The more important something is to us, the more we tend to obsess about it. It’s the human condition. Competitive fighters tend to take their lot very seriously, and as fight night approaches and the weigh-in looms large perspective tends to be lost and panic can set in. This really isn’t necessary, and any good sports conditioning coach should have his athlete ready and stress-free, with both his eyes set on just one thing – knocking his opponent senseless and emerging from the ring victorious and with head held high. In actual fact the practice of “making weight” for a weigh in the day before about should be seen by most fighters as a way to gain a distinct advantage come fight time. Screw it up and woe betide you, but get it right and you will be amazed at what can be done. There is massive potential for coming in under the weight limit and then loading up by anything from an extra 5-20lbs, making you one hell of a bigger and stronger animal!

Who Needs To Make Weight?

All fighters (indeed all sportspeople) who compete in classes with weight limits. Everyone wants to be the largest and most powerful man in their class and the best way to do this outside of the super heavy/heavyweight categories is to come in at the very top of the allowed weight limits. To do this raises the two main points of this article and the two main functions of “making weight”, namely longer term fat loss in order to be a lean and muscular machine, and short term water weight loss that can quickly be regained making a middleweight a super middleweight in just 24 hours.

Fat Loss Before a Fight

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into great detail about the intricacies of fat loss. Instead let’s keep it to this – common sense should always prevail and crash dieting is not the way to go. The myopic “bulk and cut” approach of many fighters is not merely archaic and unhealthy, it is also just plain wrong. In order to drop body fat quickly it is essential to have a significant calorie deficit, and what do you think this does to energy levels for training, and your ability to exert force and power in the ring? Not a lot, that’s for sure. Overtraining and over dieting are the bane of any athlete in any sport, so if you want to optimize your performance in the ring then the only strategy for fat loss is slow and steady.

Best practice in this regard suggests that a smaller fighter (sub 160lbs) should aim for approximately 1lb of fat loss every week, whereas the larger the man the nearer he can shoot to the 2lbs a week fat loss mark. The point here is that planning is paramount and staying near your best fighting weight at all times is an eminently sensible way to go.

Dropping Last Minute Water Weight

We have all seen fighters who are “too big” for their weight class and yet somehow they managed to weigh in just under the limit. They do this by dropping water weight, and the rest of this article will deal with the many ways you can best go about that. Bear in mind that water is one of the most abundant constituents of the human body, and 70% of your skeletal muscle tissue is made up entirely of H2O, so drop some of that (temporarily) and you will find that some fighters can lose a fair amount of transient, rapidly replaced bodyweight.

UP Fitness - Weight for Fight

A nice side effect of making weight is that you end up with a pretty decent physique!

The Water Weight Loss Process

The first part of the process is to drop the water from the muscle cells. You should be a maximum of 14lbs over your target weight (10lbs is the best). Anything more than this leaves the door open to dangerous dehydration practices, the least severe consequence of which would be a lost fight. Losing water is not as simple as mere fluid restriction, and the clever, informed fighter should be aware that a huge amount of the water inside his body, and almost all inside his muscles, is bound to carbohydrate molecules to make glycogen, a key source of energy for intense muscular contractions and anaerobic activities. Ergo, it should be obvious that if we drop carbohydrates and increase glycogen burning exercise we should shed water weight.

There are some simple, easy to follow strategies to safely drop water weight.

1. Training Strategies

Your overriding focus should be on fight preparation and ensuring that you are as sharp as possible for your time in the ring. However, I have found a good degree of success in getting fighters to safely drop a lot of water weight, weight that can all be rapidly regained post weigh in, by adding some new weight training protocols designed to strip glycogen from the muscle cells.

Now this approach does come with a word of warning – it should not detract from the most important aspects of ring training, and you should not burn yourself out doing this. I like to use this as a final bit of conditioning training where we replicate the intense, quick activity of a fight but with weight training protocols.

An example of how this might be done is that at the end of the day for the fifth through to the actual day before the weigh in we do glycogen depleting, super fast paced weight training workouts. Sessions are kept to a maximum of 45 minutes, rest between sets is minimal (nausea is common), and loads are kept relatively light with repetitions in the 15 range. We typically stop short of failure by a rep or two and use basic compound movements such as squats and deadlifts to work as many muscle groups as possible and deplete glycogen levels. Each day we would use different movements to really hit all the angles and patterns of motor unit recruitment.

A sample workout would look something like this:

A1) Barbell Squats with ankle extension
A2) Leg Curls
A3) Handstand Push Ups
(rest 2-3 minutes, repeat cycle 3-5 times)

B1) Snatch Grip Deadlifts
B2) Incline Bench Press
B3) Single Arm Rows
(rest 2-3 minutes, repeat cycle 3-5 times)

C1) Chin Ups
C2) Standing Dumbell Push Press
C3) Dips
(rest 2-3 minutes, repeat cycle 3-5 times)

You are not trying to create muscular damage here and getting sore won’t be a good thing, so the tempo should be 2 seconds negative (lowering of weight) and 1 second positive (raising of weight). Glycogen depleting is about moving fast between exercises and feeling the muscles “burn”. Do not rest between exercises with the same letters (eg A1, A2, A3).

2. Fluid Intake

Far, far too many misguided fighters try to drop water by restricting fluid intake for extended periods of time. This is both dangerous and severely deleterious to ensuring you hit fight time at peak energy and performance. It may seem counterintuitive, but what an informed athlete should do is to do the exact opposite, drinking lots of water for 4 days up to 24 hours before the weigh-in. By drinking 3 gallons of water per day (yes, 3 gallons, that isn’t a misprint) your body goes into flushing mode as the high intake causes a deregulation in aldosterone, the hormone that acts to conserve sodium and secrete potassium – the process that forces the body to “hold onto” water.

So drink like the proverbial fish until 24 hours before weigh-in and then cut ALL fluid intake. Your body will continue in water shedding mode, dropping bodyweight rapidly.

3. Food Intake

Carbohydrate control is the order of the day. Remember the mini physiology lesson from earlier in this article? Water binds to carbohydrate to create glycogen, so eliminating carbohydrate eliminates glycogen.

For 4 days prior to weigh in you should be eating a maximum of 75gms of carbohydrates, and only from green vegetable sources. Unless we are in drastic weight dropping mode I would always recommend replacing most of the lost carbohydrate calories with protein and good fat calories.

4. Sweating it out

Sweating out water weight can be a very effective way of getting under the weight limit. However, there is absolutely no need to do this at anytime other than 12-24 hours prior to weigh-in, as using a sauna/plastic suits can have a dramatic negative impact upon energy levels, plus there is only so much water you can wring from your body!

The optimal way to use a sauna, my own preferred method for dropping last minute water weight, is to sit in a dry sauna, coming out at regular 10 minute intervals to gauge weight loss.

One extra word to the wise here. Please don’t be tempted to follow that crazy MMA pre fight strategy of slathering yourself with make-up remover before jumping in the sauna. Yes, this will help you sweat more but it will also aggressively open up your pores to all the toxins in the make-up remover product. These are highly toxic and should be avoided at all costs. A little patience and a few minutes more in the sauna will get the same job done.

5) Advanced Techniques

Advanced techniques is a neat euphemism for pseudo legitimate tricks such as diuretics.

I will write this just once, but I want you to take this with the utmost gravity, prescription diuretics are just plain dumb. Yes, they will shed water weight like there is no tomorrow, but they will leave you exhausted, drained, and utterly spent with no chance of recovering in time for the fight. On top of this they are banned for a very good reason – a dehydrated fighter is dicing with death and is far more susceptible to incurring brain damage.

There is however, a safer option, and that is to utilize a natural herbal diuretic such as Taraxatone. This can be taken once at lunchtime and once in the evening the day before the weigh in.

Bowel Emptying – An Extra Trick to Drop Weight

The chances are that by a few days before weigh-in your stomach is going to be pretty empty already. However, given the fact that a lot of weight can be stored in the bowels a good trick to drop anything from 2-5lbs would be to use a natural, gentle laxative the night before the weigh-in. We all respond differently to different products, so my advice is always to got to a health food store and buy a few natural remedies and experiment months before the important day.

After the Weigh-In

It’s 24 hours before your big fight and you have just successfully come in at your target weight, the chances are that you’re not feeling at your most vibrant or powerful right now. Under eating, dehydration, and overtraining will do that to you!

Some fighters see this as a cue to go crazy and stuff as much food and drink down their gullets as possible. It hardly takes a genius to realize that this is not optimum pre-fight nutritional preparation. Indiscriminately “loading up” won’t work and will simply leave you feeling sluggish and bloated.

The best way to ensure that you get enough nutrients and fluid back into your system as quickly and effectively as possible is to start the loading phase by drinking your calories to ensure fast absorption and minimal digestion time. The table below lays out how we often load up our athletes, although do bear in mind that each individual responds differently and if you start to feel overly full, then by all means back off on the volume.

Time After Weigh In
Nutrient Intake/lb of Bodyweight
Intake for a 200lb man

0 hours (immediately after)
1gm carbs + 0.25gms protein
Carbs in the form of vitargo, protein from whey protein powder
50gms whey / 200gms vitargo powder

1 hour
0.5gms carbs (vitargo), 3 pieces of fruit (any fruit)
100gms vitargo powder + 2 bananas and 1 orange

2hours
0.5gms carbs (vitargo) + 0.25gms whey protein powder
50gms whey / 100gms vitargo

3 hours
0.5gms carbs (vitargo), 3 pieces of fruit (any fruit)
100gms vitargo powder + 1 banana and 2 oranges

5 hours
0.5gms carbs (vitargo) + 0.25gms whey protein powder, 1 piece of fruit
50gms whey / 100gms vitargo + 1 apple

7 hours
0.5gms carbs from solid food + small piece of solid protein
Chicken & rice

Thereafter eat every 2 hours unless sleeping. If you can’t sleep, then keep to the 2 hour timing.
0.5gms carbs from solid food + small piece of solid protein
Sweet potatoes + fish /
Fruit + yogurt

It is critically important that you focus on restoring your fluid balance. The carbohydrate drinks detailed above will help, but also you must drink a fair quantity of water – typically a minimum of 3 gallons. An easy way to assess your level of rehydration is through the colour of your urine – if it resembles maple syrup then you are still severely dehydrated. Drink until you have a clear urine stream and do not rely upon feeling thirsty as this is one the last indications of hydration levels.

One very advanced rehydration/glycogen loading strategy that I have used to great effect is the use of intra venous fluids. IV drips of glucose and BCAAs have the enormous advantage of getting the nutrients and fluid directly into your system in the most rapid manner possible. My mentor Charles Poliquin has told me of occasions when he has helped some men increase their bodyweight by over 20lbs in 24 hours with such strategies. However, be warned that these are only to be conducted under close medical supervision.

Final Thoughts On Making Weight For Fights

Remember the saying that luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Go ahead and use this advice, plan accordingly, don’t leave things to the last minute, and earn that lucky reputation that only the very best can hope for!

By Nick Mitchell, “London’s Best Personal Trainer” (Time Out London 2010).