I have cut weight for 15 professional mma fights, 7 amatuer fights, and roughly 10 Jiu-Jitsu tournaments.
There isn’t really an average for how much weight I’ve had to cut, because I am kind of a lunatic, and fought at many different weights over the years. The least I have ever had to lose was 10lbs. The most I have ever cut was 28 pounds.
The craziest method I have ever used was starving myself for weeks, combined with dehydration through the use of a sauna suit and a wonderful product all fighters know well called Albolene. I have laid on the floor of a gym, in my sauna suit, covered literally from head to toe in Albolene, under a pile of towels,in the corner between the wall and the Coke machine, where it’s the hottest.
The craziest weight cut I have ever tried was the last time I attempted to make 155. I started out at 195, I lost 5lbs and tried to cut from 190. I got to 162 before my body started shutting down.
Nowadays, weight cutting is always in the back of my mind, but when I first started I had no idea what I was doing. I like to start getting weight under control as soon as a match/meet/competition is set. As soon as the contract is signed my mind switches gears, and I will lose between 4-9 pounds the next day. Not sure what that’s about but it happens every time. I have lost and cut 26 pounds in one week, because that was all the notice I got. My team mate was set to fight a guy and his nose was broke in training one week out, so I stepped up. I was not strong , but I won the fight.
There is a huge difference between losing weight and cutting weight. Losing weight is done in the kitchen, weight cutting is done in a sauna or gym. Losing weight is done by eating less calories than you burn. But you have to be careful with this information because your body has a non-stop systems check going on and if it’s not getting enough of something it needs, it will begin to store that thing until it’s needs are met. If your body stores for long enough it becomes a habit and that leads to problems. It’s very hard to lose weight if your body is holding on to things. For me, cutting weight is just cutting water out of the body for a very short time. But it’s not as easy as it sounds. It starts off a few weeks out by water loading, and ends when the scale says it’s over. Somewhere in the middle you will curse whatever it is you are cutting weight for, and question whether or not it is worth all this.
In a perfect world, you get eight weeks to prepare. During these eight weeks, you will have to lose as much weight as you can, without losing muscle. At the end of the eight weeks you will have to cut whatever weight you haven’t lost. This is no guessing game though. So much effort and detail goes into making weight that most people can’t handle it. Not because it’s so difficult, but because you have to lose weight while going to work everyday, training stand up, training grappling, strength and conditioning, cardio… – oh, and you must not be so unpleasant that you drive away your loved ones.
At the eight week mark I am usually around 20-25lbs over the target weight. (Walking around at 195, fighting at 170.) At this time not much happens, you just clean up the menu. Now everything you eat has to be “Healthy”. That means no hot pockets, pizza rolls, or Cinnabon!
Camp has started, you are working out six days a week, and you need to be eating enough calories to support your activity, but they must be clean.
At six weeks the menu gets even smaller. Now we aren’t eating anything that has grain or sugar — rice, corn, wheat, oats, ALL GRAINS. Also ALL SUGARS, that means fruits, some types of veggies are out, and you can’t drink any alcohol. At this time water loading begins. You must drink at least one full gallon, plus the amount of weight you lose during training. (One gallon of water = 8.3 lbs. If you lose 4lbs during training you must drink another half of a gallon to put you back on track. ) And you will have to decide what “system” to “follow”. Are you going to eat every two hours, or only twice a day? This is also where portion control comes in to play. You will need to start weighing yourself every morning, and tracking what you ate and how much. You need to know how much you ‘float’ over night, or how much weight you lose while sleeping. Still want to cut weight?
*Each time you cut weight you want to change things up a little so your body doesn’t get used to one routine and start to create a habit. Habits are hard to break and usually lead to plateaus.
At four weeks you are surely hating your life, and every 3 minutes there is a damn Steakadelphia commercial. But you must stay the course. You will want to increase your water intake to two gallons a day, and maintain that for the next three weeks. Also, the caloric intake is going to go down. This is where you have to be somewhat in tune with your body. You need to eat enough to maintain your training, but not so much that stop losing weight everyday. Somewhere around 1500 calories for me. All you can do is keep track of every detail so you can make adjustments when and where they are needed.
At two weeks out there is no joy in your life. A lot of people break here, but some of us thrive on the challenge. I like to be very creative with my meals. I can’t eat a lot, so what I do eat is going to be AMAZING! I hope you didn’t forget that you have been drinking two+ gallons of water a day, so you are in the restroom a lot. And you are maintaining a low caloric intake, while pushing your body to the breaking point.
We are now one week away from the fight. Training should lighten up to where you are just sharpening tools…no more grinding, just polishing. Your calories must reflect your output, so it can go down a little bit more during the last week. But, your water intake has to go up again. Two and a half gallons a day. Earlier I said habits can be bad and lead to plateaus, but the water loading is creating a habit that we will use to our advantage.
In MMA we weight in 24 hours before we fight. Fights happen on Saturday night. Weigh-ins are on Friday nights, usually around 6pm. You start your weight cut Thursday night at 6pm. Thursday you will wake up and get your breakfast in, and go to work on the water. If you can get more than two and a half gallons in before 6, do it. But everything stops at 6pm. No more water! Your body should be panicking…there is too much water! Not only is there too much right now, there has been too much for a few weeks now, and your body has been working hard to push out as much water as possible as quickly as possible. So when you stop putting water in, your body is in the habit of pushing out as much as it can. Think about turning the supply line to your toilet off, and then flushing the toilet. Water is flushed out but no water is coming in, that toilet is a lot lighter without all that water inside it, and you will be too.
When you wake up Friday morning you will check your weight, and depending on how much you weigh, and how much you float you may not need to cut any weight, you might be close enough to being on weight that you can lose the last two or three pounds just existing. I usually have 10lbs to cut on the day of the weigh in. I have my weight cut down to a science. I know that when my mouth starts feeling dry I am at 177, I also know that I cut 1lb of water weight every ten minutes in the sauna. But that is only because I have done my water loading properly, and I haven’t had any sodium for two days. At that rate I am able to sit in the sauna for 4 25 minute sessions – spread out through the day, not all at once. I don’t want to be dehydrated all day. I usually get done a few hours earlier than I need to because I am willing to spent an extra hour or two drained, but I am not willing to show up to a weigh in overweight. Not an option. As soon as I step off the scale I begin rehydration with water and electrolytes. I take it kind of slow because I have 24 hours to get my body back to normal. I stick to healthy foods until after the competition is done though. If you have been running on racing fuel for eight weeks, then you dump a bunch of regular unleaded in the tank right before the race you will cancel out your efforts and not perform to your true potential.
*This is a simple guide, there is a lot of detail missing. Each person, even though we are all carbon based, is a little different. There are factors that need to be considered, like, are you healthy enough to cut weight, how much of your body weight can you safely lose/cut. It is also vital that you pay attention to your body, listen when it sends you signals. My most recent success with weight cutting has been helping power lifting athlete’s cut weight for competition. Power lifting athletes need to lose weight without losing any strength so it is a little different. I can sacrifice a small amount of strength in a fight because I am bigger than most others in my weight class due to my ability to cut weight, and fighting is a lot different from lifting, so I have more options. Lifters can only lift, and they have to do it properly or the lift doesn’t count. They can not sacrifice any strength, and they can’t be so mentally fatigued that they don’t use proper technique. It is a little different but I have been able to make the adjustments so far, and it’s working well.
GREAT detailed review of the process. I have watched many competitive lifters cut. Often the metabolic demands overshadow the benefits, is my experience. I can see how MMA would present different demands. Powerlifting really is a fine edged battle against the self for maximum performance in just a few crucial moves—9 in all. But those movements are spread out throughout the day, often from morning to evening, and by deadlifts at the end of the meet it’s too late to hold on.
I have always thought it so harsh to ask athletes to cut weight to participate in an event, but now I recognize it’s an integral part of their sport. I can’t imagine having to train and perform and ALSO be meticulous about what I put in my mouth. Hats off to those able to do what I am unwilling to.