Mixed martial arts has taken major steps towards professionalism and acceptability in the mainstream. With the rise of Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), more and more fans can tune in to watch the fastest growing sport in the world. With that being said, it wasn’t always what you see nowadays.
The fights were held in low budget casino halls and basketball gymnasiums. There were little to no rules, and of course, no weight classes. Not until later would the sport develop weight classes, and rules for making said weight on time.
This obviously changed the way you would have to prepare for a fight. Weight-cutting has been done since the inception of Olympic wrestling and boxing. But for MMA, it was a brand new venture. The problem I see as a coach is the process of how some fighters go about cutting weight. And when that process is flawed it will hinder performance. This is my take on how to properly weight-cut for mixed MMA.
Weight cutting do’s and don’ts for MMA
Weight cutting in general is not a very healthy thing to do. With that being said, let me just clarify that I am NOT a health professional or medical physician. I’m only giving you my opinion on what I would do, and my approach. Now that we got that out of the way, let me first begin with the starting process of an optimal weight-cut. As a fighter, you should never be fifteen pounds above your fighting weight class. You must have a clean enough diet year-round to maintain healthy weight for your career.
If you are a professional this definitely should go without saying, eating a balanced base of macronutrients help to facilitate your training. Also consuming micronutreints, like vitimans and minerals, helps your body recover and stay healthy. Always look to have adequate hydration for a 150 pound and below (walk around weight) fighter. You should take in at least one gallon of water daily.
For a fighter who is 155-200 pounds, take in at least one and a half gallons of water daily. And for 200 plus pound fighters, take in at least two gallons of water per day. Now this also fluctuates if you’re having multiple training sessions in one day. If that’s the case, make sure to add electrolytes and salt tabs if you begin to cramp or sweat a lot.
When a fighter starts the cutting process, I tell them to always start their cut one week out from fight night. The diet should have taken care of the weight up until that point. Don’t misunderstand the two, cutting is something that you are doing in a short period of time to get as much weight off. Which is then put back on shortly after. You should start the cut, ideally, 10-12 pounds away from the classes specificed weight. At this point is when a fighter would start a water load. Which is a process of adding excess water, and then taking out a half gallon each day till weigh-ins. So iff your weigh-ins are on Friday, you will start on that Sunday before. The regiment looks like this:
Sunday: 2.5 gallons of water with lemon
Monday: 2 gallons of water with lemon
Tuesday: 1.5 gallon of water with lemon
Wednesday: 1 gallons of water with lemon
Thursday: .5 gallons of water with lemon
Friday (weigh-in day): 8 oz in the morning
When following this strategy, your body will begin the flushing out process of any excess fluids. The more water you take in, the less water you will hold. Meaning, once you put the water in your body, your body will begin to flush out the excess.
With your water load in-progress, you want to keep your carbohydrate intake in a range from moderate to low. Still, we want to make sure–through dieting correctly–you can still maintain some carbohydrate intake throughout the week. Carbohydrates are extremely important for performance and recovery, so cutting this completely out will make it difficult to replenish fully after weigh-ins.
Protein must be a constant in order to maintain muscle mass and strength, along with staying satiated. Fats at this point can be minimal to zero. Fats have the most calories per gram out off all three macronutrients. Cutting fats would not be as detrimental as cutting the other two macros. When it comes to sodium, you want to minimize it as much as possible when you are water loading up to the moment a fighter hits the scale.
The reloading process can be the most vital to your performance come fight night. If your reload is not on point, it could damage all the work you put in. As soon as they step off the scale, I have my fighters take in one liter of a mix that is half water and half pedialyte. Once that is finished, continue drinking the entire bottle of pedialyte, then one more liter of water.
After about 30 minutes (post weigh-ins) consume a whey protein shake in water, with some form of carbohydrates. Preferably in powder form. An hour after weigh-ins, with the urine being clear, go ahead and have your first meal. This should consist of some form of red meat, and fast acting carbohydrate. Still consume plenty of water, and every two hours continue to have slower digestive carbohydrates, some fats, and lean protein. When the fighter wakes up the next morning, they should be at the same walk-around weight that they were at two weeks before weigh-ins.
As far as saunas or epson salt baths, I’m not really a big fan of them. If you like them, or absolutely need it, then I’ll have a fighter do it. But the diet should take care of 80 percent of the cut, and the rest is all water manipulation.
This is the safest and most effective route to go when you are trying to stay healthy and have a long career in the sport. Too many injuries, and metabolism problems, come from a bad weight-cut. As a strength and conditioning coach I’m trying to protect my fighters and keep their careers as long as possible. So focus on your diet and stop thinking you can cut twenty plus pounds in a bath. It’s not optimal, and not effective, when it comes to performing at your best on fight night. Now that you have an understanding, I hope this helps the process.
American Top Team Head Strength & Conditioning Coach
Former Professional MMA Fighter
Sports Medicine, Exercise Science Degrees
FMS, ACE Certified