I’d like to begin by stating that this is not a scholarly article. My weight cutting methods have been greatly influenced by the research of Mark Sisson, Rob Wolfe, Gary Taubes, and others. The following is an aggregate of their knowledge, combined with my own anecdotal evidence. Much of what you’ll read below hovers over the valley between “bro science” and initial clinical trials. True double-blind randomized studies and mainstream acceptance are always years behind, and rightfully so. But if you find this article useful, the work of the aforementioned authors is readily available both online and in print form.
I stepped on the scale this morning, and it read ‘162.5.' This is over 10lbs more than it read when I competed last Saturday. Most people would find this sudden spike shocking, but given my experience manipulating my bodyweight for competition, I wasn’t surprised.
Can a person really gain 10lbs in a seven day period?
Well, yes. And no. As with many subjects, there are several layers to a response that is accurate. There are five factors that affect the number on the scale. I have had the most success addressing them in stages prior to competition day, in chronological order:
- body fat
- inflammatory water weight
- non-inflammatory water weight
- waste weight
- competition uniform (what you’re wearing)
1. BODY FAT
Losing body fat is the simplest (although not necessarily easiest) method for lowering competition weight. Any serious athlete should get their body fat percentage to an optimal level (which will vary among individuals) before dealing with the other four factors.
- Unless your body fat percentage is dipping below 8%, losing this type of weight will not diminish your athletic performance on competition day.
- You’ll be faster. Speed is greatly affected by weight. This is basic physics, not conjecture.
- You will appear more athletic. Have faith in the old sports adage “look good - feel good - do good.” If this philosophy is sufficient for UFC legend Georges St Pierre, who admits to lifting weights purely for cosmetic purposes, it’s good enough for me.
- Losing body fat, depending on your goal amount, could be a long-term proposal. This process could begin more than year before competing.
- The activities associated with losing body fat (altered diet and exercise) could diminish your capacity for sport-specific training in the short-term.
So, what’s the most efficient way to lose body fat? A quick Google search on this question will return conflicting information, as well as links to messageboard threads bursting with heated debate. My bottom line in this regard has always been diet and exercise. But not just any type of diet. And certainly not any type of exercise.
DIET: I am heavily biased toward a ketogenic diet during the fat loss phase of my weight cut. I’ve tried calorie restriction, low-fat eating plans, blending, juicing, and more. This is my experience. There is evidence to suggest that individuals with faster metabolisms don’t fare as well on ketogenic diets. There is a wide range of diversity when it comes to human biology and metabolism. I am not suggesting that this is the path for everyone.
The ketogenic diet, and variations therein, heavily emphasize the consumption of healthy fats and cholesterol, both plant and animal-based. These include olive oil, nuts, grass-fed butter, animal fats sourced from healthy livestock, eggs, avocado, and more. There is much evidence to suggest that saturated fats and cholesterol aren't the demons that they were once thought to be. After you're done reading this article, read this shameful story on how the sugar industry shifted the blame of our health woes onto fats.
The ketogenic diet is also based on a net-carbohydrate restricted pattern of eating. “Carbohydrate” is an umbrella term for sugars of any kind, as well as complex and simple carbohydrates and starches. Examples include fruit juice, bread, oatmeal, whole grain toast, and rice. ALL OF THESE are converted into sugar and stored as fat. Fiber is also technically a carbohydrate, but isn’t converted into sugar or picked up by insulin. Here’s an example of a ‘net carbohydrate’ calculation:
Serving of Raspberries:
Total Carbohydrates: 20g
Dietary Fiber: 6g
NET CARBOHYDRATES: 20 - 6 = 14g
A quick cost/benefit analysis of the keto diet for the athlete-in-training. Pros: puts your body in a state of perpetual fat burning, increased mental clarity, no calorie counting, growth hormone boost. Cons: steep adaptation curve, lack of “5th gear” during moments of high glycogen-dependent exertions (athletic explosions such as takedowns, max height jumps, etc).
Exploring ketosis and its effect on the human body is worthy of many hundreds of articles, so for now, that’s where our exploration will end. The takeaway: find a diet that suits your metabolic machine, and use it to lower your body fat percentage in conjunction with...
EXERCISE: When it comes to exercising specifically for fat loss, not all modalities are created equal. As with dietary options, there are many choices the athlete can make on training day.
Run five miles? Bench press? Yoga?
There is much evidence to suggest that a combination of strength training and short-term anaerobic cardiovascular interval training will put the body in an anabolic (muscle building) state, while boosting the fat burning metabolism. The term ‘strength training’ is relatively self-explanatory. Think about lifting moderately heavy things with good form. The term ‘short-term anaerobic cardiovascular interval training’ might require further explanation.
Think about getting on an elliptical, and turning up the resistance to a moderate level. Sprint (all out, take yourself to death’s door) for 30 seconds, keeping your RPMs or strides at a consistent level. Rest for 30. Repeat for no more than 10 minutes. Experiment with work time / rest time durations. Again, this is my experience, and the modality with which I’ve had the most success. Combinations of strength/cardio regimens specific to this style of exercise might include:
- Deadlifts and squats, followed by treadmill interval sprints
- Pull ups, pushups, and kettle bell swings, followed by elliptical interval sprints
- Heavy sled sprints (a simultaneous combination of strength training and anaerobic cardio)
2. INFLAMMATORY WATER WEIGHT
It is difficult to establish credibility with a reader when using terms like “inflammatory.” Unfortunately, this word has been associated with phrases like “flushing the toxins” and “aligning your chakras.” As a staunch former skeptic, I’m here to tell you that inflammatory water weight is real. Your body can, and does, hold onto water weight that isn’t serving you, under the right (or wrong) circumstances. Let’s talk about how it happens.
Simply put, eating the wrong foods can create an unintended immune response that causes the accumulation of excess water in the body. Recent genetic evidence suggests that these ‘culprit foods’ are not uniform across the population, and individuals likely have unique inflammatory responses to different foods. My culprit foods include:
- industrial seed oils (canola, safflower, etc)
- garlic (bummer!)
- preservatives (monosodium glutamate, nitrates)
- refined sugar (table sugar, corn syrup)
- most grains (rice and oatmeal seem tolerable)
So, how much water weight are we talking about? Here’s a quick anecdote. During weight cuts, I track the number on my scale very carefully. I weigh myself in the morning and at night, and I keep a journal. My schedule is very regimented during training, and my weight is predictable in a declining linear order. One night, I allow myself steak and a salad at a nice restaurant, knowing that most restaurants cook with canola oil, and most salad dressings contain canola as well.
My weight spikes 2lbs overnight, with no other variables being introduced. The next day, I return to cooking at home and controlling what goes into my body, and the 2lb spike dissipates over the next 48 hours.
If this concept is new to you, I know how strange it sounds. But you shouldn't believe me, or Mark Sisson, or any of the geneticists who run blood tests that identify inflammatory foods for individuals. Clean up your diet and see for yourself. A quick cost/benefit analysis of dealing with inflammatory water weight. PROS: Losing this type of weight is essentially ‘free pounds’ off of the scale for the competitive athlete, as it does not aid athletic performance. CONS: Experimentation, lots of label reading, and a blood panel might be required in order to identify your ‘culprit foods.’
3. NON-INFLAMMATORY WATER WEIGHT
Everyone has lost non-inflammatory water weight at some point in their life. Simply put, this is the sweating phase. Shedding a percentage of the water that keeps your body hydrated. In my experience, this phase doesn’t need to begin more than 12 hours before competition time. If the athlete is well prepared and disciplined, roughly 4 hours before competition time is more reasonable. Let’s talk about acceptable methods for efficiently and wisely sweating off some extra pounds.
- the sauna
- sport specific drilling
- exercise (jogging, sprinting, stairs)
- any of the above, with the aid of varying layers of clothing
So how should it be done? Rather than make a list of exercises, I'd rather outline what NOT to do:
- DON’T do anything new in terms of exercise. If you’re not used to the sauna or running stairs, try to avoid making an experiment out of competition day. This is also a wise reason to structure part of your regular strength and conditioning routine to mirror your ‘day of’ warmup. Have something familiar ready to go.
- DON’T overdo it. There are levels of hydration, and diminishing returns on lowering one’s levels. If a person weighing 165lbs sweats out 10lbs the day of, there’s an excellent chance for a poor athletic performance, and under the worst of circumstances, medical complications.
- DON’T use stimulants or diuretics. Assuming the athlete followed the ‘diet’ protocol, the introduction of either would be a new element. Competition day should be predictable and familiar in all respects. Many diuretics contain stimulants that could have an adverse effect on the athlete. And under certain athletic commissions and governing bodies, they’re illegal.
- DON’T consume too much salt in the days leading up to the event. If your diet is already dialed in, and you’re comfortable with what you put in your body, just scale your sodium intake back about 20% a few days before you compete.
4. WASTE WEIGHT
What are we talking about here? Let’s be honest. Weigh yourself before and after going to the bathroom. There’s a difference, and depending on who you are and how you’ve structured your diet, that difference could be significant.
Without getting into the specifics of the average weight of a human bowel movement, the typical volume of a human bladder, or world records associated with either, it is very reasonable to say that the average person could lose one to three pounds after a trip to the bathroom. I’ve read unsubstantiated reports online that clock in higher than five pounds. To put that in perspective for the competitive athlete, that’s roughly one 16oz bottle of water for every pound, that you could (or couldn’t) drink on competition day. Thirsty yet?
The key is staying regular. You can’t force yourself to go if your body isn’t ready. But the athlete who’s diet has been clean, disciplined, and consistent will know in advance when they’ll have to go. There are certain foods and activities that will help promote regularity. These might include:
- Healthy oils, including coconut, olive, and hemp oil. If you’ve subscribed to a ketogenic diet, consuming these will already be part of your daily routine.
- Plant-based foods that are high in fiber. These might include raspberries, oatmeal, dates, cacao nibs, and cruciferous vegetables.
- Staying properly hydrated.
- Coffee! I know, I know...caffeine is a stimulant and a diuretic. But it isn’t nearly powerful enough to make a cup of coffee a net-negative in terms of hydration. If your mornings always consist of a cup of coffee, have one! Caffeine is a drug, and regular coffee drinkers are addicted to that drug on some level (I’m one of them). You don’t want to be going into withdrawal on competition day.
Avoiding any sedentary time. Walking, yoga, and swimming are great ways to keep moving without burning unnecessary energy.
5. COMPETITION UNIFORM (WHAT YOU’RE WEARING)
A pair of shoes, socks, underwear, shirt, and jeans could easily weigh four pounds. The same can be said for a competition uniform. For example, an IBJJF Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competitor is subject to a pre-match weigh in. Step onto the scale, and then onto the mat to compete. Items to consider when weighing in:
- Your gi weight. To my knowledge, the Vulkan Ultralight is the lightest gi on the market. But because of how sheer the material is, your opponent is able to grip the sleeve like a thin piece of rubber. Conversely, I own a beautiful Gameness Pearl. But it clocks in at a hefty 3.5lbs. So which is the best? There is no correct answer, and preference will vary among athletes. Read online reviews, ask your training partners, buy as many uniforms as your financial limitations allow, and find what works best for you.
- Are you wearing patches? They’re not weightless. Under the gun, I’ve cut .3lbs of patches off of my uniform before.
- Are you wearing underwear? Of course you should, but a nice pair of boxers weighs about .2lbs. I’m just throwing out information here.
- Are you going to be taping up any injuries? A roll of tape on your ankle is a roll of tape on the scale.
2/10 of a pound here or there might not seem much, but cumulatively, these combined factors could make a pound of difference. There are so many moving parts here. Competition rules and format, weigh-in date, uniform requirements, and more. The takeaway: through experience, the athlete must develop awareness of these moving parts, and their relationship to success on competition day.
THE WRAP UP
Don't listen to me. I'm skeptical of everything I read, especially on the internet. Do research, critique what I've laid out here with a discerning eye, and try some of these methods for yourself. If you notice something that I didn't list here, email me at John@HurricaneJJ.com. I'd love to hear about it.