Making Weight. How to rapidly drop weight for competitions and still perform your best.
How to drop 7% of your body weight in 7 days to make weight.
(And still be strong enough to set records)
In strength and combat sports it is common for athletes to need to make weight for a competition, which often involves rapid weight loss through dehydration and various other means in attempts to drop significant amounts of weight in very short spaces of time. The problem is that many of the methods athletes use leave them too weak to compete at their best.
Recently I helped EP client Amanda Hillary drop 4.5kg in 7 days to make weight for the under 60kg European championships in powerlifting. Not only did she accomplish her target weight in time, but was strong enough to compete the next day and set two national records and win her category to become European champion. Interestingly one of her fellow competitors had a very disappointing performance (for her, she’s a very strong woman but fell short of her best on the day). She too had attempted a cut, in order to make a lower weight class, but fell short and didn’t bounce back very well from the process.
So here’s how to do it properly.
Note: I hope I don’t need to point out that the weight loss comes from dehydration, not fat loss. Please don’t attempt this thinking you’ll lose 4kg of fat in a week, it’s not happening, sorry.
7 days out:
Start increasing water intake. I like to hit around 70ml per kg of body weight. (Yes that’s a lot. It’s around 4.5l for a 60kg female). You’ll maintain this level of water loading for 4 days, It will actually decrease water retention and set you up for a rapid loss of water later in the week.
Keep carbs low.
As in really low. Try to keep your carb intake to less than 50g per day from only fibrous veg. This will help you drop weight for two reasons.
1. Carbohydrate is stored with water, by depleting carbs you also decrease weight due to the lack of water being stored in the absence of glycogen.
2. The adrenal glands make a hormone called aldosterone. This hormone regulates water and sodium re-uptake by the kidneys. When insulin is very low, aldosterone will also be low therefore water nd sodium retention is reduced. Meaning you drop scale weight due to less water storage. (This is the mechanism behind the initial weight loss when a person goes onto a low carb diet)
With this technique there is no reason to obsessively avoid sodium in the diet. But don’t go wild with the salt, and as always only use true salts like himalayan rock salt or genuine sea salt not table salt.
Calories should be quite low. If you’re still training you should be around maintenance calories. No need to restrict too severely as weight loss is not occurring from fat loss. However overall insulin load should be low and that means moderate calories. Diet should pretty much be veggies, fats and proteins. Keep veg intake high to stay regular and avoid too much hunger. Protein should be moderate. You have no need for high protein intake at this stage, If anything overly high protein load can raise insulin enough to limit the scale weight loss from water explained above.
3 Days Out:
Reduce water intake to 1l for the entire day. You’ll really feel this. It’s not going to be nice, but suck it up and deal with it. Weight should be around 63kg at the end of the day (in our 64kg example)
2 Days Out:
Again 1l water only, you’ll likely start to get dry mouth and other mild dehydration symptoms, any training should be very low volume but heavy loads. Use you belt for everything above 80% as “tweaks” can happen more readily when dehydrated. Sets of 1 - 3, not over 90 - 95% of your max.
End of day weight should be around 62 < 62.5.
The Day Before Weigh In:
500ml water only, stop drinking at 12:00. Your target is to hit 60.5 by the end of the day. Sweating is now the name of the game. Ware layers, go hiking, hit the sauna if you have someone with you. A hot bath also works well. If using the sauna or bath, take in a credit card and scrape the skin continuously. This removes the surface sweat and causes you to continuously produce more sweat as the body attempts to cool itself. Be careful, by this point you may well be so dehydrated that passing out is a risk, especially if you suffer from low blood pressure. So make sure you take a partner into the sauna or have someone with you if using the bath. Shallow water drowning is a slim possibility, but don’t take risks.
Periodically weigh in throughout the day to check progress. When you hit 60.5 go to bed. You’ll lose water while you sleep via breath and sweat.
The Day Of Weigh In:
Check weight in the morning, you should be there (I've never had someone weigh in overweight). If not, start spitting. Not the most pleasant thing to talk about I grant you. But it’s the safest way to lose the last few grams to make weight. Make sure you have light underwear, every gram counts.
After Weigh In:
Now you need to refuel for tomorrows event, and you need to rehydrate. You need to have electrolytes and carbs with you.
IMPORTANT: Drink electrolytes before you smash carbs.
Do not overlook this detail! Theres a thing called overfeeding syndrome. It’s often seen in anorexics when health care professionals try to overfeed them to help them gain weight. The results can be serious and even deadly so pay attention. Essentially the problem occurs when a body lacking electrolytes is fed high glycemic carbs. The insulin spike drives remaining electrolytes into muscle cells which can cause a severe lack of electrolytes in the blood. The problem can lead to heart problems (as in death) and comas.
The solution is simple. Before you smash carbs drink electrolytes. Straight after weigh in take two servings in the appropriate amount of water, wait around 30 - 40 minutes and start eating. It’s not a difficult or painful protocol, but well worth the slight effort it takes to wait another hour after weigh in before eating.
Your objective is now to replenish muscle glycogen. So simple carbs are now your friend. Which is likely a welcome statement after the week of severe restriction and the months of clean eating. I don’t recommend eating loads of trash as this can cause inflammation and may limit high end performance in tomorrows comp’. But high GI, simple carbs are good here. Rice, potatoes, buckwheat, all good. You’ll need to eat 8g / kg body weight. So for our 60kg female we’re talking 480g of carbs. Thats a huge amount of rice. So my favourite solution is Vitargo. Virago is an awesome product. It’s essentially a high glycemic, high insulinogenic carbohydrate that is not a sugar. It also happens to leave the stomach very quickly and is very easily absorbed. All this means that you can consume a very high amount of carbohydrate in a very short space of time without any gastric upset or bloating. Try eating 400g of carbs from white rice in a day, its not fun. But Vitargo makes the process much more comfortable and means you don't need to consume high amounts of sugar to get the job done. Use a mixture of Vitargo and food to get over the goal line. Other options I think work well are puffed rice and homemade pancakes (they're easy to eat in large amounts).
If you get the process right you’ll go to bed the same weight you started the cut and compete a good 4 - 5 kg heavier than you weighed in. Amanda started the week at 64.5, weighed in at 59.6 and went to sleep that day at 65. Obviously if you're a 100kg male your los and gain will be far greater, expect 7 - 8 kg swing.
Amanda's actual numbers were:
Start of the week: 65kg
Weighed in: 59.6kg
Went to bed at: 64kg
And her best quote regarding the refeed is. "the only time I wasn't eating is when I was napping"
Note: This process is only a good idea if you happen to compete in organisations that weigh in the day before a meet / fight / event. If you have to weight in on the day it’s very hard to rehydrate and refuel quickly enough to feel great when you compete. As such, a slower aproach may be more appropriate.