A QUICK GUIDE TO MAKING WEIGHT
PREPARING TO COMPETE WITHOUT COMPROMISING PERFORMANCE
If you participate in a sport with weight classes, you probably know the struggle of balancing your body weight and maintaining (or increasing) strength. It can be a fine line to walk, but there are some general guidelines and strategies that I use with my strength athletes to help them compete at their best within their weight class.
FOR BEGINNERS || I don’t recommend cutting weight for your very first competition. When you’re competing in a sport for the first time, the focus should be on getting your feet wet and learning the ins and outs of a competition rather than stressing over weight. This is especially true for Olympic weightlifters. A meet runs very differently than training and it can be stressful enough without the added anxiety of having to manipulate your body weight. If you weigh in feeling weak and depleted, you may lack the confidence needed to perform your best. There’s a very real possibility of feeling depleted at the time of weigh-ins, and you need all the confidence you can get for that first meet.
FOR EXPERIENCED LIFTERS || There are usually two parts to a weight cut preceding a meet: a calorie deficit and water manipulation (also known as a “water cut”). The bulk of weight loss should be done with a calorie deficit, and water manipulation should not exceed more than 2% of body weight. For example, if you compete at 134 lbs, your water loss should not account for more than 2.6 lbs of your weight cut.
CUTTING WEIGHT: A CALORIE DEFICIT
Because you must make weight on a specific day, it’s important to start your weight cut early. The earlier you start, the slower your fat loss rate can be, which will help you maintain a high level of performance and ensure you compete at your best. I recommend using a calorie deficit to lose 0.5-1 lb of weight loss per week.
Let’s use the example of the lifter competing at 134 lb to create a diet schedule:
Assuming they will be using some water manipulation to make weight, our lifter needs to weigh no more 136.5 lbs by one week before the day of their meet.
This lifter’s normal (or “walking”) weight is 142 lbs, so they will need to lose 5.5 lbs of body weight prior to their water cut
Rate of weight loss for most athletes should be anywhere between 0.5-1 lb/week, so 10 weeks would be the most ideal time frame for this lifter to cut weight. Anything less than 6 weeks may negatively impact performance.
To play it safe, I would recommend this lifter take at least 8 weeks to lose that 5.5 lbs (weight loss would need to be at a rate of about 0.7 lbs per week), meaning that this lifter needs to begin their calorie deficit 9 weeks before their meet.
WHILE ADHERENCE AND CONSISTENCY ARE KEY TO SUCCESS FOR EVERYONE, THEY ARE ESPECIALLY CRUCIAL FOR ATHLETES WHO HAVE TO MAKE WEIGHT.
Because a competition is a very real deadline, having non-compliant days can jeopardize your ability to perform at your best or to even make weight at all. Working with a nutrition coach allows you to focus more on adherence and performance while your coach creates a game plan for you, so be sure to keep your coach updated on upcoming meets and events so they can help you as much as possible!
CUTTING WEIGHT: A WATER CUT
Depending on how far you are over your target weight, a water cut may be necessary to get you to your final competing weight. Before starting a water cut, make sure you know what the average difference is between how much you weigh at night versus first thing in the morning. This is important to know so you can work with this number depending on the time of your weigh-in. Here are some simple key points for using water manipulation to make weight:
Increase your water intake 6-7 days before your event. Make sure you are also getting plenty of sodium on these days. This will cause you to retain water early in the week that you will flush out later in the week.
Gradually decrease your water and sodium intake as you get closer to meet day. Depending on how much you weigh the day before the meet, you may need to drink as little as one liter of water and keep sodium as low as possible.
If you have an early weigh-in, you may want to eat your last meal the day before fairly early.
If you wake up under weight the day of your weigh in, make sure you weigh any food or water you intake before weigh ins. (Being a half of a pound under body weight may seem like a lot, but it is only one cup of water!)
If you wake up over weight the day of your weigh in, you may need to consider sweating out some additional weight. This can be done in a very hot bath, a sauna, or by exercising with warm clothes on. This is likely to make you miserable and should be avoided as much as possible.
Here is a quick and easy chart for water intake, assuming a Saturday competition:
Once you have successfully weighed in (hooray!), you will need to replenish and rehydrate. Rehydration products for children (like Pedialyte) are one of the most effective ways to quickly rehydrate. You will be hungry, but keep in mind that you still have a job to do. Fuel your body the way you normally would, and save any celebratory foods for after you’re done competing.
There are many ways to approach a weight cut. You can drastically decrease intake over a short period of time and possibly negatively impact performance, or you can take a more long-term approach and start to prepare in advance so that you can make your weight cut fit with your lifestyle and preserve strength and performance as you do so. We believe that the latter is a better approach! Have questions on how to best meet your competition weight goals? Ask away!
Interested in more resources on nutrition for performance? Check out our resources section for more information!