Weight Cutting for MMA & Combat Sports
Information for Fighters & Nutritionists
Here you will learn the scientific approach to fuelling performance and cutting weight for MMA, boxing and other combat sports. This textbook will allow you to know exactly how to:
- Customize a weight cutting for MMA protocol
- Set-up an athlete's diet so that they perform at their best in every training session
- Design pre- and post-training meals to maximize recovery
- Decide on what MMA weight class is right for you
- Make weight without using ineffective, unscientific fads
- Pick only effective and legal supplements
- Rehydrate and refuel optimally after your weigh-in
Understand the Details of Cutting Weight for MMA
Making Weight is the ultimate educational resource for anyone looking to learn about the evidence-based strategies of fuelling MMA athletes and managing weight cuts safely and effectively.
Whether you are a MMA athlete, coach or sports nutritionist, you will be able to learn how fighters can take control of their nutrition, cut weight effectively and set themselves up for their best in-cage performance.
The book provides all the details behind how to apply this, which is especially important if you are a coach or nutritionist working with combat sport athletes who need to make weight and win.
If you're looking to understand how to cut weight at a deep level, then this is the resource for you. The strategies mentioned in this guide are those based on both the best current scientific evidence, as well as being the exact strategy used with athletes in the UFC, Bellator, and several other top MMA organizations around the world.
Understand everything you need to know in order to customize your own weight cut protocol and fuel your workouts.
Making Weight is a step-by-step blueprint of how to use science when cutting weight for MMA.
Now there is no reason to leave anything to chance. You can go into a weigh in knowing everything will run smoothly, rather than worrying over those final few pounds. No more disasterous cuts, no more stressful weigh ins, and no more dangerous, pseudoscientific protocols!
Cut weight safely and effectively using science!
Plan the Diet Phases for MMA
Phase 1: Fuelling Training & Recovery Nutrition
In this first phase, the focus in on how to implement nutrition, hydration and supplementation strategies that will optimally fuel workouts, maximize recovery and allow fighters to weigh what is the best “walk-around weight” for them.
This phase is one of the most underappreciated, yet most crucial for fighters. The focus on building strong nutrition habits that allow every training session to be entered with the best preparation.
Given the training workload of the modern day MMA athlete, a rock solid diet is vital. Maybe you have a Muay Thai session in the morning and then need to recover in time for a grappling session that evening. This leaves little room for making mistakes with your nutrition if you want to be optimally recovered.
In order to sharpen the skills required to improve performance, fighters need to be able to complete many workouts at their best, over and over again. Doing so with a poor diet just isn’t possible.
So in Making Weight, you will be guided through exactly how to design your day-to-day diet that will fuel your training year-round.
Phase 2: The Fight Camp
Whilst many fighters may no longer do a typical “fight camp”, this phase simply relates to the time period leading up to a fight when the athlete needs to gradual diet down to bring their weight from their “walk-around weight” down to something closer to competition weight.
In Making Weight, you are shown how to dial in your diet strategy to begin the weight making process, without negatively impacting your performance in the gym.
This will require making sure that you have an appropriate dietary intake to still perform well in all your workouts, despite having to diet on less calories. It will be vital that an appropriate rate of weight loss is set in order to both fuel workouts and to get to a weight that is close enough to make the final acute cut in phase 3 safe and effective.
Phase 3: The Fight Week Weight Cut
In this phase, weight has to be acutely cut in order to make competition weight. This is the phase that most people associate with cutting weight. This phase will include manipulating glycogen, electrolyte intake, body water and gut residue, in order to rapidly decrease scale weight.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of poor and dangerous advice typically given on this topic. Either they use unnecessarily low calorie or low carbohydrate diets, or they require too much water weight to be cut in the sauna or hot bath. The result is that fighters may make weight, but at best, they feel depleted in the fight, or at worst, they are hospitalized with severe negative impacts on their health.
Making Weight educates you on the strategies that are likely the safest to use in order to cut weight, whilst ensuring that your weight cut is predictable and smooth. The system walks through how weight can be cut acutely, and how to ensure any weight cut is made as safe as possible.
The additional tools and spreadsheets that you get with this system, allow you to map out how much weight you should cut based on your own context (weight class, competition type, etc.).
Phase 4: Rehydration & Refuelling
How to Cut Weight: Common Quetions
How Do We Ensure a Smooth Weight Cut?
In order to have a stress-free, smooth weight cut, it’s crucial to have the athlete within a certain distance from the weight they need to make.
Typically, I have an upper limit set for a MMA athlete for about seven days before weigh in. By this point I'd want to see them with no more than 8-10% of their bodyweight to lose.
If the athlete is much heavier than this a week before weigh in, then either; a) they haven't given enough time to diet down appropriately, or b) they are in the wrong weight class.
It's counter-productive to cut so much weight that you have to pull out all stops to barely make weight. As in such cases, it won't be possible to perform to your best on fight night.
But the exact amount of weight to cut for MMA that equates to best performance will be very individual. For any particular fighter it could be 5kg (11 lbs), 7kg (15.4 lbs) or even more than 10kg (22 lbs), depending on the weight class and how that individual fighter reacts to that cut.
From this point, there are going to be several factors I take into account before deciding on the precise details, such as:
- What sport is it? – MMA? Muay Thai? Boxing?
- What weight class is the fight at?
- How much does this fighter cut usually?
- What’s their game plan for the fight?
- How has the fighter responded to previous cuts?
- What type of diet has the fighter been eating up to this point?
Understanding how all these factors impact the risks and rewards of cutting weight is crucial in order to determine how much an individual should cut weight.
What Methods Can Be Used to Cut Weight?
As is discussed in detail in Making Weight, when thinking about making weight for a fight, a longer term view should be taken; with year-round body composition management and a gradual dieting period both crucial.
However, leaving those aside for the moment, the final "acute cut" that occurs in the final 7-10 days pre-competition is what is most often associated with weight-cutting.
Everyone hears in the media about various UFC athletes who cut X amount of pounds in a number of days. And unfortunately, sometimes people inaccurately assume being able to cut large amounts of weight in those final few days is a good thing. Often it is not, as is discussed in the book.
However, there is a lot that can be done in the days leading up to a weigh-in that can rapidly drop scale weight that having nothing to do with "dieting" or fat loss. Namely, we can alter a fighters weight by manipulating:
- Body Water - Here we can use strategies such as water loading, water restriction, sodium restriction, and induced sweating, in order to lose water weight. However, there are negative side effects and health risks posed by these cutting strategies, so using them appropriately and sensibly should be a priority.
- Glycogen Levels - The body stores carbohydrates in the liver and muscle. By depleting glycogen stores we can lose the weight of the glycogen, along with the water that is attached to glycogen molecules. However, the use of such a cutting strategy depends on how long there is between weigh in and competition, as we need to be able to replenish carbohydrate stores before the fight. So being able to plan this approriately is of the upmost importance.
- Gut Residue - There is undigested food and fibre in the intestinal tract, that of course has weight. Through some specifc dietary changes for 2-3 days pre-weigh in, this residue can be decreased. This requires knowing which high-fiber foods to avoid, and how to ensure they are replaced with nutritious options. This cutting strategy can lead to a drop of 0.5 - 1.0+ of bodyweight over those few days.
So what strategies are used?
The strategies that will be effective for rapid weight decrease are:
- Water loading followed by water restriction - Although used in various forms for a long-time, there are now cutting strategies that have been shown to be effective in research studies. Head of Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute in Shangai, Dr. Reid Reale, published a study on water loading and restriction in BJJ athletes. Using such evidence-based protocols, the Sigma Weight Cutting System explains how this translates into practice and what it looks like in terms of acutal fluid intake.
- Carbohydrate restriction - In order to reduce glycogen stores in the muscle, a carbohyrate-restricted diet can be used in the final acute phase. Timing this approriately is crucial so that training performance isn't harmed in the lead up to the fight. Doing this, whilst replacing the lost calories is also important.
- Low-residue diet - As mentioned above, a low-residue diet for 2-3 days is a virtually risk-free way to drop 0.5 - 1.0% of body weight before competition.This can be done by cutting fibre intake down to low levels.
- Induced sweating - This cutting strategy carries significant risk, especially if done incorrently or used to cut too much weight. Depending on the individual athlete, the type of competition and other factors, some pounds of water weight may be lost using a sauna, hot baths, or exercise. It is crucial that people are aware of the risks and plan effectively to avoid the dangers this can pose if done recklessly.
- Other - Other hypothesised cutting strategies, such as changes in sodium or creatine intake leading up to the weigh in, are discussed in the book.
About the Authors
Danny Lennon has a master’s degree (MSc.) in nutritional sciences and is the founder of Sigma Nutrition.
Sigma Nutrition is a company that creates evidence-based educational content about nutrition science.
Danny is the long-time host of the popular podcast Sigma Nutrition Radio and is also a respected educator in the field, presenting at conferences all over Europe, the United States, and Australia.
Outside of his nutrition science work, Danny is a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and avid MMA fan.
Jordan Sullivan, MDietSt
Jordan Sullivan, MDietSt
Jordan Sullivan is a registered sports dietitian and the founder of The Fight Dietitian (TFD).
Jordan’s academic back- ground includes a Masters of Dietetic Studies (MDietSt) and an undergraduate degree in Exercise & Nutrition Science.
Jordan has been the performance dietitian for several years to Israel Adesanya, Alexander Volkanovski, Leon Edwards, Dan Hooker, Kai Kara-France, and many other well-known names.
TFD’s client list includes UFC world champions, Olympians, and many international and national champions, across a range of combat sports.