It’s Thursday afternoon, you’re dying for a bite of anything- anything. Only one more day until you step on the scale and, finally, put that weight back on. But maybe that shouldn’t be your main concern.
Honestly, what do you worry about more: cutting weight, or bulking back up after the weigh in? I’m willing to bet that you said cutting the weight. Sure, that’s the stressful part, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
In a study of Division 1 college wrestlers, Yankanich, Kenney, Fleck, and Kraemer of the Pennsylvania State University found that the speed in which an athlete cut weight the week prior to an event had no effect on the hydration status following the cut (5). In other words, as long as you make the weight, what you do after is the important part.
Even though you’ve been “starving” yourself, you didn’t drop 15 pounds of fat in four or so days. By lowering or even cutting off your caloric intake, especially carbohydrates, you are actually first and foremost dehydrating the body. No significant change in lean body mass is going to take place in these few days. Couple that with the fact that you are cutting off water intake at least the day of weigh-ins, if not earlier, and you’re looking at some serious dehydration.
A fighter who walks at 165 pounds and fights at 155 pounds is dropping around 6% of his bodyweight- and most are dropping a lot more than that. One high level pro that works with Beyond Strength Performance walks at 165+ and weighs in at 135. That’s an 18% reduction in bodyweight.
Water is the largest component of the body, representing from 45-70% of a person’s body weight. Muscle tissue is approximately 75% water whereas fat tissue is about 20% water (1). That drawn-out, sunken in look that a fighter has before weigh-ins is visible evidence that his body is depleted of good old H20.
Performance in a Dehydrated State
There are substantial amounts of research available on the effects of performance in a dehydrated state. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning research on dehydration and rehydration found that “…Acute passive dehydration (less than or equal to 2% of body mass) decreased bench press 1RM of experienced male competitive power lifters by 5.6% (4).”
Notice that the study is for 1RM (one repetition maximum), not multiple repetitions. The effects on sustained activity: like the 3 or 5 minute rounds of a mixed martial arts event, are even more unfavorable. And that’s only a maximum of 2% dehydration. Compare that with findings from Ferguson and her team of researchers at The George Washington University that 3 weeks of caloric restriction and an overnight fast prior to testing showed “no significant changes in power output, revolutions per minute, HR, or V̇o2 during a 2-hour cycling time trial (2).”
Simply put, fluid replenishment is more important than food.
In my experiences working with mixed martial arts athletes, too many fighters look at the number on the scale and think they have to get it back up. While it is true that we need to reinstate lost weight, we don’t want to do it just any old way. Jones, Lopez, Cleary, Zuri, and Lopez, in another study on dehydration, found that “humans do not adequately replace sweat losses when fluids are consumed at will; most athletes replace only about two thirds of the water that they sweat off (3).”
Fluid intake needs to be calculated in order to fully rehydrate the athlete with the proper amount of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and water. Simply drinking until presumably satiated is not enough. Your body will tell you it’s feeling full long before it is replenished for optimal performance.
So before you hop off the scale and run to the nearest all-you-can-eat buffet, really think about the percentage of weight you’ve lost, the implications for your performance, and the fact that your body will tell you it’s replenished long before it truly is.
- Baechle, TR and Earle, R. Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics. 2000.
- Jones, Leon C., Cleary, Michelle A., Lopez, Rebecca M., Zuri, Ron E., Lopez, Richard. Active dehydration impairs upper and lower body anaerobic muscular power.
- Ferguson, Lisa M., Rossi, Kelly A., Ward, Emily, Jadwin, Emily, Miller, Todd A., and Miller, Wayne C. Effects of caloric restriction and overnight fasting on cycling endurance performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 23(2): 560-570, 2009.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22(2): 455-463, 2008.
- Schoffstall, James E., Branch, J. David, Leutholtz, Brian C., and Swain, David P. Effects of dehydration and rehydration on the one-repetition maximum bench press of weight-trained males.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 15(1): 102-108, 2001
- Yankanich, John, Kenney, Larry, Fleck, Steven J, Kraemer, William J. Precompetition weight loss and changes in vascular volume in NCAA Division I college wrestlers.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.12(3): 138-145, 1998.
Chris Merritt is the co-founder of Beyond Strength Performance, received his B.S. in Kinesiology from the Pennsylvania State University, and has a multitude of certifications that say he can regurgitate information to pass a test. The important thing: Chris Merritt gets results. He has countless mixed martial arts athletes whom he coaches and consults with to help make weight and turn right around to perform optimally when it matters.