A dehydration for a weight cut is only ever as good as the ability to rehydrate after. A fact that is highlighted by amateur weighins which are often on the same day as the fight itself.
For the sake of understanding I will use a working example of a fighter (Connor) that has done two completely different dehydrations for fights with “on-the-day” weigh-ins.
Weight Cut 1:
This dehydration was based around the method of a three phase cut,
- Phase 1: Water Load
- Phase 2: Glycogen Depletion
- Phase 3: Immediately stop fluid intake
Weight Cut 2:
This dehydration was based on a single phase cut:
- Fluid loss through salt bath & sweating
Weight Cut 1:
This type of cut takes approximately one week. However, planning and slight changes need to take place in the weeks before, usually from the start of a camp is enough providing the fighter generally eats a good varied diet. I recommend a minimal chemical and completely process free diet; this is largely due to the fact that the body is not accustomed to breaking down a variety of manmade chemicals; leading to inflammation which will hold crucial fluid.
An elite performer will also have a higher chemical sensitivity to chemicals and additives that are in food causing unfavourable reactions: If you’ve ever given a person with ADHD additives then you will understand the reaction I’m referring to, this reaction occurs on a smaller scale in everyone.
On a basic level, if the food you are consuming has more than one ingredient; proceed with caution.
Throughout the camp a fighter should be eating the foods they will be ‘carbing up’ on; there is no point in loading on a food that you haven’t consumed in the last 6-10 weeks as this may cause inflammation in the gut and will limit the ability to rehydrate.
The human body has the ability to adapt extremely quickly to a situation in order to preserve life. For example, the original hunter gatherers may not have had access to water whenever they get thirsty like many of us modern humans do. Therefore our bodies have been equipped with a set of adaptations to stop us dehydrating to death when these situations arise.
An MMA fighter has the ability to take advantage of these adaptations and manipulate the body’s response system to work in their favour to make an easy cut.
For the majority of the final week Connor stays on his current diet that he has consumed for the course of the camp. Steadily over the week the water intake increased to a ‘loading level’ to flood the body with water. This will trigger the body’s natural response to quickly expel all unnecessary water to prevent the organs from becoming ‘flooded’.
Salt should be kept at the ‘normal’ level for Connor right up until a couple days out. Stopping salt too early will inhibit the ability to hold onto the water being consumed and trigger a response causing the body to dehydrate too early, and eventually hold onto the vast amounts of water being consumed.
Connor is approximately 88 kg or 194lb. About 512g of that weight is Glycogen stored in the muscles. For each gram of glycogen, there are 4g of water. Therefore, if you take out the glycogen you can take out the water associated to it. Causing a cut of at least 2.5kg (5.5lb) without causing much stress to the athlete.
There are two types of glycogen depletion that I use, my favorite is a minimal carb diet for 1-2 days dependant on the size of the athlete, and the amount of weight we need to cut. Following this depletion, Connor must now take the load off, and chill out. His body has already been through enough to this point, and there is still more to come. A slight increase in stress hormones at this point will cause the body to hold unnecessary water. Now is the time to cut salt and add in a natural diuretic. Dandelion root is great, but it taste pretty rough. Liquid Vitamin C is also a great natural diuretic, and much easier to stomach.
Approximately 24 hours before the weigh in (less or more depending on how much water Connor needs to lose) he will immediately stop drinking water. His body will continue to expel the water for a while before his body realises what has happened. This response can be delayed by keeping cold, and staying as still and relaxed as possible. By limiting the exposure to heat and movement we can delay or eliminate the body’s stress hormone reaction to dehydration. Continually checking the athlete’s heart rate gives a good indication of how the cut is going. Once the heart rate begins to rise above the usual resting level you can guess that the hormone response has been triggered. With Connor this doesn’t happen until about 20-24 hours into the cut (if at all), by that time most of the work is already done.
After Connor has weighed in we can start carbing him back up to recover those glycogen stores, we use a variety of different carbohydrates, fruit, rice cakes etc; but little or no protein or fats; there is a limited window to get Connor back to his peak and we don’t want to waste valuable water and digestion at this point. Natural electrolytes including coconut water, magnesium and calcium are all vital to make sure those muscles begin firing properly. Within about 8 hours Connor is back to 88kg and ready to perform.
Weight Cut 2:
Unfortunately Connor had to experience a dehydration of a different kind. The above dehydration is extremely easy to recover from in a small window as the majority of the water comes from the muscles. However, for a Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu competition Connor was almost 4kg over weight for a weigh in the following day. Due to a slight lack of communication we hadn’t planned a glycogen depletion, water load or salt cut. So you can guarantee that the body will notice a dehydration of any kind almost immediately and hold onto any precious water that it has.
We water loaded immediately, and added in a diuretic in an attempt to counteract the body’s natural response and cut the carbs after a workout.
We wanted to keep the water loading for as long as possible whilst still leaving time for the dehydration to occur. We stopped at 7pm, and continued with the diuretic right up until he went to bed. At that point his weight was 88.8kg and his resting heart rate was 62bpm. Overnight his weight came down to 86.8kg and his heart rate was 61bpm. Meaning we had a small window to continue the dehydration as it appeared that his hormone response hadn’t started yet. Connor took a very hot salt bath to draw out the water. This took out 1kg immediately, and the remaining 0.3kg came off over the next couple of hours until weigh in.
The water for this cut came from Connor’s joints, organs and pretty much everywhere else. In the space of a couple hours Connor’s resting heart rate rose by over 30%, his cognitive ability was greatly reduced, his stress hormones were elevated and he reported feeling tired, weak and his ‘muscles a bit tight, and can feel them pulsating a bit’. Although we didn’t have a blood pressure monitor handy, I’m sure this wouldn’t have shown comforting results.
A dehydration of up to 5% will cause up to a 30% reduction in performance. Due to the extreme measures of this dehydration and the short window between weigh in and stepping on the canvas it isn’t possible to bring Connor’s levels back to normal. However, we slowly drip fed Connor pure water, minerals and electrolytes along with various forms of simple sugars to fill his glycogen stores as much as possible. He got on the mats just over an hour later at 87.6kg and still manged to smash it…