Weight cutting is a vital part of MMA fighting. The average amount of weight to lose is around 5-10 kilograms (10-20 pounds).
Cutting weight can be a very dangerous activity and should never be attempted without consultation and support from a qualified medical professional.
What does this mean?
All fighters are required to attend a weigh-in about a week before the day of the fight. Many fighters will lose weight (cut) to prepare for this weigh-in. This allows them to gain weight in time for the actual fight and may offer a slight advantage.
As MMA fighters are sorted according to weight class, the lower the fighter’s weight on weigh-in day, the lower class they will be in.
If they can put on up to 20 pounds of weight for the actual fight, they may end up heavier than the weight class limit. As they are not reweighed and sorted into different classes, the heavier they are, the more advantage they have.
How do you cut weight?
2 - 3 weeks from weigh-in
At this point in time, you want to begin your cutting journey. The idea is to shed as much water weight as possible in the weeks leading up to the weigh-in. At this point you don’t need to do anything too strenuous.
For this two week period, you should limit your intake of salt and carbohydrates. These cause water retention in the body and the goal is to stop that. YOu should still eat a small amount of salt and carbohydrates at this time, to help keep your energy levels consistent for training.
A good guide is around 50g carbohydrates per day. Each gram of carbohydrates sucks 2.7g of water into your body, so you can see why it is important to keep your intake low when cutting.
1 week from weigh-in
This is when the water loading phase of your cut begins. The average amount of water you should drink a day is around 2 litres, but in this week you should aim for a daily intake of 8-16 litres.
This intense hydration will cause your body to down regulate aldosterone, a hormone that helps your body retain sodium and expel potassium. This will flush the salt out of your body, minimizing your risks of water retention. The constant stream of water into your body will encourage it to get rid of any excess fluid.
Waterloading helps to deactivate the body’s vasopressin hormone. Vasopressin is a hormone that closes the pores on your skin. If this happens, you are not able to sweat efficiently. Deactivating the vasopressin allows your body to release sweat, reducing your water weight.
Take the drinking slowly, as too much water in a short period of time can cause severe health issues. If you begin to feel lightheaded, sick, or tired then please slow down with your drinking as continuing can lead to water intoxication.
For this week, you should begin to cut out starches and white carbohydrates from your diet. Replace the calorie deficit with lean proteins and green leafy vegetables.
1 day before weigh-in
At this point, you should completely stop eating and drinking. Some MMA fighters have their last meal 2-4 hours before they stop drinking water. This tricks your body into thinking that more water is coming, and so it will continue to flush any excess out.
Many fighters will use other methods in combination with diet and intake. These are used in an attempt to dehydrate your body further. Suggestions for this include sitting in a sauna, taking an Epsom salt bath, and jogging in either a sweatsuit or sauna suit.
Where possible, try to do at least one of these methods on the day of your weigh-in. This will prevent your body from having the chance to recover, meaning your weight will remain consistently lower.
How do you recover for the fight?
Your highest priority following your weigh-in is to rehydrate your body. The fastest way to do this is through the use of an IV drip, however this will require a competent medical professional.
For those who do not have this kind of access to medical care, we suggest starting with a few sips of water. Do not drink more than 1 liter of water per hour, or you may overwhelm your body. Move on to an electrolyte drink such as Gatorade, and continue to sip on this.
Your stomach is very sensitive following all these weeks of preparation, and you need to be gentle with it. Avoid the temptation of reaching for greasy, salty foods until after the fight, when you can really enjoy them.
Instead, choose a meal based around high fiber carbohydrates such as oats, fruit, and sweet potatoes. This will help fuel your MMA skills healthily and provide your body with a lot of support for the fight.
Salt helps the body to retain water and therefore weight. You are encouraged to add salt to all of your meals to assist rehydration.
What are the dangers?
Extreme dehydration is a very dangerous state for your body to enter. It can cause you to faint or have seizures. In extreme cases, it can even cause kidney problems and cardiac arrest.
You can also develop brain and vision problems as a result of rapid weight loss and malnutrition.
If you are severely dehydrated on the day of your fight this can deplete the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and cushions your brain. This makes you more susceptible to being knocked out as there is less insulation against injury.
There are lots of cases of fighters being taken to hospital due to extreme dehydration. Some are even placed into medically-induced comas in order to try and get them back to a stable state.
There are even extreme cases of fighters sadly passing away as a result of a cut that is too extreme.
Please do not attempt to do a severe weight cut alone without medical care and support.