Have you ever watched a weight class based sport like an Olympic wrestling match, a boxing match, power-lifting competition or MMA fight and wondered how both competitors are listed at the same weight, but one is clearly larger than the other? Or looked at a man like Gleison Tibau and said, “how does he only weigh 155 pounds?” The answer lies in one of sports least talked about, most dangerous, and ubiquitous practices: cutting weight.
Let me make a clear differentiation at this point: cutting weight and losing weight are two very different things. Weight loss is accomplished over an extended period of time by monitoring dietary intake and exercising, the goal is loss of excess body fat and perhaps even some muscle, depending on your goals. Cutting weight takes place over a relatively short period of time, and involves extreme manipulation of body weight through mostly dehydration, with minimal fat and muscle loss. This weight is then put right back on immediately after weigh-ins, and hopefully by competition time the athlete is completely rehydrate.
Warning:Cutting weight is a dangerous practice. It is not part of any sustainable weight loss program, and has resulted in deaths of fighters, wrestlers, and other athletes. This is not a how-to article, nor do I condone the practice in general. I am merely sharing my personal experience as a means to shed light on this controversial issue and educate interested fans.
So why cut weight in the first place?
Fighters cut weight for many reasons, but the basic idea is to increase your power to mass ratio, giving you an edge over other competitors. The practice has become so common, however, that many athletes cut not to gain an advantage, but rather to be able to compete on an even playing field. In my case, I was competing in Toughman, an amateur boxing competition, and was squarely caught between weight classes. My 172 pound weight presented a dilemma: fight at my natural weight and against fighters weighing up to 184 pounds (some of whom were likely cutting from 190+), or cut to 159 pounds. I signed up for the event just seven days prior to the competition, but I felt that I could make the weight comfortably with an intelligent cut, so I committed to making 159.
What I didn’t do
I did not use any diuretics or other chemical means to assist my weight cut, as many athletes do. This adds an unnecessary element that could be dangerous, and I see no reason they should be used unless an athlete is cutting 25+ pounds (which many do.)
I also never put on “plastics”, a sort of garbage bag looking outfit that traps tremendous amounts of heat and does not breathe at all, causing the athlete to sweat excessively. This is combined with exercise like riding a stationary bike, or going into a sauna, or sometimes both. This is extremely stressful on the body, and logically I can’t understand why this seems like a good idea within days of an important competition.
My dehydration was done using only very moderate exercise wearing a sweat suit and soaks in a hot bath. The result is the same, and allowed me to avoid massive amounts of energy expenditure. The hot baths are actually somewhat relaxing, which pouring sweat in a uncomfortable plastic suit whilst grinding away on a treadmill is not.
What I did do
I eliminated nearly all sodium from my diet 7 days out to allow my body to release water more easily during the dehydration phase. There were a few exceptions, the cottage cheese and almond milk I’ll mention later and a few handfuls of the saltiest substance know to man: movie theater popcorn (not recommended).
I also implemented a common strategy that involves drinking vast quantities of water during the first several days of the cut. This has been said to increase aldosterone, a hormone that tells the body to be less stingy about holding on to water. Does this work? I don’t know for sure, I’m not a scientist or doctor, but people who are far smarter than I say it does, and that is good enough for me. Water consumption was as follows:
I ate five full meals per day, totaling about 2000 calories per day. The meals were the same every day, with the exception that they shrunk slightly the day before the weigh-in. Pretty basic stuff:
Breakfast: 3 whole eggs+ 2 egg yolks, 2 pieces Ezekiel Bread, 1 tbsp grass fed butter
Lunch: 2 egg whites, 2 tbsp Smucker’s Organic peanut butter, 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (replaced with water Thursday), 1 scoop whey isolate
Dinner: 1 pepper, 1 onion, 1/2 pounds grass fed ground beef
Snack: 1 cucumber and 1/2 bunch of kale blended into a shake
Before bed: 1 cup cottage cheese
The weight came off basically as planned:
Friday: 162.3 upon waking, 159.2 at 5:00pm
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I used a total of 4 hot baths with epsom salts to sweat out the final pounds. During each 20 minute session I lost an average of 1.8 pounds. I felt a little like a boiled lobster Friday afternoon before leaving for the event.
After weighing in I immediately consumed a liter of ORT, or oral rehydration therapy, a drink made by mixing 1 liter of water with 1 tbsp salt and 6 tbsp sugar, to put back some of the essential nutrients I had robbed my body of during the cut. Then I sipped another 3 liters of regular water while gnawing on 2 Clif bars during the 4 hours before I actually got in the ring.
Was it worth it?
Well, the fight was close and competitive during the first round and most of the second, right up until the point where I was knocked unconscious that is. I definitely was not undersized for the division, and my conditioning seemed unaffected by the cut, although the bout was quite short. I did spend about 60x more time sweating in a tub than I did in the ring, so it depends on how you look at it.
So to summarize, cutting weight is unhealthy, not fun, but is an unfortunate reality of any weight class based sport. I hope that you have learned a little about this fascinating microcosm of sport, and now know the reason why weights of athletes can be extremely deceiving.
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