Cutting Weight Done Right
Body weight manipulation or “cutting weight” for a fight or tournament is common practice in sports like boxing, BJJ, and wrestling. It usually requires a rapid drop in body weight before the athlete weighs in which is then followed by a rapid gain in weight before the competition. This is why you sometimes see two fighters competing in the same weight class but one fighter looks way bigger and heavier than the other.
For many athletes this is where there is a big weakness in their preparation for a competition or fight. Too often they leave themselves with far too much weight to cut in a short period of time, and don’t re-hydrate and eat properly after weigh-in, leaving them depleted and actually decreasing their performance. Cutting weight safely and effectively takes knowledge, skill, and practice.
When planning to cut weight for a fight you have to know when weigh-in is and how long you have to refuel before competition. Some competitions will weigh-in the day before the fight and others will weigh-in the day of the fight. We have prepared our BJJ athletes in both scenarios. The day before the fight has many more variables involved with it but it gives you more leeway than the weigh-in on the day of competition.
In preparation for the 2016 BJJ World Championships in Abu Dhabi, Bruno Alves and Igor Almeida had
a 24 hour weigh in meaning they weighed in the day before competition. The weighed in at 5pm and competed around 10-2pm the next day, so they had about 17-21 hours to refuel. Leading into this important competition Bruno started at 84kg 1 month out and had to get down to 75kg for weigh-in and Igor started at 68kg and had to get down to 60kg for weigh-in.
To achieve this we began working on nutrition and planning how much weight we would actually cut before weigh-in. We actually had the boys eating more food than they were used to (especially when trying to cut weight for a competition) which gave them good energy in training and allowed them to recover from the training they were doing. It also allowed them to shed body fat and maintain their lean muscle mass keeping them strong. When they flew out for Abu Dhabi they were 79kg and 64kg respectively. We tried not to change too much. The important thing was for the boys to feel comfortable in their preparation.
Once the boys landed in Abu Dhabi they began to cut weight for weigh-in which we gradually did over 3 days. Our goal was to only have to cut 2kg so that it wasn’t stressful on the body, they weren’t depleted, and could still have energy in their final preparations. This small amount would also be easy to replenish for competition the next day and we knew if we refuelled correctly they should be able to put on more than the 2kg we cut. Another reason for the 2kg cut instead of a larger amount was that we didn’t get to experiment with weight cutting in training so we chose to be on the safe side with a weight we knew the boys could do pretty comfortably and also refuel, maintain their strength and energy levels. Too often coaches or nutrition advisers will try for large amounts not knowing how their athletes bodies will respond to the cut and refuel, they just guess. This isn’t acceptable especially when you are working with people who have had success in the past and dedicate their entire lives to their sport and preparation for a World Championship.
The only thing we planned to cut on weigh-in day was water and have a small meal instead of usual 5. They boys were so dedicated in their preparation that they made weight by 12pm and were actually able to eat another meal and have small amounts of water leading up to weigh-in at 5pm. It sounds easy on paper but speaking with the boys this was still very tough. This is why I was very happy we chose to only cut a small amount of weight.
After weigh-in we planned exactly how we would refuel and the boys executed it very well. A problem you often see when people refuel is they go and pig out on a massive meal and gulp down water trying to regain their weight quickly. While this is important, doing it this way often leaves athletes feel flat and bloated and they tend to forget the rest of the refuel. We used a sensible approach of restoring fluids, salt, and electrolytes, and having a larger meal consisting of protein and carbs to restore glycogen, followed by regular small meals up until competition. The boys said they felt strong and lean and more importantly ready to compete.
Come the day of competition Bruno weighed about 83-84kg and Igor weighed between 64-66kg. Bruno had regained 8-9kg and Igor 4-6kg. This was more than expected but a great benefit as they were still lean, strong, and had energy for competition. The best thing about it all was that they boys felt ready to compete. The psychological aspects involved are probably more important than anything else.
During the competition Bruno told me he didn’t need to take very long rests between fights and actually took 5 minute rests instead of 10 minutes at times. This shows how well he had prepared. Bruno won the World Championship and Igor came 3rd.
There are many ways you can cut weight leading into competition. You can use fluid restriction, sweating, and even bowel emptying. Fluid restriction in my opinion is the simplest and most effective method which is why we chose this method for the boys leading into the worlds.
Sweating is another way you can drop some more body weight. You can do this by either training in a sweat suit or sitting in the sauna. We were fortunate that we didn’t have to do this but it is an option if you fall short of your mark or if you are trying to cut a lot of weight before a fight. I prefer the sauna than training in a sweat suit as I don’t feel it takes as much energy away from the athlete but again this is an individual thing and you have to experiment with it in training. For example Igor hated the sauna so it was good that he didn’t have to put himself through long periods in there before a competition.
Bowel emptying is an emergency tool in my mind. Some people may use it but for me, I would only use it if we were not going to make weight and it had to be done. I would also use a natural substance such as doing a vitamin C flush. I am not talking about using diuretics.
While the methods described above are effective for cutting weight it is important to have your athletes nutrition dialled in before you start any of them. They will be more effective if you have your athlete eating a good clean diet and have a solid foundation before starting the actual cut for weigh-in.
In summing up
Don’t go too crazy changing a lot of things all at once
Experiment in training so you know how your athlete will respond (both cutting weight and refuelling)
Plan don’t guess
Hope this helps.
Some main achievements:
World pro champion 2016
Sydney International Open Pro Champion 2016
Sydney International Open Pro Absolute Champion 2016
2nd Worlds Masters IBJJF 2015
World Champion Masters IBJJF 2014
Boa Super 8 Champion 2014
World Champion IBJJF (2008 Brown)
3rd Place Worlds Masters IBJJF (2013 Black)
3rd at Abu Dhabi World Professional 2016
2 x South American Champion
2 x Brazilian National Champion
1st in weight and 1st in open weight at Sydney Pro International
1st in weight Gi and No Gi at Sydney International Open