Many people have heard of the term to ‘cut weight’, this commonly refers to athletes in weight restricted sports such as martial arts, boxing and the newly popular MMA style of fighting. It could also apply to motor racing drivers, jockeys or athletes in other sports that wish to lose weight in a short period of time. Most non-athlete people would ask why you would want such a rapid reduction in weight, the answer is simply that most fighters have to get under the weight limit in time for the weigh in but can fight much heavier after re-fuelling, thus giving them more energy, strength and endurance.
There are several ‘traditional’ methods for rapid weight loss, from sitting in a sauna, restricting food and water intake to sweating out as much fluid as you can in a sweat suit or heavy clothing. All these will rapidly decrease your weight, however is it safe to do this and what are the potential negatives towards sporting or fighting performance?
Here are a few tips on how best to ‘cut weight’.
Firstly it is important that you are within 10% of your desired weight when you begin to cut weight, trying to cut from further out should only be done over an extended period with appropriate dietary changes as it can be dangerous to your health, particularly when executing dehydration strategies. **The following methods are part of the final few days before making the weight deadline and are not a long term strategy for decreasing weight – this should only be attempted by athletes under supervision of experienced and qualified coaches**
The simplest and most effective way to begin the weight cutting process is to decrease or stop fluid intake. Your body is constantly losing fluid by breathing, sweating and urination. Every minute and hour that this goes by without replacing the fluid, you will lose weight. This process takes no extra energy from a fighter to complete, and you can lose up to 2-3kg in 24 hours without drinking.
Sweating out fluid from the body can be done in a number of ways, and can take off 3-5kg of weight in a short period of time depending on the conditions. This method can still be used even if the athlete is already lean, as there will still be fluid that can be lost. The limitations to this method are that it requires great amounts of energy expenditure, and can sap strength from the fight the next day. The goal for using this method would be to take off the weight you need to lose with the least amount of fatigue for the athlete.
Another method to lose weight is to empty the bowels the day before the weigh in. This is another method that requires no effort and will not hurt performance if done correctly. Your bowels, or stomach and intestines, are up to 28 feet long and contain up to 2-4kgs of material at all times. The food that has been ingested over the last 24 hours is all still contained along this set of tubes. This material does not help performance and is actually waste. By clearing out the bowels, an athlete can lose another 2-3kg without having to do anything.
There is a danger to using diuretics; however they are common place across fighting sports with such demands placed upon athletes to make weights. This method is more dangerous than the others, and can lead to electrolyte imbalances and decreased performance.
Ultimately the safest and most effective method of meeting a weight category is to stay at a weight close to that needed for fighting. This should be done through correct nutrition, focusing on ‘clean’ foods such as lean sources of protein, vegetables and fruits for carbohydrates and a small amount of good fats to maintain the immune system and cognitive function. Decreasing weight should be done over an extended period of weeks and not left to the final week before a fight as drastic weight loss is unhealthy and potentially dangerous. If cutting weight is not conducted properly a decrease in performance is highly likely, this of course is not ideal in a sporting situation where the athlete is required to fight. Therefore it is also extremely important what is done after the weigh in to restore optimal function.
When you are cutting weight, your plasma blood volume decreases, and your blood pressure can increase as a result. In addition to this, your resting heart rate may increase; you can experience fatigue and feel psychologically weak. You need to make sure you reverse these processes not only as quickly as possible, but correctly and completely. Common practice is to eat and drink as much as possible immediately, however this is not ideal.
Eating small meals at regular 30 minute intervals is preferred so as to stager the digestion of nutrients. Restoring blood glucose levels is primarily important, so eating good sources of carbohydrates is essential. Overeating however will cause your gastrointestinal system to be overloaded and leave food undigested and unused within your stomach and intestines. Smaller meals will clear the stomach and you will be able to eat again shortly. Eating meals that you are comfortable and familiar with is also important, don’t start to do anything different to your normal diet.
More importantly is getting the fluid balance back. You should immediately take in fluids following the weigh in and continue to drink at regular intervals. Full hydration can be simply monitored by the colour of urine, with the aim of getting clear urine by fight time. This can take 3-5 gallons of fluid over the next day to replace the 5 of more kilograms that has been lost. Don’t rely on the thirst response because it will not be accurate. You need to keep drinking to make sure that the blood plasma, fluid space between the cells and the cells themselves are refilled.
In conclusion, cutting can be safely achieved through correct nutrition and hydration strategies over a prolonged period of time rather than leaving it to the final week before weigh in. It is also important to realise that it will take time to find the best strategy for you individually, so practice of cutting weight should also be factored into your training regime.