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Evidence Backed Strategies for Combat Sports / Weightlifters to use for Making Weight | Balance

Many sports use "weight tiers / divisions" to reduce the chance of an unfair advantage. As is the case with most things, we, as humans, push these classifications right to the edge.

Some athletes will undergo a significant, acute weight loss phase to attempt to enter into a lower weight tier/division. The thought being this may give them an advantage over others in that tier and improve their results / outcome of the event.

To achieve such a rapid weight reduction, athletes use a variety of methods such as: reduced liquid ingestion; use of humidity blouses and plastic suits; reduced energy intake; fasting one day prior to the weigh-in; reduced carbohydrate and fat intake. Other more aggressive, and potentially dangerous methods are also used, such as prolonged sauna use, vomiting, diet pills, laxatives and diuretics.

Rapid weight loss is common across combat sports as well as weightlifting sports and, in some cases, equestrian performance. It occurs in athletic groups irrespective of gender and younger athletes are now engaging in the practice.

Whilst the merits of "cutting down" to enter a lower weight class are debatable and it is unclear as to how truly successful this strategy is, this won't be our focus in this article. In respect of this issue, there are other athlete's who would more naturally fit into these weight categories and may be hard pressed increasing their weight / competing in a category less suited for them.

We realize that, regardless of whether we say "it is, or isn't better to attempt the drop down in weight category" athlete's will likely do it anyway. So, if they're going to do it anyway, we'd rather they do it more effectively (as inadequate recovery may increase injury risk and reduce performance).

We appreciate both sides of the issue and so this article is going to dive into the key strategies athlete's can employ to acutely lose body weight. As always, this will be from an evidence based perspective (and with athlete safety in mind).

Understanding the difference between a "weight cut" and a diet for fat loss

One of the fundamental things to understand surrounding an acute "weight cut" (AWC) is were the weight loss is actually coming from and distinguishing it from a diet focused at fat loss.

AWC is accomplished predominantly through; less food/waste in the gut, changes in body water and depletion of glycogen stores. A diet focused on losing fat is accomplished through; a calorie deficit (with diet composition contributing some importance to this, particularly if the goal is for greater retention of lean muscle mass).

Whilst they may be somewhat interrelated, one does not necessarily have to lose fat to lose weight. Shock! The short term, acute weight loss achieved through manipulation of body water, glycogen and food in the gut can be quite significant (with some athletes using these strategies to achieve more than 10% of total body weight loss).

Surprisingly, this is also how many popular diets achieve that extreme short term weight loss which they herald as being a miracle fix. Whilst there may be some fat lost, it's likely predominantly a combination of the aforementioned factors making up the majority of that weight loss.