Cutting Water Weight – Competition Day Weigh In

Making weight is and has always been a hotly debated topic in the combat sports world. This article is aimed at clarifying the cutting process. To make the information easier to understand, I’ve added an example of a successfull weight cut I recent went through myself. In my opinion, cutting water weight should usually be avoided. A 2% drop in bodyweight due to dehydration will result in diminished performance. Also, purposely dehydrating also places serious stress on the whole organism. Some events try to keep competitors from cutting water weight by weighing in immediately before the fight. Also, in multi-day events such as WAKO World-or European championships, a fighter may be weighed on every day, making short term cuts rather unfeasible. There are good reasons for trying to prevent aggressive dehydration and whenever possible, more sustainable strategies should be chosen if possible. Figure 1 illustrates my weight loss for the NMAC Battle of Vienna. While I still had to cut roughly 3 Kg in water weight, I started pre-fight dieting well in advance.

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Figure 1. My weight loss in preparation for the NMAC Battle of Vienna 2018. Beginning the weight loss phase early enough prevents the necessity of excessive weight cuts, is easier on the organism and may lead to better performance in the event.

Having said all that, it is important to note that in combat sports, cutting significant amounts of water weight before the fight has become the standard. Hence, cutting will not necessarily give a fighter an advantage, but rejecting to cut will most likely put him at a disadvantage. Competing at a higher weight, therefore, may or may not be an option, depending on the event (full contact vs point fighting, stand up only vs grappling/MMA).

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Fig 2. In MMA, the ability to physically control an opponent in the clinch or on the ground places a fighter at a definite advantage. Hence, entering the competition at the highest possible weight makes sense. Sensible weight cutting strategies can be very beneficial in that regard.

Different water cutting strategies exist and have successfully been implemented in the past. All revolve, to some extent, around the manipulation of glycogen stores, sodium, and ultimately, water. In the following, I will outline one strategy I have used myself many times.

Two different approaches need to be discussed in this context. On one hand, some events give the athlete enough time (>24h) between the weigh in and the fight to implement rather aggressive strategies. On the other hand, in instances where weigh in and fight are on the same day, a more conservative route needs to be taken. Consider Figures 3 and 4. The former is a picture of me at the 2012 Open European Taekwondo Championships in Wielicka, Poland. I had to cut more than 10% of my starting bodyweight. Between the weigh-in and the actual event, I had 36 hours to rehydrate and refuel. Contrast that to Figure 4, which shows me after the 2018 NMAC Battle of Vienna. I competed at the same weight division in both events. Notice the difference in muscularity. Figure 5 shows a picture of me, one day after the 2018 event.

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Figure 3. Open European Taekwondo Championships, 2012, Poland. I cut ~9 Kg that day, had five fights and took silver. Between the weigh-in and the actual event, I had 36 hours.
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Figure 4. Battle of Vienna, 2018, Austria. I cut ~ 3 Kg that day, had three fights and took gold. Weigh-In was on competition day.
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Figure 5. 24 hours and 4000 kcal after the 2018 NMAC Battle of Vienna.

For various reasons, I’ve decided to focus on the same day weigh in protocol only in this article. In a future installment, I may cover the protocol I implemented when going through a previous day weigh in.

The Process

Weighting in on fight day presents certain challenges. Specifically, the athlete shouldn’t go without water for a prolonged time period pre-fight. Also, carbohydrate intake should probably be higher than in a scenario that allows for more re-feeding opportunities. Figure 6 illustrates the results of my weight cut for the NMAC Battle of Vienna. I dropped around 3 Kg in water weight over the course of the week leading to the competition.

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Figure 6. My bodyweight chart in the competition week. I cut from 74 Kg down to 69.8 (in the morning, when I has leaving home, I weighed in at 705. The rest was lost waiting for the weigh in with light movement drills). The day after competition, my weight was back to around 74 Kg.

The cutting procedure implements a water ramp, basic carbohydrate cycling and a manipulation of the sodium / potassium ratio. Start by closely monitoring your water intake during the weeks leading up to the cut. This information will be very important. While usually a higher water intake is reasonable for athletes, I personally recommend a slightly more conservative approach. To put this in perspective, I usually drink between four and five liters a day. You will see why this can cause issues with this cutting protocol.

8 Days before the weigh in

Double your water intake. If you’re used to drinking two liters daily, make it four. I would advise going rather LCHF from here on. Your endocrine system is going through severe stress during periods of caloric restriction (which you might need to undergo at this point I time). Keeping fat intake failry high may help keep your testosterone levels at a reasonable level. Also, consider that for each gram of glycogen lost, around 3 grams of water weight are lost as well. If you’re really desperate, you might go for a PSMF [1] here, but I’ver never been far enough from my target weight to do this. Hence, I’ll omit it in the further discussion.

6 Days before the weigh in

Double your intake again. Now, instead of drinking four liters, for example, drink eight. You might already see why starting the whole process with an intake of 4 liters might prove problematic at this point. We’re talking 16 liters of water a day. Be reasonable, start low. Drastically increase sodium intake. If you’re like me and tend to avoid most sodium duing everyday life, this will be an interesting time. You can add small amounts of sodium to your drinking water to make things easier.

2 Days before the weigh in

Drop your water intake fourfold. If you were drinking eight liters, go back to two. This is still a reasonable fluid intake, probably more than many people manage to drink in the first place. For me, it always feels awkward when I have to actively avoid drinking too much. You can just time your intake and go for a 250ml glass of water every hour for eight hours. That way, you don’t feel as thirsty.

Cut sodium intake to zero. This is a challenge, as pretty much every packed food contains at least traces of sodium. What works well for me at this point is plain grilled chicken breast, seasoned with chilli powder or lemon juice. Of course, I add steamed broccoli as well.

The Precision Nutrition guidelines [2] state that at this point, you should be re-introducing fairly high amounts of carbs (200-400g / day) into your diet. If you’Ve got leeway, go for it. For me, this doesn’t work as well, so I usually stay LCHF.

1 Day before the weigh in

This is the final drop in water intake. Cut your intake in half, i.e., if you drank two liters the day before, drink one. For me, this is hard and I really have to budget my water during the day. Try not to go through any hard training, but you shouldn’t be doing that so close to competition anyways. Still no sodium.

Again, according to the Precision Nutrition guidelines, you may keep your carbohydrate intake high on this day. Theoretically, this makes sense, as you want to enter competition in peak shape. Having full glycogen stores will make sure you do. As pointed out, however, I personally don’t react that well to an increased carb intake, so I’ll usually still keep it low here and save re-feeding for the next day, immediately after the weigh in.

Weigh in day

Avoid water until the weigh in. If you can, have carbs on your way to the venue. At the Battle of Vienna, I weighed in at 70.5 Kg on the morning of the event before leaving home. Waiting for my turn the be weighed, combined with light movement drills (in-place skips, A-skips, lateral skips, crossover skips, light shadow sparring, etc) were more than enough to lose the remaining weight and got me down to 69.8 Kg.

After the weigh-in, start re-hydrating and refeeding. It should be obvious that at this point, there is no room for experimentation. You should perform a weight cut during your off-season and then tweak it until it absolutely works for you before applying it in a contest situation. Your maximal rate of fluid absorption is 1.5 liters per hour. Drinking that much might upset your GI or hinder your subsequent performance in others ways. You might therefore want to go slightly slower. During the first hour, you’ll be consuming something in the vicinity of 60 g of carbohydrates and 30 g of protein, preferrably in fluid form. This corresponds to the 2008 JISSN position stand on nutrient timing [3].

I just use maltodextrin powder and whey protein powder for that purpose. During the second hour, I’ll go for a second shake, usually something along the lines of my Basic Banana Shake, and a high carb Legal Cakes protein bar, i.e., Froco or Freshi. Figures 7 and 8 show the bars I use for refeeding. If time permits, I’ll have a serving of my Banana Protein Pancakes an hour later. I eat these pretty much every morning, so if there’s a meal I’m accustomed to, it’s them.

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Figure 7. Our Froco Bar comes at 12 g of protein and  42 g of carbohydrates. All natural and legal, of course, i.e., without the addition of sugar, artificial sweeteners or preservatives. Perfect for providing energy for longer competitions or refuelling after a weight cut. Check out http://legalcakes.net/
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Figure 8. Just as good as the Froco bar is the freshi bar. Fresh apples make this one a bit more refreshing than the dried plums in the Froco bar. In the end, it comes down to personal taste and preference. The macros are very similar for both bars, with the Freshi bar offering slightly less protein (8.5 g) per serving. Check out http://legalcakes.net/

Wrap Up

The above presented strategy will produce results. As mentioned, however, you should definitely test it in your off-season before implementing it before an actual competition. Consider the strategy a blueprint that probably needs to be slightly tweaked in order to work optimally for you and take your individual needs and preferences into consideration. Also, keep in mind that a long-term approach to weight loss is more sustainble and less stressfull on the body. If you need help with your weight loss or cutting strategy, don’t hesitate to contact me.

So long,

don’t get hurt

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Figure 9. Me and my trainer, Boban „Bobby“ Bozic, head coach of KaiGym Vienna, after the Battle of Vienna 2018 at the MMA Vienna Gym. Although my face took some damage, the effort I put into preparation were well worth it.

References

[1] Bistrian, B. R. (1978). Clinical use of a protein-sparing modified fast. Jama, 240(21), 2299-2302.

[2] Berardi, J., & Andrews, R. (2015). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition 2013.

[3] Kerksick, C., Harvey, T., Stout, J., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., Kreider, R., … Antonio, J. (2008). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 5, 17. http://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-5-17

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