Cut The Weight, Keep Your Strength
The meanest, toughest, grittiest fighters in the world — the ones who eat strikes and grin; the ones who’ve never tapped out, never given in. They fear no man nor woman, because their spirit cannot be broken in the ring. They fear no fight, because there is nothing they cannot overcome.
But to them, a weight cut can be terrifying.
Making weight can be one of the most brutal experiences for any fighter. Sapped of strength and energy mere days before combat, many great fighters have succumbed to the unforgiving pressure of a weight cut before ever stepping into the ring.
Thankfully, the science to weight cutting has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. What professional fighters and trainers know now is that there is the wrong way to cut weight (see above) — and the right way.
Cutting weight is not a simple matter of just losing weight — it’s losing water weight and only water weight.
This is what should be lost during the process because it’s almost impossible to lose fat in just a few days. Muscle, too, is not an option, as it is a precious commodity athletes work hard to acquire and maintain.
So the choice is clear: a fighter will have to dehydrate him- or herself to get to a desired weight.
Cutting weight should be done as close to the fight as possible.
During dehydration, the body loses electrolytes. Prolonged dehydration taxes the body as well as the central nervous system. That means a bad weight cut or one done improperly is what the fight itself hinges on.
Something a lot of fighters do to avoid this (and if they don’t, they should, because this method is genius and requires very little work) is water loading.
One week before weigh-ins, the fighter may drink two to three daily gallons of water for several days. Drinking a lot (a whole lot) of water makes the body “flush it out,” so the fighter will have to urinate very often.
Water loading induces the reduced production of a hormone called aldosterone, which has a role in water retention. This allows one’s body to keep expelling more water than usual.
Once the body has had a lowered aldosterone level for several days, the fighter can then taper off their water supply, until they hit zero. Because aldosterone is still being inhibited, the fighter will continue urinating and expelling water even though they have not consumed nearly as much.
Water loading is often paired with another weight cutting method if the fighter still has some more weight to lose.
Often paired with water loading, sessions in the sauna are a popular method for weight cutting.
Sitting in the sauna expends little energy, as a fighter has little else to do besides sitting there and checking weight every now and then.
The major drawback to the sauna method is that the fighter will have to sit in there for hours and hours to have sweat come out, as the rate of water expulsion is usually much lower than other methods.
Fighters also often report a feeling of their “brain being cooked” while sitting in the sauna.
The hot bath method is somewhat similar to the sauna in terms of energy expenditure from the fighter.
Instead of being in a sauna, which has dry heat, the fighter is in wet heat, sitting in a bathtub full of hot water. The equivalent of walking into 100% humidity in the summertime, the fighter will start sweating profusely.
Epsom salts may be added to the hot bath as well as rubbing alcohol. Rubbing alcohol opens up the pores and Epsom salts draw water out of the body. Epsom salts will not draw all the water out of a body, so if cutting a safe percentage, it’s not something one would have to worry about too much.
Another way to go about losing water is running in a sauna suit, which is popular to do in Thailand.
The Thai method is to run, lose water, eat/drink some of the weight back (but not all), then repeat until weight is made. Many traditional Thais think this is less exhausting on the body because the weight is not all lost at once, but this is not necessarily true because the body is continuously being dehydrated over a course of days.
Not to mention most stadiums weigh in the morning of the fight. There is very little time for recovery.
Some people will run in a sauna suit and lose all the weight in one shot. Science says that recovery for the fighter will be better in the latter method, but the method that works best for the fighter ultimately depends on their body and what their mental state can handle.
Remember: Safety First
Ultimately, fighters will have to try and see what works and what doesn’t for themselves.
For instance, some people don’t sweat much in the sauna, even when sitting there for hours. Others swear by it.
Fighters do have to keep in mind some simple facts of science to make their weight cut and recovery go smoother, such as limiting their sodium and potassium intake when trying to lose water, and re-hydrating with enough electrolytes right after weigh ins.
Never cut weight alone, and stop if you feel sharp pain. Always make sure you are walking at a proper weight so you don’t have to resort to huge weight cuts which are extremely damaging to your health. People have died from weight cuts.
Remember to always do things that promote longevity in your fight career and your life.
- Plant-based fighter, foodie, and aspiring physical therapist. Angela is currently living in Bangkok and training full time.