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Weight management & weight cutting for a healthy athlete

Weight management & Weight Cutting for Competition

This article is simple, short (for me) and just an initial guide and opinion based on experience. I am not a dietician, I am an experienced trainer, athlete and fit active person who is very healthy and moving into my late 50’s.

Weight management is life. What you fuel yourself with every day is exceptionally important and the base for any good athlete. This article is more about a good diet than a weight cut as one leads to the other and back again. Most people hate cutting weight and I dream of a competition world where we move beyond weight cutting. Cutting weight is not a diet. Cutting weight for a competition can be very dangerous and if you do it too much, too often, it will have a detrimental effect on your health.

My preference is for everyone to not cut weight at all and be lean and fit and eat well all the time and just agree that we all do the same thing, and no one sneaks off to the sauna, fasts, has a massive calorie deficit on the week of a fight then dehydrates them selves or a mixture of all three. Fact is that people want to be the biggest person in the ring and make a lighter weight because they think they will be more competitive. I believe in fighting at a healthy fit weight and never doing a weight cut beyond a 4% over 4 weeks diet to elan up and being at your physical peak when competing. If you don’t win fights this way and always feel you are the smaller person in the ring. I suggest, you would have won at a lighter weight any way. If you do a longitudinal study vs your opponent that does massive weight cuts, I suggest you will live a longer heathier life.

What if, no one cut weight, and we all agreed to fight 2% from our walk around weight? Doing quarterly weigh in’s that we record, and then only compete at what we can healthy live with? Most athletes hate weight cutting and it is the worst part of competition, something that if wasn’t done so zealously by some, more people would compete more often. Safer.

Step 1 is to have a healthy diet and excellent eating habits. You then work from this to cut weight for competition weigh in. When you are looking to lose weight or get down to a fight weight or just shed a few kilos, step 1 isa getting a healthy basic diet that works for your life. See a dietician early on in your path and educate yourself as much as you can. It can be tricky just googling things on the internet however as there is much contradictory information, misleading information, fads, and rubbish out there. Go back a step and see a dietician that works with athletes.

Most people have a relationship with food that is something they have develop growing up and over a long period of time. If you grew up in the depression, you really appreciate food, you have to work for it, and it becomes your daily priority to just feed yourself. In stark contrast today when you can have any food, anytime, delivered to your door. You can go to the supermarket and get any sauce, any flavour, and any combination of food to make in 5 minutes. The most popular rating shows on TV are cooking shows and all the marketing, all the propaganda, all the Hollywood diets just confuse you.

Eating isn’t just eating. People know more and think they know more and often learn one thing and stick to it based on one person’s way or one internet story. It can be hard to navigate. So, evaluate, listen, think, do it gradual and do it informed and stay healthy. I certainly don’t think overweight is healthy and I am writing to people that want to be athletes and perform better in life. You can be overweight and underweight and be unhealthy so always learn your optimum performance weight for life. Then if you are competing at a combat sport, lean up for the weigh in. If you are doing an endurance event, get some healthy stores in you for the event.

Never follow a Hollywood mass marketed diet as no people react to the same foods or diet the same way. We are very unique. The only real constant is – you lose weight when you eat less calories than what you use/burn each day.

Your diet needs to fuel you NOT entertain you.

  • Step 1. I always advise people and is probably the most overlooked step.
  • TRAIN FIRST! Set and follow a disciplined training schedule. 3 days a week, then 4 days, then 6 days a week then twice a day. Building over time to what you need for your level of competition or training.
  • This is magic. You will start to adjust your eating and start to learn about your body and become aware of what you need and don’t need and how food makes you feel. Every time I see people do this they start the path to education and adjusting food because they want to feel better and train better. Our hardest training is often Saturday morning, this adjusts people away from going out Friday night, reduces alcohol consumption and big meals and late-night kebabs because you want to do well Saturday morning. You start thinking about how food feels for your training, in recovery and backing up training every day. This is step 1 in motivation, education, adjustment and working out what is best for you.

Step 2.

  • Have a regular disciplined diet of healthy whole food.
  • Drink more water, with some powder electrolytes at training and a protein recovery after training.
  • Keep it simple and go for basic option to train yourself to have self-control.
  • Eat snacks all day like nuts and muesli bars. GRAZE.
  • When out, be responsible for yourself and do not order or eat what your family or friends want you to fit in. Order what you need and be proud of your status of an athlete and someone who is healthy.
  • Have what you need in your fridge not what you are tempted by.
  • Shop for food after you have eaten and use a list.
  • Track how you feel and your weight weekly. Not excessively.
  • Build a routine to feel great and eat the same number of calories as your burn to stay at your healthy weight. You may need a calorie deficit to get down there over 12 weeks at first.

Step 3.

Plan your diet for your next competition which should only be minor changes to your diet and specific changes 2 weeks then one week as required.

Step 4.

Weigh in a refuel in accordance with your plan.

Step 5, go back to step 1 and maintain step 2.

General points.

Cutting weight can be dangerous. Especially dehydration. It can increase the chance of injury, concussion, and reduces performance. You think that it will be ok because you will re-fuel and only have 3 rounds to work through. A red bull should do it. Even if this works for you, it is dumb. People have died cutting to much weight, too fast. Never make it up yourself. Be fit and eat well, then compete close to your body weight. Weight cutting is a skill and takes practice, small steps and should always monitored. Weigh ins are usually 24hrs, but this is moving to 3hrs for amateurs and being stricter all the time. The post weigh I time is critical for re-fueling, and this must be a part of the weight cut process.

The maximum outside ranges: You shouldn’t lose more than 8% of a healthy walk around weigh in 4 weeks. 6% in the last two weeks and 4% 24-48hrs out. As a guide only but never push the numbers, especially with no experience as some methods are more dangerous than others and everyone is different.

I recommend 4% max from a lean weight 4 weeks out and only 2% max in 48 hours. If you lose, it won’t be because you didn’t make that extra 4%, it will be because of your training efforts and fight prep overall.

If you are spending the last week of a fight prep cutting weight so much you can not train then you are affecting the critical aspect of performance, preparation and mood (which is the main on night performance attribute) leading up to competition. You need to taper for energy and build up your explosive power and be ready for competition. Massive calorie deficit during this week isn’t the optimum use of your time. Weight cutting has a negative effect on the brain, your mood and be hangry is a real thing. It can be very stressful and distract you from all the good things in life. Takes away from the focus of competition and makes people around you, not want you to fight anymore.

For your health, I am fan of same day weigh ins, min weight cuts and competition 2% from natural weight as it is good for you long term. It can make some competitions harder, but you will always be healthier. Big competitions are worth more effort but cutting weight is often harder than competition. Best way is to be lean, fit and disciplined all the time and not binge or fluctuate before and after competitions. Food is fuel so adopt the same discipline to training as eating.

Why cut weight?        To be more competitive because everyone does.  Would you take performance enhancing drugs if everyone else did to be competitive? (trick question!) It is an art form and a discipline. The sport is in weight classes and all things being equal the bigger guy often has an advantage, but this is only one area and I think overrated to the point of myth. Weight is a component of competition and is as important as skill, conditioning, mental strength, experience etc. Like all competition skills, you need to practice them and own them before they will work for you and optimize your performance.

Start Premise to start training to compete you already have a good diet and healthy lifestyle. Already training smart and hard and have a few competitions of experience. Always seek professional advice. Do not use the internet to plan your diet or your weight cut!

Weight cutting can be a combination of many basic weight cutting factors. Utilizing all of them is not always necessary, desired and cause huge problems if you think combining methods will help. You need to work out what works for you by following these guidelines, be disciplined, monitor your body’s response in weight and feel and develop your own system measured against performance in training.

After weigh in: Cutting weight is only half the solution. You need to put the weight back on and be as strong and mentally sharp as you can be for the competition! Cutting weight and putting weight back on can affect your mood as well as your strength. You can experience fatigue, psychological stress, lack of confidence, your heart rate and blood pressure can go up, so you need to experience and practice this to stay focused on the reason and the goal. Have a detailed after weigh in re-fueling plan. Right up to competition when you need a pre-competition fuel plan to get the most out of your well prepared and athletic body and mind.


What weight do I compete at? – for your first few competitions, competition 2%-4% MAX under what you walk around at when you are fit and healthy. Being lighter doesn’t always help, sometimes heavier opponents are lazier, fatter, and easy to our work. After you have experience you may consider competition 2-6%under your HONEST walk around weight, but this must be professional programmed, or you will do your health damage LONG TERM.

Walk around weight and competing up a division – Some people compete better without weight cutting and competition at their walk around weight because they are confident, strong, fast and in a great mood all the time. People that do this well, are usually more experienced competitors and calmer under pressure but they are also people that are lean and fit all the time. This is you, to aim for.

It is a myth to have a mindset you have to be as lean as possible to do well at competition. Some people take pride in their weight cut and do it as a martyr, as a badge of honour. These people need psychologists.

Some weight cut points and methods (get a nutritionist)

  • Train and eat in a disciplined and routine way to be fit and healthy all the time.
  • Have a professional programmed diet. Remember you need to still train hard!
  • Have a minor calorie deficit leading up to a bout starting 2 weeks out.
  • Remove as much salt and refined sugars from your diet.
  • Shift your diet slightly to have more protein and fats and less carbs per day.
  • Do not eat at fast food franchises.
  • Do not drink alcohol of soft drinks. Limit fruit juice to one a day but not in fight week.
  • Sweat it off, gradually and smartly, a bit each day on competition week. Just to help burn calories.
  • Eat less than you burn and have a lean up method if required from lunch on weigh in day, with a small breakfast.
  • Be very mathematical about the calorie’s you consume – get an APP!
  • Water loading – never do without a plan, professional advice and practice.
  • Low fibre diet, 2 weeks out.
  • Polly plunge – (hot bath sweat method)

Alcohol – when training to competition DO NOT drink for at least 6 weeks so when you celebrate after the competition it only takes one beer! Seriously, no alcohol for 6 weeks and very limited amount when not matched. Competitors are not drinkers.

I personally think the Australian culture of drinking is very bad for health on all levels and encourage athletes to drink very little 24/7, 52 weeks a year. Moderation is too much and just an excuse. I suggest, 2-3 one glass/one beer a week spread out over the week, never on one day. Yes, I am conservative. I am also fit and healthy with great self-control. Alcohol is a massive problem in society and the marketing machines that drive culture, beer ads and drinking to have friends and be accepted has gone to far. Everyone should make a sacrifice to reduce crime, domestic violence, depression, and every other problem exasperated by alcohol by setting an example to drink less instead of drinking being the norm.

Smoking – never!  Give up before you bother training to competition. Competitors don’t smoke. Healthy people don’t smoke. Vaping is a new thing and hopefully dies out fast as well. Pretty much no excuse here and the social stigma for smokers is a good use of shame.

Performance enhancing or recreational drugs – never. Any performance enhancing, or recreational drugs will get you kicked out of the gym. One strike and you’re out policy. I don’t care about the ACT governments change in legal status. This is a health issue and the only way to be healthy is to not take drugs, full stop.

Supplements – are only good in addition to a good diet, a hard exercise program and to assist in recovery. Competitors are not body builders. Performance supplements are not required. Do the work first before looking for an easier way! About 20-30grams of protein with water directly after a hard training session is smart. ½ bottle of electrolyte drink is also good after a hard session. Otherwise drink water and eat whole foods most of the time. For more information or individual requirements – ask Anthony not your health food store or internet for advice. Many gimmicks, come and go, get professional advice.


It has been fantastic to see major organisations in fight sports do hydration testing and take athlete safety seriously. Fight sports is an example of how athletes do not look after them selves and will resort to unsafe methods to compete. Governments with legislation are doing a great job with educating and policing weight cutting and this is essential as the industry has proven it can not do it alone or without legislation!

Above all else. Stay healthy as competition is only a phase in life. Athletes should never stack on weight between fights or after bouts or binge. During injury periods is no excuse to lose your discipline. I love a good meal out and good Christmas dinner but moderation and balance are that this is a Special event not a daily event. Moderation is often based on the average and others people weaknesses so choose not to be average. The ultimate goal of all martial artists should be to be heathy individuals who set an example to others. We are all human and need a break at times but if you use my type of guide, self control and have some stoic type values when it come to food at least 80% of the time, you will probably be in a better place when you are 80.


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