Cutting weight for BJJ

Introduction

Following my recent competition I went in Bristol, I felt this was a topic that needed talking about. Don’t worry, I’m not here to teach you BJJ – I’m only a white belt after all!

However, I am very much rehearsed in manipulating a humans’ overall mass.

The biggest concern in BJJ and in the martials arts world is the old Dinosaur-like ideology that you must suffer to make weight.

And that this is simply just part of the process with no consideration to the athletes health or the performance.

“I would rather get kidney stones than not make weight” is a statement I recently heard.

Did you know that more people have died cutting weight than they have done competing in the combat world!

It shouldn’t be like this.

Doom and gloom over, your local, friendly neighbourhood nutritionist is here to save the day!

For those of you that are new to BJJ let me lay out the typical weigh in format for you…

At IBJJF level you will weigh in within your selected weight division (gi or no gi) and will have roughly 20-30 minutes before you here those words “Combate” (Gracie Jr, 2022)

So time is of the essence as you can see.

The other major concern many athletes have is if they don’t make weight they are simply disqualified and unable to compete.

So you can see where the added pressure can come in and why these extreme methods of cutting weight get used.

After all you have paid to be there and to be turned away would be more gutting than being armbarred 15 seconds into your match.

Now I will start by saying that not all competitions will follow this format. Some will let you weigh in as soon as you arrive or just after the children/juveniles have weighed in.

Some more recent invitational competitions are letting athletes weigh the day before which is another blog for another day.

But for anyone new or just starting in this amazing world of jiu jitsu you now have a rough idea on what to expect!


What weight should I be?

If this is your first ever competition, simply pick a category you fit into at your current weight. 

Don’t question it, however much you want to,

“But Jay I’ll have a competitive advantage if I’m heavier”

Technically yes you would, but I can guarantee the nerves of your first competition is what you will need to get a grip of, whilst trying to remember about how you escape side control again.

One less pressure at this stage in your BJJ journey you should not be worrying about.

So if this isn’t your first competition, you may have competed a few times, years maybe, or even decades? Then lets get down to business.

The first question I would ask any athlete is what their current weight is?

What weight category do they feel they fit into?

And what is the difference, if any?

The next question that abruptly comes after is…

How do you perform at this weight division?

Not in terms of medals, wins and checks etc, how are your energy levels, strength, stamina and so on?

That last question I feel gets missed time and time again, but can play a big part in what to do next.

Let me explain,

If 85kg is the weight goal, there will be some who will dip down to this number, there will be others who will go up to this number.

Not all but you see different styles of BJJ being performed at different weight levels, not to stereotype but you commonly see lighter athletes play more of a bottom game and are typically a lot speedier.

If you are cutting weight to come down, how does your style of BJJ fair against this?

Would you get tired quicker?

You may be stronger but you have depleted yourself either slightly or a lot to get there?

Will your strength be less for this?

The same can be said on the flip side of athletes being lighter for there weight category

Can you handle the bigger person?

Do your BJJ skills outweigh the strength and weight difference?

If you’re still massively unsure my biggest tip would be to go and compete in a absolute competition.

For new BJJ students this style of competition typically has no weight category requirements, so you could see the 70kg athlete take on the 120kg athlete , both chasing down that double gold medal.

Most would assume the 120kg would win but that’s not always the case as per my discussion above, go check out Mikey Musumeci vs Seif-Eddine for a good example!

You simply need to find where you perform best for your ability and this can take some time and could change throughout your jiu jitsu journey.


The weight cut

For those not cutting weight for your next BJJ comp I would read on as you may help a poor BJJ athlete in need, doing silly things to make weight or may even experiment with a different category one day.

First of all we have to understand your overall weight is made of several different components;

  • Muscle
  • Bone
  • Water
  • Fat
  • Food & drink within your digestive tract

Four out of those five you can manipulate if you wish to do so.

The next details we need to considered is the competition schedule as this gives us a clear indication of of what to focus on first. The more time we have, for example 6-8 weeks before comp day, then we would focus more on fat mass depletion (if the body composition is of a poor standard).

If however body composition is showing the athlete as very lean already with minimal fat mass then depending on the weight difference a discussion would need to be had on which is the appropriate bracket.

In some more unique circumstance some athletes have reduced muscle mass to fit into certain brackets.

Again this could be more to do with their style of jiu jitsu.

Now back to our poor body composition athlete cutting weight…

So here are the words you have probably been waiting for and are about to roll your eyes at…

We start by implementing a energy deficit

(Koliaki et al., 2018)

The most common practice would be to induce the energy deficit via a reduction in caloric intake but it can be done with energy expenditure as well. My recommendation is do both!

For the purpose of this blog (as every situation is unique) we’ll say that ‘Mark’ came to me 8 weeks out from his next competition.

Within that 8 weeks we would like to induce a mass loss of 1kg per week. This could change depending on where Mark needs to be with his weight and we would need to take into consideration that in a perfect world we would not diet on the final week before competition.

So we could comfortably remove 7kg of fat mass in that time. This number isn’t guaranteed as it is dependent on how the athlete responds, but this would be the typical pace adhered to here at the consultancy.

In this time there are several ways of making the athlete compliant in inducing this energy deficit, meal plans are one of them with other methods involving the athlete logging their food for regular assessment by a qualified nutritionist or dietician.

The purpose of either method is to make sure the athlete is not crash dieting, under fuelling themselves with minimal carbohydrates or preventing optimal recovery with low protein content.

By taking control of these variables the athlete is put in the best possible position to cut weight and perform.


The weigh in week

So this is where the ridiculous and ludicrous methods of cutting weight rear their heads.

Now it must be said at the beginning of this week most competitions will give you 7 days notice to change your weight category. 

Weather you like or not, due to poor preparation or some other miss demeanour, this is your final get of jail free card. So use it if you have to! 

At the end of the day there will always be a another comp to go to, likewise I’m sure not many going to the adcc finals are reading this blog! 

But if you are in a last ditch attempt to make weight then drop me an email and I’ll see what magic I can pull off! 

Falar com você em breve de bronx 😉

At this stage we need to revert back to the five details that our body mass is made up of:

  • Muscle
  • Bone
  • Water
  • Fat
  • Food & drink in your digestive tract

We have exhausted all the fat mass we can at this stage, technically we could squeeze a little more out, but the detriment could be at the athletes performance.

Without extracting bones from your body we can’t do much there! 

Leaving the final three variables; food & drink in your digestive tract, muscle mass and water weight!

Food or drink in your digestive tract

Food or drink in your digestive tract can come across as fairly complex. When in reality it is simply the passing of food or drink from your mouth to you excreting or urinating.

Something we need to consider is that some foods take longer to digest such as, food that is both high in protein and fat content – this can take up to two days to pass through.

No mixed grills the night before your comp unfortunately!

So we need to pick wisely, leaner meats and fish may be a more suitable approach to keep protein content high.

Now this next part is what goes against the general status quo.

Outside of comp week both before and after fruit and vegetables and high fibre foods are going to be your best friend. Making sure you are getting all those awesome micronutrients, great fibre content and keeping you fuller for longer if food portions have been reduced slightly.

The consideration that is needed is what happens when we ingest fibrous food…

In the lead up to comp week we can reduce the amount of digested food in your GI tract by reducing the amount of fibre in the diet.

Too high a fibre content typically leads to the digestion process slowing down. Keeping your overall mass somewhat higher. 

3-2 days out of weigh-in day you can typically reduce your fibre intake to help with that digestive movement, with an estimated reduction of 0.3kg to1kg in overall mass.

(Vanhauwaert, Matthys, Verdonck and De Preter, 2015)

Muscle

Onto the gun show now.

Depending on your body composition, you will have some muscle mass.

Why is this important you ask?

So your muscles need energy to function, to grab that collar tie or lapel, and this energy is stored in the form of glycogen. 

A well-nourished person that weighs 80 kilograms stores, on average, about 500 grams of glycogen, although you can boost this even more by eating a carbohydrate-rich diet. 

Since each gram of glucose can be converted to 4 kilocalories of usable energy, this equates to 2,000 calories of stored energy. Of this, around 400 grams, or 1,600 calories, are in your muscles and about 100 grams, or 400 calories of glycogen, are stored in your liver. (McArdle, Katch and Katch, n.d.)

So based on your muscle mass we can deplete the glycogen that is stored within your muscles.

We don’t want to eliminate glycogen completely as we will need some to compete along with your brain function needing some, but with a good bit of structure in competition week you can start to reduce small amounts of carbohydrates from your diet to deplete glycogen storage.

An estimated reduction would be around 0.5kg to 2kg from a carbohydrate reduction 3-7 days out of weigh-day.

Water

Water in the body.

And lets not forget sweat as well outside of the body.

We’ll talk about water retention first as we can manipulate this somewhat safely. It is under utilized, with most going in for the extreme end of sweating everything out first.

I must start by saying the body likes a term called homeostasis…

If one thing increases, let’s say your body temperature then your body acts in a way to reduce its temperature back to homeostasis, AKA a level playing field.

Some of you may be reading this thinking great I drink more I pee more, job done.

Technically you are right but it is more related to hormonal differences and the Aquaporin II channels that causes the more consistent urination.

As you increase fluid volume the Vasopressin hormone is decreased. This hormone holds onto water within the body.

As mentioned before, if the body feels an imbalance it likes to go back to homeostasis. To return back to homeostasis a message is sent to the aquaporin II channels, starting to allow more fluid flow out of the body.

If you keep on consuming fluid this process will continue.

What athletes will typically do, is follow this process up until 12 hours before weigh in with the hope that the Aquaporin II channels stay open and further fluid is lost by simply not drinking any more.

The issue is unfortunately we have no exact research studies other than the ones referenced in the section about the process.

We know a water loaded group of grapplers lost further mass in comparison to a non water loaded group of grapplers, but we have no indication as to how long the process would continue for in terms of excessive urination.

Some athletes respond well to the water loading process whereas others simply don’t.

My advice is to do a trial either with yourself or a professional to help guide you through it.

There are no set metrics of 6 litres 3 days out and 8 litres the next day and so on.

Trial these numbers (outside of comp week) 20ml/kg, 50ml/kg or 75ml/kg and take note.

It will add to that competitive advantage on the mat and have another estimation of 1kg removed from your overall mass.

Final note to add and is very important, in the test done with the grapplers no sodium was manipulated and the water loaded group still lost weight!

More research to be explored with sodium for sure.

(Reale, 2022)

SWEAT

The final section you will be pleased to read.

The sweat section, now it amazes me that out of all the above practices you have control over to manipulate the scale weight, roughly you are looking at a reduction 3-5KG with sweat.

Many jump to the most dangerous method of them all, intentional dehydration, I.E sweating.

Now there are multiple ways in which you get the human body to intentionally sweat:

  • Steam sauna
  • IR sauna
  • Bath
  • Sweat suit & exercise
  • Hot & spicy food (joking but can still induce precipitation)

Plus some other slight variations of the above.

The sole objective is to sweat baby sweat.

The human body can sweat up to 5% of its mass out in water. The appeal to many is the fact a higher percentage of mass can be manipulated at the last minute. Allowing for a poorly prepared athlete to make weight. The big issue being is this option comes at a big detriment, the dehydration cons are as follows; Diarrhoea, vomiting, lack of focus, headache/dizziness, muscle weakness, muscle cramps and a few more symptoms.

(Shaheen et al., 2018)

Now with a day before weigh-in event, you have plenty of time to rehydrate which is a technical process in itself. When we look at the time scales we have at a professional IBJJF event (20-30 minutes) there is simply not efficient time to be rehydrated fully, compete and hopefully get onto your next match.

The single concern you should be having at this point is, the fellow human in front of you about to stop your chances of getting that infamous double or in more recent events quadruple gold. 

Not that you may start vomiting in the match due to a nasty body triangle and dehydration.

Sorry for the doom and gloom segment but the sweating process should seriously be considered as the last option.

Whilst sweating there are considerations to be taken for safety purposes, such as how much you are losing in sweat, the colour of the sweat, the response of the athlete and so on.

However easy it may come across, the sweat process is only hindering your performance at this stage and if can be missed all together I would highly recommend it.

After all it’s not as if you now have a list of other methods to manipulate your weight with 😉

But that my jiu jitsu readers is my insight as your friendly neighbourhood nutritionist in how to prepare for a weight cut safely for a BJJ event.

As you have kindly read so far there are many options that can be taken to make weight in the lead up to an event and of course preferences on which methods to use depending on the time frame. 

The sole purpose of this blog is to open the eyes of many to safer more practical methods of weight manipulation than just simply the most extreme version of intentional dehydration.

As you can probably imagine I could have gone into further detail in all of the sections, like rehydration, exact caloric needs, post match refuelling but these will come in future blogs I can assure you.

Thank you very much for your time today and maybe I’ll see you on mat near you soon!

Ooos (If you’re new to BJJ then you might not get this)

Jay

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