How To Cut Weight To Maximise Fight Performance
You’ll recall I first mentioned body composition. This is your primary objective and represents a long-term change to your body weight.
Body Fat Percentage Matters
First, achieve a body fat level that sets you in good stead for the level that you’re fighting at.
At the elite level, males must be between 5-10% body fat, and females 13-17%.
This must be done by undereating at a rate of between 500 to 1000 calories each day, with sufficient protein intake and resistance training to ensure you lose body fat and NOT muscle mass.
Losing muscle mass will not only kill your strength, power, speed, and endurance, but also reduces your “body armour”, increasing your general risk of injury both inside and outside of training and competition.
Maintaining muscle mass maintains your metabolism too, helping prevent piling fat back on again between fights.
When undereating between 500 to 1000 calories each day you can typically expect to lose body fat at a rate of between 0.5–1kg (1–2lbs) per week.
I’ve gone into depth on how you can achieve this in my Fat Loss For Fighter Guide.
But with respect to fight weight, a key take away point is…
Set yourself up for success by first achieving a competitive body fat level for the level of competition you are in.
Begin by estimating your body fat percentage by comparing a “selfie” to the following visual body fat percentage chart.
Visual representation of various body fat percentages
Then, decide if you are intentionally cutting fat between now and your fight date or not.
If you are, decide if you’re cutting at a moderate rate of 0.5kg (1lb) of fat per week, or an aggressive rate of 1kg (2lbs) of fat per week.
Bare in mind that under eating to burn body fat also means your training and recovery will suffer…
Targeting a moderate fat loss (of about 0.5kg or 1lb per week) is my recommendation.
Entering your start date, start weight, and fight weigh-in date into the calculator will allow you to determine what your projected weigh-in “fight” weight will be.
This projected weight includes fat loss at the (moderate or aggressive) rate you’ve selected, without losing any of your muscle mass – and therefore not losing any strength, power, speed, or endurance either.
The tool also estimates what your projected fight date body fat percentage will be too.
If you’re not looking to cut body fat, you can focus purely on training to enhance your performance. That’s a massive plus, and where elite fighters should be.
Temporary Water Weight Cutting
As well as the long-term gradual change to your body weight afforded through fat loss, fighters also exploit short-term, rapid, temporary weight loss, by manipulating their water weight.
To borrow another quote from my Fat Loss For Fighters Guide…
Half a litre of water weighs about 0.5kg (1lb). So if you sweat off a litre during training, you’re a kilo (2lbs) lighter. This isn’t fat loss.
If you drink a glass of water, that’s an instant 0.25kg (0.55lbs) added on the scales — you’ve effectively become the container for that water. This isn’t fat (or muscle) gained.
Water weight loss is the fighter’s strategy for rapid, temporary weight loss in the final week before a fight. But this shouldn’t play any part in your general training goals.
You can safely achieve temporary water weight loss in three ways…
- Minimal/significant dehydration
- Glycogen (stored carbohydrate) depletion
- Reducing gut volume
And your weight-cutting strategy will employ these three differently, depending on how long you have between your weigh-in and your fight, and how much you weigh to begin with…
The Fight Weight Class Calculator takes these details into account and determines all this for you.
How To Safely Use Dehydration
You become dehydrated when you lose more water (through normal body functions such as toilet visits, sweating, or moisture in your breath) than you’re taking in.
Training or fighting while even mildly dehydrated (just 1-2% of body weight) significantly impacts your performance.
It impairs your ability for both physical exertion and cognitive performance, while increasing the physiological strain (heart rate and core body temperature) associated with a given intensity of exercise.
A fighter arriving for a training session or a fight will have an increased heart rate of about 6-10bpm during exercise if they are dehydrated by 2-3% of body weight. Your body is already stressed and working harder, before you even begin to exert yourself.
And generally, you won’t feel thirsty until you’re already dehydrated by about 2% of body weight.
If you rely on self-selecting how much you drink when rehydrating after your weigh-in, drinking until you’re no longer thirsty, you’ll tend to replace fluid until you are -2% of body weight.
Thirst is not an adequate guide for a fighter’s rehydration.
It’s crucial that any dehydration you deliberately suffer to make weight is completely reversed by the time you fight. Or you’ll be a shadow of your usual self.
Although there are some final week preparations to consider, the effect of manipulating your water weight is only present for the day of the weigh-in.
Therefore, in my opinion using sauna suits in training more than a day or two before the fight is not useful… Any water a fighter may sweat off will be replaced as soon as they eat or drink again.
For me, using sauna suits to cut weight at all is a bad idea. Let me explain some other methods you can use instead…
Depending on how many hours you have between your weigh-in and your fight…
Simply drinking less for a day or two before your weigh-in could possibly achieve all the water loss you need.
You’ll typically dehydrate approximately 1-2% of your body weight overnight through sweating and moisture in your breath, depending on how hot and humid your bedroom is.
Also, an adult bladder can hold up to about 500ml or 0.5kg (1lb) of fluid. So your morning toilet habits can also be factored in. All of this can be used as part of your fight cut strategy…
But first you must measure it.
Weeks before the fight, for three consecutive days, weigh yourself each night before bed and again on waking (after a toilet trip, but before drinking or eating breakfast) and record the difference.
You can use this average overnight weight loss trend to predict what you’ll need to weigh when you go to bed the night before the fight to wake up on weight.
Also, bear in mind that if you’re warmer at night you’ll sweat more. You can exploit this if the night before the fight you’re a little heavy, by wearing extra clothing to bed to amp up your overnight water loss. Just make sure you’re not so hot that your sleep is affected.
Fighters can typically dehydrate between 2.5% to 3% of body weight using this method.
Further from the fight, I’d advise you practise a trial run using this method – to find what kind of percentage weight-drop is you typically experience overnight.
The fight weight class calculation tool will advise you if this simple, convenient method is appropriate given the amount of time you have between the weigh-in and the fight.
If you have sufficient time between your weigh-in and your fight to dehydrate between 2.5% to 4% of your body weight and restore it again, then the safest way to achieve this is using a water loading method.
Water loading involves drinking higher than normal amounts of water for several days followed by water restriction – resulting in peeing more than you drink!
Water loading involves drinking higher than normal amounts of water for several days followed by water restriction. This naturally increases the amount that you pee, and results in you peeing more than you drink when you cut down your water intake.
This rapidly dehydrates you at the last moment, without unduly stressing your body with heat or needless exercise. Which minimises fatigue and presents you in the optimum condition to perform your best.
There are many methods you can use to water load, and the regimen I recommend is designed to not only cut water weight for the weigh-in, but also to keep you well hydrated for all your training sessions in the final week leading up to the fight too.
And to keep it simple, I don’t use salt loading either. Instead, reduce salt intake as much as possible… Avoid processed foods, fast foods, or generally adding salt to anything in the final week.
Increasing your rate of urination depends on drinking more than you’re currently accustomed to drinking…
Therefore, I advise scaling your water intake based on your general daily drinking amounts, rather than adhering to a standardised daily water intake quota.
The Fight Weight Class Calculator provides you with a personal water loading plan based on your current daily drinking quantity.
Overhydrating – Hyponatremia
Water loading is a significantly safer method of dehydration, as it doesn’t involve raising the body core temperature through either exercise activity or hot, humid ambient environments.
However, it’s not without risk. Over consuming water can result in a potentially fatal condition called hyponatremia.
Drinking at a rate faster than your kidneys can deal with can lead to hyponatraemic, hypo-osmolar water intoxication with cerebral oedema.
While potentially serious, it’s rare, and can easily be avoided by only drinking at a rate of up to 800 millilitres per hour.
I’ve personally experienced hyponatremia after downing over a litre of water before a weigh-in…. I was too light for the match up, and didn’t want to give a psychological advantage to my opponent!
I ended up with a pounding headache and felt hungover. Luckily, all was ok again before the fight – but it wasn’t something I’d considered being a problem back then. Now I know much better!
Hyponatremia is also something to consider not only when water loading, but also when rehydrating after your weigh-in. More on optimal rehydrating a little later.
Don’t use diuretics! It could ultimately damage your kidneys, and it’s uncontrollable dehydration…
When you can easily control and predict your water loss using water loading. There’s no need whatsoever to risk messing things up by using diuretics.
How To Optimally Use Glycogen Depletion
Muscle isn’t only important for metabolically burning calories to fast track your fat loss…
Having more muscle also allows you to cut the more water weight safely, by running down (and then restocking) stored carbohydrate (gylcogen) in the muscle tissue itself.
Every gram of stored glycogen in your muscles has at least 3 grams of water stored with it.
By exercising those specific muscles and not re-feeding them with sufficient carbs, you’ll deplete the stored glycogen and water.
Done well, this can amount to about 4% of your body weight.
But a word of warning. If you don’t load your glycogen stores back up again before you fight, you’ll have no energy.
Without locally stored carbs in the muscles, you’ll lose strength and power, fatigue goes through the roof, and everything feels like a huge effort.
Do not fight in this state! I’ve seen many fighters live to regret a decision to cut carbs when they were unable to replenish glycogen levels again before the fight started.
Depending on how much you weigh and how lean you are…
There’s a predictable amount of glycogen/water weight you can get back on every hour after the weigh-in – if you eat and drink correctly.
The Fight Weight Class Calculator advises if you have enough time between your weigh-in and your fight to use this method without messing yourself up.
It also calculates the amount of weight you can cut from depleting glycogen stores, and advises how to fill your stores back up again at the quickest rate too.
Note, that fighters following a keto diet cannot take advantage of glycogen depletion to cut to their fight weight… They’re effectively doing this all the time, and have already lost that water weight.
Depleting Glycogen Stores
To run down your glycogen stores and lose the associated water weight, you simply need to cut down your carb intake during the final week before the fight.
Because there’s still some intense training going on in the final week, I like to systematically scale down carb intake rather than cutting it completely.
That way, we avoid a complete energy crash and failing to adequately complete your final training sessions due to fatigue.
Beginning 7 days out from the fight, reduce your carb intake by half. The next day, half it again! Repeat this until 2-days before the fight, and on the day of the weigh-in don’t have any carbs until after the weigh-in.
Throughout this week, both protein and fat intake should remain at your typical daily amount, without dropping.
The amount of time it takes to restock your glycogen stores depends on how much you weigh. Heavy fighters will take longer.
Only use carb cutting if you have time to successfully restock your glycogen stores before the fight – the Fight Weight Class Calculator will tell you!