Depending on where in the world you’re sitting when you read this, you’ve been in lockdown due to COVID-19 for about 3 months, give or take a few weeks. And depending on how well you’ve kept up with your fitness regime, you’re probably channelling your inner “Fat Thor” and tipping the scales at a higher number than you did before lockdown. In and of itself, getting heavier isn’t a bad thing per se. That is unless you’re a boxer or MMA fighter who needs to compete in a specific weight class, the actual number you see on a scale is meaningless. All it represents is your relationship to gravity at that moment. Carrying around more fat however IS a problem, for ALL fighters; professional, amateur, and non-combatant. SO yes that means you! Now you’re emerging from your lockdown hibernation and wondering how to lose those excess pounds of fat you’ve picked up and preferably want to lose those pounds quicker than you piled them on.
You’ve heard of pro fighters do this all the time so why not just copy them?
For the longest time cutting weight has been a necessary evil in boxing and MMA and is something that every fighter has had to conform to in some way shape or form, unless you’re a heavyweight of course. The process by which a fighter loses 15- 30 pounds in the space of a few days in order to fit into a weight class. To do this you need to find the right balance between cutting weight but still being able to be full of energy and full of health when that first bell rings. That can take time and patience as well as getting the right advice. The bare fact is though, unless fighters want to be fighting people taller, heavier and stronger than them, cutting weight is absolutely necessary.
Problem is weight cutting is terrible for you and your health. That’s an undeniable fact.
When weight cutting gets extreme the liver becomes dehydrated, and the kidneys start to suck up and shrivel. Short term, you might not see any issues. Long term though, many fighters develop issues with their kidneys and have to receive treatment for the rest of their life. Heat exhaustion, stroke, and kidney failure are among the symptoms associated with hard weight cuts. Some fighters suffer seizures and a few have been recorded as dead due to complications with a weight cut. If you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t die before the fight, you still have to navigate the fight itself and with that I need to break some news to you…Cutting weight isn’t just bad for your kidneys. It slows a fighter’s reaction time, and has an extremely adverse effect on their ability to absorb punches to the face / head. In short cutting weight makes you a whole lot easier to knock out.
Within the skull there is a very small film of water surrounding the brain. Long term weight cutting obliterates that film and studies have shown that after 48 hours of re-hydration the last area that becomes hydrated, is this area of the skull. Meaning you could be entering the ring without this film of water around the brain, in a sport where you’re competing with another human being whose prime objective is to punch you in the face.
All of this is all well and good but if you’re the average fighter and especially all you non combatant fighters reading this. Why should you care? You’ve probably seen almost every one around you frequently doing something that is patently harmful, yet they’re doing it without obvious injury. What gives? And why shouldn’t you follow in the same vein.
No one ever expects to die until it’s too late. Just because there are people around you doing it with no consequences, doesn’t make it any more safe or less harmful to you.
Anyone who saw TJ Dillashaw’s fight against Henry Cejudo will have wondered whether the weight was a factor. There is no concrete way of proving that Dillashaw’s drastic weight reduction was partly responsible for his humiliating defeat, but MMA math still has some power to it. More studies are needed, but anecdotal evidence suggests an inverse correlation between dehydration and durability. Meaning the more dehydrated you are, the less durable you become. When a man takes Cody Garbrandt’s best shots in two consecutive fights only to be dropped by a flyweight, you start asking questions.
Fighters accept the health risks associated with weight cutting when they choose to fight, even knowing that they could conceivably be fighting the same opponents at a weight one or two divisions above, if only both fighters could agree not to cut weight.
The tragic nature of this prisoner’s dilemma is that, not only are the vast majority of fighters not gaining a size advantage, but the cut is also making them worse at fighting. This is a little darkly comical when you think about it.
When everyone does it, it comes so close to helping no one — and undoubtedly hurts everyone.
“This process is not something that’s done overnight. Weight cutting in the industry has been bastardised to salt baths and sauna and starvation and dehydration for 24 hours to 48 hours, and it’s killing folks. There’s no calculations, there’s no metabolic process, there’s no high-grade equipment.” – Sam Calavitta
IS THERE A BETTER WAY?
For all fighters and especially all you non combatant one, the short answer is yes, the real answer is a bit more nuanced than that but the cliff notes look like this:
- To lose weight long term (reduce body fat) – Eat bucket loads of vegetables and stay hydrated
- To lose weight quickly (cut weight short term) – Eat low weight, low fibre foods and reduce fluid intake
If you need to lose weight quickly (newsflash you really don’t NEED to), or to achieve the lowest possible body weight in the short term, you need to focus on gut contents and fluid balance. This can be done by consuming foods which physically weigh less and are lower in fibre and by consuming less fluids. Fibre will retain water in your gut and take time to pass through.
Be careful when manipulating fluid balance because if you don’t have time to rehydrate then your performance will suffer.
In my professional opinion the fluid balance route is definitely not the right road for you to travel whoever you are. You’re better off taking a more long term approach. The effort to enjoyment ratio of weight cutting doesn’t add up in your favour.
This gets more even more difficult as you get older due to the fact that your body retains more body fat as you age so it becomes harder to shift the same amount of weight. Unless you’re Benjamin Button and age backwards, this particular law of the universe definitely applies to you, and is the central reason why a weight management system is more beneficial than short sharp periodic weight cutting.
In conclusion, weight management for any fighter should be an all year round process. Even more so in this post pandemic world we’re now navigating. Our health has never been more important and it is way past the time for us to be doing everything we can to maximise that.