This is a guest post by James Bee of JB Fitness Systems. James was introduced to me as a coach who’s all about the evidenced based approach to fitness, health, nutrition, competition and living the good life. After working with him on this article, I can honestly say – James knows his stuff and shares it an a super easy-to-digest way. Read on …
WARNING: Some of the information in this post might sound absurd – as it goes against conventional Fight-Bro-Logic.
In my role managing weight cuts of professional Muay Thai fighters. I hear all about the crappy and sometimes dangerous strategies athletes use to make weight.
Crappy strategies are often handed down from fighter to fighter. There is, usually, a lot of suffering involved, and little actual science or sense backing up the method behind the madness.
Well, I’m here to tell you that your bros and teammates have been cutting weight the hard way not the smart way. And you don’t have to follow tradition. If you’re new to combat sports, you should know something: Fight-Bro-Logic hasn’t got the best name for being a reliable source of information.
In this post I’ve outlined some of the most common crappy weight cutting strategies passed around the fight scene. To set things straight, I’ve also gone the extra mile and added a smarter alternative strategy. One that’s currently working well for my athletes.
Crappy Strategy #1: The Sweat Suit
Rockin’ the sweat suit is the most common but certainly not the best way to cut weight, not by a long shot. The only times I might use a sweat suit is if the sauna isn’t an option or I only had a couple lbs to lose.
A lot of people think the sweat suit burns fat, but this is not the case. Let me repeat that, because it’s very important: the sweat suit does not help you burn fat. Because of this myth, fighters will wear their sweat suits from the start of their cut. A huge mistake that guarantees to cause you adverse effects. Symptoms like headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, heat stroke and a foul mood are sure to follow.
The thing is, just like a sauna, the sweat suit heats up your core temperature to induce sweat. But, because the sweat suit requires exercise to generate heat, weight loss becomes energy intensive, unpredictable, and in hotter climates even more dangerous.
Smart Strategy: Water balance physiology
A smarter way to manipulate water weight is by way of fluid balance physiology. What you can lose over the space of one week in a sweat suit, you can drop in 1 day in the sauna by manipulating carbs, sodium, and water intake. This method is more energy efficient and much less taxing on performance. Check out this article where one of my athletes lost more than 10kgs using water balance techniques.
Crappy Strategy #2: Avoiding Carbohydrates
When it comes to carbohydrates forget everything you have heard in the mainstream media. Carbohydrates are not the cause for most people’s weight gain. It’s the over consumption of daily calories that’s the true culprit.
Contrary to popular beliefs, you can eat carbs and still lose weight. But, as a general rule, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Which is consistent with the first law of thermodynamics: Calories in – Calories out = change in body mass.
Every week I get emails from people writing about how they are on zero carbs (such as keto diet) and still cannot lose weight. I’ve never been a fan of low-carb diets for fat loss. And a study posted in 2006 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that low carb and non-low carb diets were equally effective in reducing body weight, but the low carb diet was associated with several adverse metabolic and emotional effects.
Basically, for fat loss there is no metabolic advantage to consuming less than 50g of carbs per day, just a bad mood. And who wouldn’t be in a bad mood missing out on carbs – they’re awesome.
Smart Strategy: Eat most of your daily carbs at night after your main training session
Eat fewer carbs during the day and save your main carbohydrates for after training.
I know you have heard to avoid carbs especially at night however studies have dispelled that common nutrition myth. A 2011 study published on Pubmed says eating carbs at night can increase metabolic response and greater hormonal change actually helping with weight loss.
Crappy Strategy #3: Starvation
I realize this may sound crazy to most people, but plenty of fighters have this idea imbedded in their minds that starvation is a tool for weight loss. As far as they are concerned, suffering is all a part of cutting weight. The no pain, no gain kinda mentality. I’ve even heard of fighters lowering their calories to 800kcals per day while still training!
While I respect the determination of some individuals, you have to use your head. You won’t be achieving much good with such negative energy balance. True, you will lose weight, but mainly from lean muscle mass – resulting in strength losses and muscle damage. Muscle damage that will take a lot of time to repair.
If an athlete keeps the starvation tactics up for too long, her body will slow or shut down non-essential functions including reproductive functions, metabolic functions and brain functions.
Smart Strategy: Follow a sustainable diet
Don’t crash diet. People who cut weight last minute always either end up missing weight or feeling like poo come fight time. Often, crash dieters end up rebounding and putting on more weight than they lost. Instead of changing your diet 2 weeks or even 8 weeks before a fight, you should eat a sustainable diet all year round. To be lean, you need a diet which includes lots of high nutrient density, fresh whole foods. And make sure to get a good variety across all macro and micro-nutrients.
Crappy Strategy #4: Avoiding salt
Let’s get something clear: not all salt is bad.
Sure, the refined iodized salt you find on the table in a restaurant or in processed foods is crap. But don’t get table salt confused with something like Celtic sea salt, a completely different animal. Better forms of salt like this are said to contain up to 84 trace minerals.
The problem is public health officials and the media have vilified salt. They state that reducing salt in the diet will improve health and will prevent cardiovascular disease and strokes. You can assume they are talking about highly refined iodized salt and high-sodium processed foods. That stuff is bad news. It’s been stripped of any trace minerals that your body can actually benefit from. All the bad without any of the good.
Some athletes get confused by this misinformation. Because of all the warnings, athletes assume they should be avoiding all salt to cut weight AND to be healthier. Cutting out all salt often backfires because you need salt in your body to maintain electromagnetic gradients (so you body can do work) and fluid balance. An athlete who avoids salt for even a few days will experience muscle cramps, nausea, headaches, fatigue, and disorientation.
Smart Strategy: Add Celtic Sea Salt
Cut table salt and high sodium processed foods from your diet. Instead of drinking crappy pre-made isotonic drinks like Gatorade, use a pinch of full profile mineral Celtic sea salt in your drinking water. It will help you maintain optimal fluid and electrolyte balance while also replacing minerals/electrolytes lost from training.
When you’re doing your first cut as a beginner, you’re more than likely going to get lots of advice … some is solid, some will be crappy. Just be mindful of people who are set in their ways. They have possibly become accustomed to doing things the hard way and will lead you to believe that cutting weight includes suffering, pain, starvation, low energy, and none of which will cause performance losses.
Hopefully, by reading this article you can see that there is always more than one way to skin a cat.