I think one of the biggest misconceptions regarding weight cutting is the idea that it needs to be some extreme, life-threatening endeavor that risks destroying not only your performance but also your long-term health. In reality, those type of weight cuts happen for one of two reasons:
- Highly-driven, elite athletes attempt to cut an unreasonable amount of weight without any regard for their health, or
- People are lazy and don’t prepare well enough in the offseason, so they have to play catchup the week before a competition.
As you might have guessed, the second scenario occurs far more often than the first.
DisclaimerThis article explains how I cut 47 pounds of water weight, from 229 to 181.8, in less than one week. It is not intended as a guide or medical advice! Everyone is different, and any type of rapid weight loss comes with inherent risks. Consult your doctor before attempting any sort of weight-loss regimen.
That said, if you don’t slack off during the offseason — if you eat right, stay lean, and know your body well — then you can drop extraordinary amounts of weight very quickly, and without detracting from your performance. Now, the title of this article is pretty misleading. Yes, I dropped 47 pounds in less than 5 days, but more than half of that was weight I gained in the 24 hours prior to beginning my weight-cut regimen, by drinking nearly three gallons of water and consuming large quantities of salt, fats, and carbohydrates. That bloat actually makes the final cut easier, because the body overcompensates for the rapid gain by flushing water from the system. In reality, I only cut 20 pounds of “real” bodyweight. Keep this in mind when you read about the extreme weight cuts of other sorts of athletes.
So, in fact, the cut begins much earlier than one week out. Let’s step back to six weeks before the meet.
6 Weeks Out
At six weeks out from the meet, I weighed about 210 pounds — over 15% above my target goal weight. Fifteen percent cuts might be physically possible, but they’re more than I’m comfortable attempting — my limit is 11%. So I adjusted my diet to drop to my goal weight, of about 201-202 pounds. This involved dropping my carbs on training days by about 30%, and dropping my fats on off days by 50%.
Keep in mind, I was already very lean to begin with, and I eat a clean, consistent diet almost every day of the year. That means small changes in my diet produce big results, and it’s very easy to see how macro- and micronutrients affect my weight. That’s a huge advantage when attempting drastic weight cuts.
After dropping to 201 pounds, my bodyfat measured 4.7% (tested with calipers). Now, that number is probably not accurate, but clearly I was very lean, and could not reasonably lose any more weight without sacrificing muscle or risking injury. I had also noticed some important trends in my daily weight fluctuations: I tended to weigh about three pounds less the morning after a training day, as compared to the morning after an off day. That became important later on.
1 Week Out
At about one week out, I began really dialing things in, and here daily changes became crucial. My goal was to time my fluctuations so that I could “catch” the drop the morning after a training day, allowing me to keep carbs in my diet until the last possible minute and avoid feeling hungry or deprived. My weigh-in was scheduled for 9 AM Friday morning, with lifting to begin 24 hours after that.
SundayThis was an off day from training. I began to decrease my food volume slightly, cutting my vegetable intake in half, and upped my sodium intake quite a bit (just by over-salting everything I ate). I drank 2.5 gallons of tap water. I woke up Sunday morning weighing 202 and went to bed weighing 229.
MondayThis was a very light training day, designed to boost my metabolism and keep fresh without significantly impacting recovery. I did a bodybuilding-style workout with light weight and high repetitions, training my entire body. My macros followed my standard training-day plan, but I decreased sodium significantly. I drank 2.5 gallons of tap water. I woke up Monday weighing 209 and went to bed weighing 214.
TuesdayThis was my last workout before the meet. I took light singles on squat and bench press, and did some ab work. After my workout, I cut out all carbs and sodium, and drank 2.5 gallons of tap water throughout the course of the day. I woke up Tuesday weighing 202 and went to bed weighing 209.
WednesdayI ate only lean protein (chicken breast), but as much as I wanted, without salt, and drank 3.5 gallons of distilled water. I woke up Wednesday weighing 198 and went to bed weighing 219.
1 Day OutOn Thursday when I woke up, I took 1,000 mg of dandelion root extract, 100 mg of potassium, and 200 mg of caffeine. I drank 8 ounces of black coffee. I had two meals on Thursday (both 12 ounces of salmon). I drank nothing besides the coffee, but I took 1,000 mg of dandelion root and 100 mg of potassium twice more throughout the day.
At about 5 PM, I began sweating. I went in my bathroom, put on a sweatsuit and warm hat, stuffed towels under the door, and filled the tub with the hottest water possible. Once the tub was full I turned on the shower, keeping the water as hot as possible. I alternated 5 minutes of sitting in the sweatsuit with 5 minutes in the tub for as long as I could. When I needed a break, I’d leave the bathroom with the water on and suck on ice chips. I repeated that process for about two hours total until I weighed 186.6. Then I just hung out until I went to bed at 10 PM.
I woke up at 5 AM weighing 184.4. I’d hoped to lose a bit more than that during the night, but I didn’t want to wind up underweight, so that was a risk I was okay with taking. I repeated the sweating process for another hour and dropped to 181.8, the exact limit for the 82.5 kg class. I thought my scale was on the heavy side, so I felt very confident about making weight at that number. I ended up weighing in at 82.3 kg, about half a pound underweight.
RehydratingIt seems like many athletes view making weight as something worthy of celebration, and immediately go stuff their faces with junk food in order to “rehydrate.” In reality, the reward for making weight is the chance to compete in a lower weight class. Whether you take that reward seriously or not is up to you, but I don’t see the point in cutting any significant amount of weight if you choose to to hit up IHOP as soon as you hop off the meet scale.
Twenty-four hours or just two?Rehydrating for a 24-hour weigh in is extremely difficult, but rehydrating for a 2-hour weigh in is nearly impossible when cutting any significant amount of weight. Also keep in mind that the use of an IV for rehydrating is often banned for events with 2-hour weigh ins.
Rehydrating correctly is crucial to a good performance the next day. Your first priority should be to consume some type of electrolyte fluid with some carbohydrates; I use Pedialyte, but diluted Gatorade or any other generic sports drink would probably work, too. I drank half a gallon of Pedialyte and another gallon of regular tap water within two hours of making weight. Your first solid-food meal should contain some easily digestible carbohydrates; like fruit with salt, but make sure whatever you choose is easy on the stomach. It’s beneficial to wait a short while after you start drinking to begin eating.
Thirty to 45 minutes after that first meal, you can eat something more substantial with some protein content. Whatever you choose should be high in carbohydrates and salt, low in fat, and with a moderate amount of easily-digestible protein. It should also be a food that you eat regularly! If you upset your stomach at this point, you’re just going to make the rehydration process more difficult. I usually go with my typical preworkout meal: whole-wheat pancakes made with protein powder and fruit.
Throughout the rest of the day, you need to continue to eat small meals every two hours, and to consume at least another gallon of water. Your meals from this point on should be balanced in carbohydrates, protein, and fats, and high in salt. I ate three meals each consisting of 6 ounces of chicken, 6 ounces of salmon or fatty ground beef, and a couple sweet potatoes. I also ate several large pickles with each meal.
Using this method, I was able to regain nearly all of the weight I lost, and the cut did not impact my strength at all. It did, however, impact my endurance rather significantly, and in hindsight, there are some things I could have done differently.
- Personally, I have never use an IV to aid in the rehydration process. Were I to attempt another cut of over 10% of my bodyweight, I would definitely use one, if only to speed the initial fluid recovery.
- I would begin the sweating process much closer to weigh-ins. I thought that getting close to my target weight before going to sleep would ease some of the mental stress of cutting, but this wasn’t the case, and it meant that I was just at a low bodyweight for a longer period of time, with no benefit.
- I would have not reduced my training bodyweight so close to the meet. Training a bit below my natural setpoint for so long had no benefits and had a bit of a negative impact on my recovery. I think that reducing my bodyweight to around 200 pounds two weeks before the meet would have been sufficient, and allowed me to train more intensely leading up to the meet.
ConclusionUltimately, this type of cut is extremely effective if you have the discipline to do it right, but it’s also very hard on the body and the mind. I don’t plan on making significant cuts of 10% of more of bodyweight more often than once per year in the future. Again, if you do decide to drop weight for any kind of athletic competition, make sure to do so under a doctor’s supervision, and don’t be discouraged if it proves more difficult than you imagined.
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