and carbohydrates.
Rehydrate & Refuel your body!
Immediately after making weight, drink 20oz of water mixed with 2 packets of your favourite electrolyte pack. Within 30 minutes, drink a protein shake with roughly 20-30g protein. Salty snacks that also replenish carbohydrates are another great option. Continue to drink another 32oz of water per hour (stop 3-4 hours before bed to avoid sleep disturbance). Start loading up on carbohydrates with solid meals (as suggested above) up until 4-5 hours before fight time. Find carbohydrates that are palatable but not also loaded with fat. Now is the time to eat less fat and more carbs instead of limiting carbs.
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