A few months ago my brother started asking me for workout programs because he had recently acquire gym memberships at a local gym in Caracas, where I am from. He has been practicing jujitsu for the past few years and recently started doing so competitively. My dad was a black belt judoka and my uncle was also some sort of fighter too, so I guess it runs in the family (not me though! – I stuck to the books and the heavy weights)

A couple of weeks later, my brother mentioned he needed help with his diet too because he needed to make the 65 Kg weight category (for you “mericans” that is 143 lbs). I asked –“For a jujitsu match?”- He said –“No, for my first MMA fight” – My reaction… “Oh S$%*!” But I was excited for him so needless to say, I helped him.

Combat sports all have one thing in common; you have to make your weight category. That means, you must adjust your food and fluid intake to get to that goal weight. Historically, fighters have recurred to extreme weight loss techniques (See them below) to achieve this, sometimes causing severe health consequences, even death (1)

  • Fluid restriction

  • Use of saunas, or plastic gear to promote heavy sweating

  • Fasting a day prior weight-in

  • Reduced fat and carbohydrate intake

  • Most aggressive methods: diet pills, vomiting inducers, diuretics, and laxatives.

    • Diuretics are banned by the World Anti Doping Agency (2)

  • Salt baths

I’ll cite a couple examples of competitive athletes who did some crazy things and are not here to compete anymore:  Chung Se-hoon, a judoka competing in the Atlanta Olympic Games was found dead in Sauna due to a heart attack in 1996, three months prior to the Olympics. A year later, three other collegiate wrestlers died of hyperthermia and dehydration associated with rapid weight loss prior to competitive events (3). I am sure many more cases went under the radar related to making weight. I even had some clients who would eat only oranges 3 days prior to a wrestling match just to make weight.

What are the consequences?

Rapid weight loss has been associated with impairments in aerobic and anaerobic performance. This is closely related to dehydration, decreased plasma volume, and other fluid balance disturbances. Some research shows that maximal strength may also be affected by rapid weight loss prior to matches (4). Ok this sucks but let’s look at the bright side. These decrements were observed only in athletes who did no have the opportunity to reefed or replenish fluids after weigh-in. The good news about weight cutting is that you have some time to get your body back together after weigh-in. In professional MMA fights this is one full day. But in other non-professional competitive events it is usually at least an hour.

My 3 Rules for weight cutting.

Rule #1 for me is to get to your goal weight + 1-2% at least one month prior to your event. That way, manipulation of weight does not have to be extreme the week/days prior.

Rule#2 Avoid any type of fluid/food restriction as much as possible

Rule#3 There are some stubborn athletes who will not listen to me, which I get it, so, if you broke the first two rules, at least have a contingency plan in place for after weigh-in, meaning a nutrition pack with everything you will need to refuel and rehydrate.

What was the plan for my brother?

Before you start reading, you should be aware that my brother resides in Venezuela, where the economy is in its worst times ever, and where there is no accessibility to the same foods we have here in the States. He did not take any supplements (too expensive). So I am super proud of him for what he accomplished

3 Months out

Goal: Mass and Strength gain.

Weight: 68 Kg (149.6 lbs)

No much change in diet, but in training. Increased the training volume and added many High Intensity Interval (HIT) cardio to minimize fat gains.

2-Months out

Goal: Strength gain and reduction of fat mass

Weight: Fluctuating 68 Kg (149.6 lbs)

Diet: We started cleaning things up a bit. Diet was focused on his training. In the morning he would have a protein, plenty of carbs, and fruit. He started including high-protein snacks in between meals (such as Greek Yogurt, or sometimes even meat)

Training: Increased the intensity and lower the volume (lifting heavy for little reps) on many structural movements (Squats and Deadlifts), and adding accessory lifts specific to the sport (i.e. floor presses), and other pulling movements.

1-month out

Goal: Reach maximal strength (peaking) and reduction of weight.

Weight 67 Kg (147.4 lbs)

Diet: We kept everything the same but started restricting calories slight, while maintaining a good protein intake. Why? Well it is important to preserve lean mass in the weight loss process, otherwise muscles lose size, and size = strength. So you can probably do the math.

Training: Same as previous cycle, with a peaking week where we lifted very heavy for 1-3 reps on the big lifts. We started more sessions of HIT cardio and some stationary for personal preferences.

2-3 Weeks out – Goal: making weight

Diet: 16/8 Intermittent Fasting. He would fast for 16 hours and eat for 8. There is a limited research on this, but a ton of studies looking at Muslim athletes during Ramadan who fast for over 12 hours daily. The consensus is there are no changes in performance, and there may be a benefit in weight control and fat loss. So I decided to give it a shot with Dani. Guess what? He loved it, and leaned up amazingly! Check out the pic below when he started 4 months ago and where he ended. On Thursday before the fight he was at 64.9 Kg. I can post strategies to do this, and I will be trying it myself soon.He packed a bag with: Water, Gatorade, A small container with pasta, a couple of lean meat burgers, granola bars.

Unfortunately, he did not win the fight but he learned an important lesson about himself and will continue to work hard towards that WIN.

Takeaways!!

  • Gradual weight loss is preferential to rapid weight loss when trying to make weight

  • Protein intake should be maintained and properly timed to avoid muscle wasting and preserve lean body mass.

  • Athletes that need to reduce more than 5% of body weight should consider not losing weight and participate in a different weight class.

  • Low-carbohydrate diets should be avoided at all costs to ensure proper glycogen stores and subsequent optimal performance.

  • Come prepared for after weigh-in to rehydrate (even though it wont be as effective as hydrating the night prior), and refuel.

  • Intermittent Fasting may be an appropriate method for wieght cutting athletes.

Contact me for a personalized plan for your fight or any other sport!!

References:

1. Frachini, E. et al (2012) Weight loss in combat sports: Physological, psychological and performance effect. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012 (9):52

2. Cadwallader AB, de la Torre X, Tieri A, Botre F (2010) The abuse of diuretics as performance-enhancing drugs and masking agents in sport doping:pharmacology, toxicology and analysis. British Journal of Pharmacology 2010,161:1–16

3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1997) Hyperthermia and dehydration-related deaths associated with intentional rapid weight loss in three collegiate wrestlers-North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Journal of American Medical Association 1998, 279: 824–825

4. Serfass RC: The Effects of Rapid Weight Loss and Attempted Rehydration on Strength and Endurance of the Handgripping Muscles in College Wrestlers.Res Q Exerc Sport 1984, 55: 46–52

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sports fitness mma fight sports nutrition