DANIELLE WEST EXPLAINS WHY MAKING WEIGHT IS ONE OF THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECTS OF FIGHTING.
Weight cuts are hard on both the mind and the body with serious risks involved when done wrongly – costing athletes the fight or their health.
This wasn’t always the norm in MMA; weight cutting is common among high school and collegiate wrestlers in the US and Canada. In boxing, being heavier can work for or against you; it can pack more weight behind punches, but can also slow you down, but in MMA weight is advantageous for takedowns, clinch and ground control.
This advantage drives fighters to use a myriad of techniques to drop at least 10% of their body weight overnight so they can step on a scale, flex their biceps and stare down their opponent, while trying hard not to think about drinking water or eating a gallon of ice-cream.
Fighters walk around up to three weight classes higher than what they’ll compete at.
During a fight camp they will adjust their diet to trim excess fat, while providing enough fuel to withstand a punishing training regime. Fight diets are often a process of trial and error with the help of a nutritionist or coach.
One thing I learned from a recent practice cut was that fasting in the morning dramatically reduced my body fat making the cut a lot easier. This involves waking up, having a black coffee with some BCAAs and taking a brisk hour-long walk five to six days a week.
Two weeks out, fighters will reduce portions, carbs or salts. Some increase their salt intake to prepare for the final week which is usually when most fighters will start water loading. This involves drinking more water than usual – about 8-16 litres of water per day – to trigger the body’s response to flush out excess fluid. This is often done with distilled water, but plain tap water is also used.
This practice can be risky if you drink too much water at once which will make many feel light-headed, lethargic or disoriented which is your body’s way of telling you to slow down to avoid hyperhydration, aka water intoxication.
About 20-24 hours before the scheduled weigh-in time the fighter will stop eating and about two to four hours after that will stop fluids.
Once food and fluid intake stops a fighter will often sweat out the remaining weight in one or a combination of methods:
1. Sauna – many sweat it out in the sauna. This can be done with a credit card brushed along the skin to open pores and induce sweating (old-school technique used by boxers). Many now use Sweet Sweat or Albolene which are topical thermogenics. Fighters will spend hours in saunas coming out at regular intervals to check their weight and towel off.
2. Sauna suits – these can be used on their own especially in a warm climate. Take long walks with a coach or teammate in case you get dizzy. The activity in a sauna suit shouldn’t be too strenuous since you’ll have to fight in 48 hours and will want to conserve your energy. You can also wear sauna suits in the sauna and even apply topical thermogenics before donning the suit, although be advised to put towels down before removing the suit as it will be full of sweat.
3. Baths – hot baths can be done with or without Epsom salts. If you are using Epsom salts be advised you will want to use about 5kg for a bath. The water should be near boiling or as hot as you can possibly stand it. Submerge yourself up to your neck or nose if you can manage it for 15-20 minutes. Your coach, teammate or buff flatmate should be on hand to help you out of the tub and into a sauna suit before laying you on a bed and covering you head-to-toe in layers of towels or blankets, where you will rest for 5-10 minutes sweating profusely, before returning to the bath for 10-15 minutes and then back to the sauna suit and towels. This process can go on for several hours. I normally take a break and sleep for a few hours and do the rest in the morning. This is the method I use and have lost up to 9kg in 18 hours, although I usually prefer only having to cut 5-7 kg.
After making weight you have two options for recovery.
1. Intravenous – you can rehydrate using an IV drip. This requires a medical professional. NEVER try it on your own. EVER. This can take about an hour, but is the fastest way.
2. Oral – mix vitargo, dioralyte or an electrolyte solution with coconut water and regular drinking water (6 scoops vitargo/sachets of dioralyte + 4 litres of coconut water + 2 litres of water is a good guide). You should have about 6 litres of this to drink along with 2-4 litres of water. Sip slowly at regular intervals over 2 to 4 hours finishing the solution. Another good thing is to eat dates and a few spoonfuls of honey while drinking the rehydration solution. I often have a bit of baby food, and mashed bananas with cereals is a favourite, but I would not recommend the beef and peas ever. You should start to feel normal about 2-4 hours after you begin to rehydrate.
An hour or two after rehydrating have a meal rich with starches and proteins such as rice or pasta with fish or chicken and vegetables. Do not go to KFC, you can do that AFTER you fight.
Remember, until you step in the cage you are in optimum fuel mode. Depending on what time the weigh-in is, I may have another meal about three or four hours later.
The next day I have a bowl of porridge or starchy breakfast with proteins and water and try to eat lunch. Remember, the hard part is now over and all this work should galvanise your determination to win.