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The Weight Cut: Nutritional Strategies to Effectively Manipulate Acute Weight Loss

Nutrition plays a critical role when it comes time for the weight cut. If done wrong, it can lead to serious health consequences.

There is no point in ruining all the progress made during camp by starving yourself the week leading up to the fight. Nutrition is extremely important during this process because there are several ways to acutely manipulate weight loss in a safe and effective manner. First, you still need to eat—less is not always more. But what you eat and when you eat matters!

It’s important to focus on consuming energy dense foods, such as fats, and keep protein intake high to help keep you satiated and promote recovery after training sessions (eating a head of lettuce is not going to help you get through those last conditioning bouts). Contrary to popular belief, you should still be consuming carbohydrates during your weight cut. However, the types of carbohydrates you consume and when you eat them have to be strategically implemented to maximize passive weight loss before initiating the water cut.

The week of the weight cut, you want to start eliminating most fiber sources from your diet about 3-4 days out from weigh-ins. Fiber holds water in your gut, so by limiting high fiber foods you can reduce water weight by 1 to 2 pounds. Fibrous foods include whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, fruits with skin on the outside, and most vegetables. However, we still need to be consuming carb sources to fuel any remaining training sessions during the week—so what carbs would be most appropriate during this time? Carb sources that would be most appropriate during the weight cut would be simple carbohydrates or carbohydrates that are broken down and digested quickly. This would include white rice and white potatoes; fruits without a tough outer skin such as bananas, berries, applesauce and canned fruits; and vegetables with a high water content such as bell peppers, green beans, spinach, lettuce, and cooked carrots, zucchini and asparagus.

But when should you eat them? The best time to consume simple carbs—such as white rice, potatoes and fruits—is before any training session. Serving sizes should be kept small (no more than a cup) and should be consumed 30 minutes before training. Post-training meals and meals that aren’t consumed around training should contain protein and up to 2 cups of low-fiber vegetables like the ones mentioned above.

The extent of how many carbohydrates you can allow in your diet during this time will largely depend on your preparation during the dieting portion of your fight camp. If taking a short-notice fight and a large amount of weight needs to be cut very quickly, decreasing muscle glycogen, or the carbohydrates that are stored in your muscles, is a strategy that is often implemented. Following a very low carbohydrate diet does this. However, this could have negative impacts such as decreased energy availability and increased fatigue leading into the fight.

Other acute weight-loss strategies include water loading and following a low sodium diet. A low sodium diet should be initiated 4 to 5 days from weigh-ins. It’s impossible to remove ALL sodium from the diet, and doing so would result in serious health consequences. Therefore, removing any added sources of sodium is recommended. This includes canned goods, most bread and baked products, soups, sauces, cheeses, and deli meats. Incorporating as many fresh foods as possible is the easiest way to avoid added sodium during this time, and using alternative spices such as pepper, cayenne, basil, onion powder and many others are all great ways to flavor your food.

Water loading involves increasing your water intake daily starting 7 to 10 days before weigh-ins. For example, day 1 you would consume 1 gallon of water per day. By day 7 you would be consuming 2 gallons of water per day. Water intake would decrease the day you begin the dehydration phase of the weight cut (this is a very basic outline, the amount of water needed will vary for every individual based on height, weight, and gender).

This process not only keeps your body in a hyper-hydrated state, but one study has shown that doing so enhances regulation of protein channels in your kidneys that continue to filter water even after discontinuing fluid intake. This would be beneficial during that water cut prior to weigh-ins when you cease fluid intake but need to keep sweating to lose remaining water weight.

Again, these are all methods that should be employed for acute weight loss, and how aggressive and how long each method should be employed all depends on your weight prior to fight-week. Remember, proactive steps such as dieting early on and keeping your weight in check year-round will make this process much easier!

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