Meeting the Scale: The Art of Making Weight

TAGS: Shaun Mirjavadi, cut weight, making weight, weight loss, MMA

Have you ever watched a pre-fight weigh-in and noticed how gaunt and stringy that most fighters look as they get on the scale, only to see them with full cheeks and muscles the very next day as they step into the cage or ring? Some of them look like they might have gained 10 or even 15 pounds since just the night before. This effect is due to the process of weight cutting, or what is referred to as body weight manipulation. The purpose of this is somewhat obvious, to meet a goal weight of a weight class that is somewhat lower than the weight that the competitor truly exists at naturally at fight time. For instance, say a fighter weighs 198lbs a week out from his fight. He doesn’t want to compete in the 205lb weight class, where he might face an opponent who weighs 215lbs naturally and is dropping down to that weight class. He could be giving up 22lbs in that fight. Therefore, it might be wise for him to shed 13lbs and make the 185lb class. If done properly, this can give the fighter an edge in size, strength and power for the fight. However, if not done properly, it can prove to be a big mistake.

During my time spent as a fighter and trainer of Mixed Martial Arts, I have noticed that a vast majority of athletes and trainees lack real knowledge of nutrition. They put a lot of time into training technique and conditioning, but very little time into understanding proper nutrition. Some of them like to utilize “what works for them,” but usually have no real rhyme, reason or science behind their nutritional planning. I never understood why. It seems like a no-brainer these days that proper nutrition plays a vital role in improving one’s athletic performance. I always believed that going into a fight, I would have a better chance for success if my technique, conditioning and nutrition were better than my opponent’s. I think that all three of these components should be major concerns for the fighter “in training.”

Although a good nutrition plan is a must during the training camp, or the weeks or months leading up to the bout, in this article I am going to focus on the final stages of making weight. This involves two equally important parts. First, rapidly dropping weight to meet your mark on the scale at weigh-in time, and then rehydrating and eating properly to put the weight back post weigh-in, in time for the battle.

A Quick Point

Before I go into these techniques of rapid weight loss, I have to briefly reiterate that any fighter should have been on a good diet leading up to this point of cutting weight, putting them at least 7-12 pounds from their goal weight. The lower end for lighter individuals (i.e. featherweights or lightweights), and can be up to the higher end for heavier ones (i.e. light-heavyweights or heavyweights). Going above and beyond this can be very dangerous. Stay away from that crazy mentality of, “I'm a ballsy fighter and I’ve got heart so I’m going to cut 20 pounds the week of my fight.” That will only put you in great danger of losing your fight due to extreme exhaustion and dehydration, not meeting your goal due to unrealistic expectations, hospitalized with heart or kidney problems, or worse. People have died making weight, so follow these instructions and do it properly. If you have dieted properly leading up to this point, controlling your caloric intake and putting the correct macronutrients into your body, then you should be within this 7-12 pound range. If you are, there is no need to stress about meeting your goal at weigh-ins.

Water - Your Friend and Foe

Be prepared to carry your gallon jug of water everywhere you go! It's obvious that in the week leading up to the fight, you’re not going to lose the 7-12 pounds from fat. That’s not going to happen. About 90% of your weight loss will in effect be from losing water. Decreasing fluid intake is the most effective way to start this immediate weight loss, simple enough. The human body is constantly getting rid of water. Just by sitting there you’re getting rid of water, let alone what you lose sweating, urinating, etc. When you don’t replace the water, guess what happens? You lose weight! Best of all, it won’t physically drain you like running 2 miles in your sauna suit will. A person can easily lose 4-6 pounds of water over a 24 hour span, just by not drinking. However, as this is a science, you should not just drop your water a week out, so don’t stop reading this yet. There are ways to make this non-replacement of fluids far more effective and less painful.

You see, there are hormones in your body, namely aldosterone, that regulate how much water you will either store or get rid of. These hormones fluctuate depending on sodium and water intake. In this case, we want to shed the water, so we can’t let the body be in starvation of it early on. If we drink a lot, we trigger these hormones to make us expel water more than usual. You want to get your water regulating hormones prepped to expel. Therefore, at a starting point of about 5 days out, you will need to increase water intake. 2 gallons per day will do, so enjoy it while it lasts. Don’t go overly crazy with sodium, but some excess is ok. It will actually help you in the end, so 2000-3000mg per day is ok. If you eat 5 or 6 times per day, that would be about 1/2 of a teaspoon of table salt per meal. That will be plenty. This increase might make you feel bloated at first, but you will soon be peeing like a race horse. Therefore you will want to stay by a john, or at least, the bushes. Do this for 3 full days. So if your fight is on Saturday night, as they usually are, you will enjoy this high water intake on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. On Thursday (2 days out) you will drop all sodium until after weigh-in. You will also cut your water down to 1 gallon. Your body will continue to excrete water at nearly the same rate that it did while you were ingesting the two gallons, and probably more so without the presence of sodium. Doing so for a short period, the fluid regulating hormones won’t have enough time to adapt and hoard the water.

That leads us to the day before the weigh-in. At this point, you’re constantly checking the scale. You have nothing else on your mind, but your weight and the fight that’s about to take place. Depending on how close you are to your goal, you might be able to modify things. For most people still a few pounds off, you should have no more than 8-12 oz of water this day, just to sip on. This last bit of water should be finished about 24 hours before you get on the scale. So if your weigh-in is at 6PM on Friday night, you stop drinking by 6PM on Thursday. And no matter what, no matter how close you are to your goal weight, NO SODIUM! Now come on tough guy, you can handle a little dry mouth, can’t you?

Break That Sweat

I can consistently sweat off 8 pounds in one training session. I am a gym owner’s worst nightmare! I can turn grappling mats into a slip-n-slide. I like to think it’s because I work harder than everybody else, but that’s probably not the real reason. The bottom line is that sweating can be a good way to shed some decent poundage in a short amount of time. However, it can be physically taxing and exhausting. Choose the easiest method possible!

Obvious ways to sweat are through exercise. I’ve seen guys go nuts in a sauna suit. Running sprints, doing mitt or pad work, jumping rope, anything along the lines of crazy cardio. Then, when they go in the locker room to check their weight, the sauna suit comes off and along with it a bunch of fluid. Sometimes you can hear the “WOOSH” when the pants come off, only the tight elastic around the ankles holding it in. The water loss is what you are looking for, but I would advise against getting too crazy with your method of exercise. Some light work is good, but you don’t want to over-exhaust yourself. At this point in time, you are in the final day before your fight and rest is what you need. I recommend a warm shower or bath immediately before putting on the sauna suit. That will open the pores for enhanced sweating, so you won’t have to work as hard. If not, try rubbing on some alboline. That stuff works great! If you don’t have it, baby oil will do a decent job as well.

That being said, my favorite way to shed the final water is via the sauna. It is relaxing, until you hit about the 6 pound mark. Then you will often find yourself sucking for fresh air between the cracks in the wall or floor. You should always keep time in the sauna. I like to have guys start with a full 20-30 minutes, then we check the weight. If necessary, we go in 10-15 minute increments from there, checking weight at every break. You don’t want to sweat off more weight than is necessary to make your mark. Sweating is especially important the day before the weigh-in, and the day of. It's your route to getting any remaining weight off. There’s no need to over do it before then. Why I see guys a week or a month before their fight running around like crazy people in their sauna suits is beyond me. Be sure to use an accurate scale, maybe a few of them. You should constantly be checking your weight so that you know how much food or water that you can take in, or how much more you need to sweat off.

Diuretics...You Better Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself!

You shouldn’t need any diuretic unless you came in way over weight. If you did that, then you should fight a weight class above what you had planned, because you did not manage your weight properly leading up to showtime. Use of diuretics can drain you profusely in the fight. If your electrolyte balance is all messed up, which it probably will be, you can have a slew of issues. Want to cramp up severely when you’re trying to punch somebody’s face in? I didn’t think so. Over diuresis is hard to come back from in this timeframe. If you do need to use a diuretic, I recommend something natural rather than the more dangerous pharmaceutical diuretics. For this purpose, I would recommend dandelion root at about 500mg taken the day before the weigh-in, in the morning. See where you are the morning of weigh ins, you may need an additional dose that day. This will help to ensure that you don’t run into problems during your fight. And only use if you are more than 10 pounds over weight at that time. In this case, more is not better, no matter what. Otherwise, get your butt to the sauna! Pack a picnic of nothing, cause you can’t eat or drink! Sorry to joke, don’t be so sensitive.

Get Rid of All the Waste

Yes we are talking “bowel emptying” here. Like I said above, 90% of your weight loss will be from losing water...well the other 10% will be from taking some good dumps! This you want to do on the day before the weigh-in. Think about it, your intestines can be up to 28 feet long. Plenty of the food that you ingested the day or two prior to this point is still sitting in there, doing you no good other than weighing you down. You might have anywhere from 4-6 pounds sitting in there! Losing that much weight just by taking a gratifying number two is a dream come true to the suffering, weight cutting athlete.

Again, there is a method to this mayhem. This may also not be necessary if you feel that you are on point with your weight, but if you are unsure, it can be a good measure. The key is to go with a natural, gentle laxative, such as Senokot. Use it the night before the weigh-in, ensuring that you can make your “move” in the morning when you wake up. Hardcore laxatives can be really draining, so don’t overdo this either.

Monday-Friday Food Consumption

As I said, you should have been on a nice diet plan up to this point. Stay on it. Focus on keeping blood sugar low and stable for this week, so that you have a nice constant and even supply of energy. That means keep your carbs on the low glycemic end. By Thursday, you won’t eat much unless you are very near your mark. Again, go by the scale on this day. It's common to see a guy standing on a scale, holding the food that he wants to eat in his hand. That's not a bad idea. With weight still to lose, you’re pretty much going to go hungry. Try to eat maybe a couple balanced meal portions for the day. Even just a supplemental meal bar, something with good nutritional value containing proteins, complex carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Same thing goes for Friday, and if you’re pushing it with timing you may need to skip all food until after you get off the scale.

You’ve Met Your Mark - Time To Re-Fuel

So hopefully you’ve monitored your weight and followed the outlined strategies for weight cutting success as discussed in this guide. Your feelings of joy for making weight will soon be subsided by the reality that you are starving of everything that you have lost during this cut. Food, water, electrolytes and sodium just to name a few. It is imperative that you begin to refill your body immediately. This is not a free for all, it is also an art. You have a performance yet to put on tomorrow, and you can not let all the hard work in the weeks leading up to this point go out the window. That's just what will happen if you fail to refill yourself properly. Trust me, this is very important.

At this point, your stomach and entire system as a whole will be very sensitive to what you put in. One of the biggest mistakes that you can make is shoveling it all in like Porky Pig. At this point in time, I would recommend that you eat small meals, rich in carbohydrates, every half hour to an hour. Drink along with it. Bring back the gallon jug, because you will need to drink at least three of them in the next 24 hours, maybe even more like 4 or 5 gallons. If you’re not thirsty after the first one, drink anyway! Your blood pressure may be elevated due to the dramatic weight cut, so drink until it is lowered. Monitor your resting heart rate as well, as it should also decrease back to normal as you re-hydrate. Sometime on Saturday, if you’ve consumed enough water, you should be peeing almost clear again. Until then, DRINK!

As far as food choices go, you’ve made it this far so don’t go off the diet. Eat for performance. Eat the foods that you’ve been used to eating. I’ve seen guys go out and down some awful things after weigh-ins. Burgers, fries and ice cream, for example. On the day of the fight, they are still dehydrated and now their stomach is cramping up and they are spending the day on the toilet, with explosive diarrhea. You can avoid this by keeping your foods clean. You will have plenty of time to get in the foods that you’ve been craving after the fight. Eat this way right up to about 2 or 3 hours before fight time.

A couple of other things worth mentioning, I prefer to opt for coconut water instead of mega sports drinks. All the dextrose in sports drinks can be rough on the stomach. Coconut water is very high in potassium and minerals, yet is low in sugar. If you want to use gatorade or other sports drinks, mix it half and half with water and space it out. A carbohydrate that is awesome for replenishing your glycogen stores very quickly that I highly recommend is Waxy Maize. Waxy maize is a food grade modified starch which has much greater molecular weight and lower osmolarity rate than dextrose. Because of this, it is able to bypass the stomach and be rapidly absorbed by the intestines. It is immediately assimilated without filling up your stomach or causing tummy issues. These traits make waxy maize the fastest way to replenish glycogen out there, and you won’t bloat. I would start with 40-60g (depending on bodyweight) immediately after weigh-in, every hour or so for the first few meals. Use it again upon waking the morning of the fight, all the way up to the fight in between meals. This way you can get the nutrition that you need on fight day without feeling bloated. You should still consume a fair amount of clean balanced food as well.

I would also like to mention raw organic apple cider vinegar. This is not a bad supplement to add in during this prep week, if you can stand the taste. It has to be the cloudy looking organic stuff though, the clear apple cider vinegar doesn’t have the living nutrients and bacteria that cause the benefit. Organic apple cider vinegar can act as a safe, mild diuretic as it helps you to excrete urine, and even get rid of solid waste. It is also rich in potassium, so you get some electrolytes with this as well. It is a potent detoxifier, which can be helpful at this point in your prep. It is said to be anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. These are great benefits as your immune system can be suffering at this point in the game. It can also help regulate blood pressure. There are more studies needed on this supplement, but I can say from experience that it is helpful. Use 2 tablespoons in the morning before eating, diluted in a glass of water or sugar free drink. Keep it at the 2 tablespoons though. With the level of potassium in this stuff, more is not better.

Lastly, be sure to take in your multi-vitamin and mineral complex this week, and a good size dose of vitamin D. Not from milk either, I mean the pill form. The multi-vitamin is used for obvious reasons, as a safety measure. The vitamin D should be used every day in my opinion, but this week it is very helpful to your immune system function. Vitamin D carries some responsibility in almost every cellular process in our body. It’s really a powerhouse, very important supplement for anybody. You should be taking 3000-5000 IU’s daily.

These are all good methods of bodyweight manipulation, but you should not necessarily need to employ all of them. Start with the sodium and water preparations and tapering, and see where that leads you. Some guys can even drink straight through, and just hit the sauna the day of weigh-ins to get rid of the few pounds that they have to lose. However, these days, competition may be forcing fighters to get to a weight that they never before contemplated. You know your body, so stick to what you are most comfortable with to begin. Do it safely, you can’t fight anybody if you’re ill or dead. You still have to be able to perform, not just exist.

Practice Makes Perfect

A good coach of mine always says, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.” Meaning if you practice something wrong, you’re not going to get anywhere. Most of us fighters or competitors can relate to this. We have to strive for better technique on a daily basis. If we don’t get it, we have to go until we do. Some days are better than others, but the good ones make it all worth the while.

Practice these methods just like you would any other aspect of your sport. Practice so that when you get to weight cut time, this is not all foreign to you. Practice implementing a great diet plan at all times in your training so that you can improve and perform better. Off season, pre-fight camp, week out weight cut time, anytime. It is all vital to your success. Respect yourself, respect your opponent, respect the martial arts and respect your plan. Anything is possible if you envision it and go after it with true passion.

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