If you are an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fighter that has completed the bulking phase of muscle building and now needs to lose pounds before a weigh-in, there’s a consistent method to cut weight.
The goal of cutting weight before a fight is to be as fit and strong as possible with no flab left over from building up your size to make the grade for a competition.
In this article, I’ll explain how to cut weight for a fight with each step laid out for you.
Warning: These weight-cutting methods described can be risky to your long-term health. You should only do them with the assistance of a nutritionist and coach experienced with weight cutting.
How the weight cut works
Cutting weight means tricking the body into shedding water and pounds by hydrating and then suddenly dropping that water consumption to sips while consuming less than 500 calories daily.
The bare bones of a successful approach to losing as much weight as possible in the week leading up to the fight would be:
- Flushing your body with water
- Reducing your intake of carbs and sodium
- Maintaining a low-calorie, high-protein diet
Most fighters need to lose up to 10% of their body weight before a mixed martial arts competition, which is not an easy feat.
In fact, eating this strictly, as well as withholding water consumption, qualifies this strategy as being a bit of a fad diet – a fad diet that works.
But we’re in the dangerous areas of weight loss. This is extreme.
Before attempting to manipulate hormones and metabolism through carbohydrate deprivation, check in with your doctor to ensure that it is not a risk to your health.
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And, of course, work with an experienced nutritionist and experienced coach in cutting weight.
Let’s get into this standard fighter’s strategy for cutting weight before a fight.
A step-by-step guide to cutting weight before a fight
Here is the strategy that an MMA fighter should adopt to lose pounds quickly during the week before a “weigh-in.”
Techniques like these are what professional UFC fighters use to cut weight and prepare for competition at the highest level.
Step #1: Cut carbs down to 50 grams daily
Seven days before your weigh-in, cut your carbohydrate intake to 50 grams daily.
This was quite a switch from the 3,200 plus calories a day I’d typically consume while bulking.
This means cutting all white foods such as bread, potatoes, pasta, and rice. I also stopped eating high-protein bars, oatmeal, and cereal.
Consuming empty carbs from cola, donuts, or anything with sugar is absolutely prohibited during this week-long diet.
That includes that 70% cocoa bar you think is good for you because of the antioxidants.
Fighters avoid sugar because it sends the brain and hormones all of the wrong messages. You will pack the pounds as white adipose fat if sugar isn’t metabolized correctly.
High-carb fruits such as bananas, grapes, pineapple, mango, apricot, avocado, blackberries, cantaloupe, and cherries should also be avoided this particular week.
High-carb vegetables to avoid during the carb-cutting week include pinto beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans, green peas, black-eyed peas, potatoes, parsnip plantains, and corn.
To balance a meal with protein, pair it with vegetables with the lowest carb count.
I stick to eating vegetables with extremely low carbohydrate levels: bok choy, celery, cauliflower, radishes, and zucchini.
You can try out my diet plan for boxers if you’re preparing for a boxing exhibition that needs simplification.
If you’re focusing on an MMA cage fight, then my advice on the best diet for a fighter will help you.
Step #2: Eliminate salt
Fighters consume as little salt as possible the week before a weigh-in. Salt causes your body to hold water, which adds pounds to the scale.
According to the NIH, you only need 2300 mg of salt daily. While shooting for weight loss, try to consume 1500 mg of salt a day to avoid bloating.
Step #3: Keep consuming high protein and fats
Instead of consuming carbs, eat Keto and a diet high in protein and unsaturated fats for 7 days.
Eating Keto helped me maintain my energy levels without experiencing the weight gain provoked by carbs like sweet potatoes, rice, etc.
Stick to eating egg whites, red or white meat, fish, leafy greens, and cruciferous or leafy vegetables.
While cutting weight, I ate greens with only 1 gram of carbs, such as spinach, kale, and lettuce. Fills you up a bit and has essentially zero carbs.
Step #4: Drink a gallon of water in the first two days
Here comes the tricky part. Five days before your weigh-in, you will fool your body into getting rid of more water than you are consuming.
Drink one gallon of water (8 liters) a day for the beginning two days of the seven days before the weigh-in.
This helps to deregulate the production of the hormone aldosterone, which encourages your body to absorb water.
It acts as a diuretic that prevents your body from retaining water.
If you go to the bathroom often during this stage, you know the shedding of water weight is working.
Step #5: Drink less water for the next five days
During the five days leading up to the weigh-in, stop gorging on a gallon of water, and drink as little water as possible.
Wean yourself off the water by drinking 1.1 gallons (4 liters) on the fifth and fourth days before the weigh-in, .53 gal (2 liters) on the third day before, and .26 gal (1 liter) on the second day before.
The day before and on the day of the weigh-in, you are not allowed any water.
This process flushes your body of excess water weight. If you feel thirsty on the seventh day and the day of the weigh-in, take tiny sips to ease your thirst.
Admittedly, fasting significantly for four days with little food or water is very difficult, but I found it to be the best way to cut weight.
Step #6: Use heat for sweat two days before weigh-ins
To lose as much water weight as possible, sit in a sauna or steam bath for 30 minutes each day for two days before your weigh-in.
After not drinking water for four days, I was surprised at how much moisture I could sweat out of my pores.
If you don’t have a sauna or steam bath, sit in a bathtub filled with the hottest water you can stand.
The idea is to sweat as much as possible, with as little exertion as possible.
By this point, the lack of carbs in your diet will make you feel relatively weak. So exercising excessively to cut weight is usually too difficult.
Step #7: Eat very little on the day of the weigh-in
On the day of the weigh-in, eat as little as possible.
I found that a sparse but nourishing meal consisting of four ounces of plain chicken and two ounces of steamed broccoli was just enough food to keep up my energy.
Drink less that day to avoid registering water weight on the scale.
You’re trying to ensure that your body has no reason to hold the extra weight.
Keep in mind that any food or liquid you have not passed will also add pounds to your weigh-in, so try to go to the bathroom beforehand.
Final thoughts on cutting weight
There may be little that you can do to stave off the hunger pains, thirst, and fatigue that often accompany a diet with next to no carbs and no sugar.
This process is difficult, but it works. It’s used by coaches and their fighters in all kinds of combat sports.
Remember that this is a short-term crash diet that is not meant to be done longer than the seven days leading up to your fight.
I highly recommend that you always have some experienced coaches by your side to help you through each stage and perform the cut safely.
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Joe Bloom is the lead author and editor of MMA Hive. Joe has been a passionate mixed martial artist in training since 2019, having studied Boxing and Muay Thai at BaliMMA and Soma Fight Club, as well as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with RitualsJJ.