Friday, November 5, 2010

Cutting Weight -- Is It Safe?

Once, a friend of mine was cutting weight for a competition he planned to be in. He had to drop a lot of weight and ended up cutting 28lbs in two weeks, then 12 more two days before he was supposed to fight. Unfortunately, my friend couldn't get rid of the last pound. And, he got sick in the process. By the end, he was actually spitting blood.

He has cut weight before successfully. A lot of weight, like this. And was able to rehydrate before his fights and do perfectly fine. This was the first time I know of that things didn't go as planned.

But it all worries me. And it got me thinking: When does cutting weight become dangerous and how can you do it safely? Or better yet, should you do it at all?

Here's my personal (uneducated, largely inexperienced) opinion. I have only cut weight once and it was a minor amount. Only six pounds. I did it over the months leading up to the tournament and ended up staying at that weight ever since. But now, I have decided to just fight in the weight class where I actually am.

My reasoning is as follows:

1) Cutting weight is no fun. I like to eat.
2) I know that cutting too much weight weakens you. I like being strong.
3) Cutting weight is no fun. I like to eat. Did I already say that?
4) I think it is more fair if you fight at the weight that you actually are, instead of cutting weight for a tournament and then re-hydrating the night before the fight and coming into the actual fight several pounds heavier than you were at the weigh in.

I do have a couple of exceptions to my "no cutting" policy. If I am one or two pounds above the next weight class, I will drop down. One or two pounds is no big deal to lose in a healthy way. But much more than that, and I don't really like it.

What are your thoughts? Do you cut? What are the advantages and disadvantages? When does it become dangerous?

13 comments: said...

I agree with your 4 reasons. I LOVE food - my love affair with food is my main motivation for working out so hard.

Like you mentioned, my challenge is that my normal weight usually falls 1-2 lbs below or above the cut off. So if I jump up to the next category I'll most likely be one of the lightest in that division. My problem is that I get neurotic and tend to lose even more than I should.

I think cutting under 5 is okay. I'm no an expert, but in my opinion, any more can get dangerous.

BJJ Judo said...

Talk about your touchy subjects. I strongly agree with reasons 1 & 3 :) It really depends on how much weight you cut, over how long of a period of time and how you cut the weight. Cutting weight over a course of a couple of months is almost always fine. When I think of cutting I think of the person sitting in a sauna sweeting out the weight. I have heard 10% is safe but for a 200 pounder 20 pounds seems like an awful lot. I also know cutting weight the way you decribe your friend did it does long term kidney damage in a very short amount of time. My summed up opinion - What your friend did is not safe, 5 - 10 pounds is probably fine for just about anyone. From a competition standpoint I always thought the skinny guys were harder to fight than the big guys so I only drop weight classes if I am really looking to push myself. I dont consider dropping weight classes an advantage for the average BJJ tournament. A pro fight is a different story, but if you are not getting paid to fight it is probably not worth the risk. Sorry for the long comment

BJJ Cailín said...

What you described as losing 6lbs over a month is not cutting weight, that is dieting. Dieting and cutting are very very different.

I counsel many students to diet down to a lower weight class. For the majority of our students it is not only smart but actually healthier for them to watch their diet a little bit and drop 5-10lbs (or sometimes more) over a long period of time (a month or 2). If you diet for two months or more to a healthy weight for you, you will find that your body naturally acclimates to the new weight and as long as you don't go overboard eating afterwards, you can actually reset your "natural" weight. (I did this in 2007, resetting my weight at almost 15lbs lower than it had been over about a 2-3 month period.)

Cutting less than 5 lbs is generally not very difficult or unhealthy for a woman, a man can probably cut 10-15lbs fairly healthily (depending on his starting weight) in a short period. What your friend did does not sound healthy to me at all. Although it is not unheard of in our sport.

Whether or not it should be deemed "healthy" or "unhealthy" depends on how much weight one is cutting in reference to their current weight and how quickly they plan to lose it.

To cut "safely" most guys I know will diet for 1-2 months before the tournament/match, so that they are training as close to fight weight as they can. Then they drop the last 5-10lbs or so in the last 2-5 days. I'm not a medical practitioner so I don't know if this is the "best" way to do it, but it seems to work well for them.

SkinnyD said...

My view is a little skewed because my weight does not fluctuate unlike a lot of people. I don't like cutting. I'm stuck pretty solidly between 173 and 178 lbs. For me to lose weight I actually have to cut muscle, since I have abysmally low body fat. What's the point in cutting weight if it means cutting muscle? Also, eating healthily, working out and just being smart keeps me smack dab in the middle of my preferred weight class anyway. Thirdly, I feel that in some respects cutting weight is a bit of a cop-out. Sure, I don't want to be fighting some 300-pound monster, but BJJ is supposed to give me the technique to handle someone who is potentially heavier and stronger than me. I have no problem competing in my natural weight class for this reason, even if I'm at the bottom of the weight class.

Liam H Wandi said...

My fave are reasons 1 and 3!

I don't cut anymore. Bring it on!

SavageKitsune said...

You *know* when your tournaments are going to be. If you know you have a tournament on June 1, it's stupid to start worrying about weight on May 25, and doing insane things to your poor body. Give yourself months to safely and sanely lose the weight you want to lose.... in a way that's going to be sustainable. It's also insane to drop a bunch of weight right before a competition, immediately put it all back on again, and then wash, rinse, repeat for the next tournament. Just STAY at your healthy weight.

I gave myself about 5 months to lose 14.5 pounds (I'm only 5 feet tall, so that's actually a goodly amount of weight for me). I lost 10 of it at the rate of a pound or two per week. The tournament is in 8 days. Yeah, I could lose the remaining 4.5 in eight days if I *had* to.... but I am not going to do crazy *^&%. I want to treat my body right so that it will perform well for me at the tournament. So I'm just going to compete with the extra 4.5 lb. After this tournament is over, I'll have another four months till the next one, to slowly lose that remaining 4.5 lb if I really want to.

Tree Frog said...

Cailin is right.

Think about this: in a hard BJJ session you can lose anywhere from 4 to 7 pounds of sweat (hopefully no blood).

That's what "cutting" is intended to do - lose water weight quickly and then put it back on after the weigh-in.

I rehydrate with chocolate milk. Best post-workout recovery drink eva!

Deborah Clem said...

Hate cutting. HATE it. I weigh 150 pounds, but I usually cut before competition so I am solidly under the top of my class, (which is 152 pounds, for middle weight). Steamed broccoli and Bikram make the cutting process palatable.

I tried cutting down to light weight (under 141) one year, but to maintain that weight I had to cut my caloric intake so much I went stark raving mad. All steam and no cheese makes Dagney a grouchy little girl.

Laura said...

Like Dagney, I don't try to cut weight, I fight at medium heavy and I am usually the lightest and tallest in my weight class.

I only need to lose 6 pounds to fight at middle, but I don't want to stress about it.

Although, before my first tournament I would have been in heavy so maybe you could say that I have cut, but it has been permanent.

A.D. McClish said...

Wow, lots of great advice from you guys! I think it mostly mirrors what I was thinking.

But @BJJ Judo, I was wondering, why are things different if you're doing a pro fight? Are you saying it is more worth the risk since you are fighting for money?

J.B. said...

As a former wrestler, I have to agree with Cailin. There is "sucking weight" and "cutting weight" in the parlance of the wrestling room. Sucking weight means you diet over the course of the pre-season and get within reach of your goal weight, then before each tournament you cut the last 10% or so. Obviously the leaner you are the less weight you can suck, but you can still cut a ton. It doesn't really matter as most of the BJJ tournaments I've been to you have to weigh in just before you step on the mat, so there's no point in cutting much of anything.
Fighters are a different story, as long as they can get to the scale upright, they have a full day to recover. There's a bit of an arms race when it comes to weight cutting for fighters. It's a livelyhood, and while not entirely safe, neither is getting kicked in the head.
Regardless, what your friend did was dumb. Given that the Ultraheavy classes for BJJ have no cap, he had to be cutting at least 20% of his bodyweight, and probably more. No jiu-jitsu tournament is worth that.
Btw. great blog. I have been reading for a while, but first time commenting.

A.D. McClish said...

@ J.B.: I understand how fighters have a full day to recover and how it is more worth their risk. But even so, doesn't cutting that much weaken them? I wouldn't know. I have never tried to cut a large amount of weight.

J.B. said...

It depends.
If your cut is down to a science, and you're not having to beat yourself up too much to make the cut it isn't a big deal. If you start to get to the last few pounds and they're not coming off and you stress and strain to get the weight off, have to actually "train" the weight off rather than just sweat it off that can burn you out.
It's all a big head game. You sweat and worry about the cut, but once you make the cut, you leave it behind and get to the competition.