Making Weight in Combat Sports

Wrestler Making Weight by checking weight on a balance scale

Here’s a breakdown from a recent journal article I read regarding making weight…

The authors begin by stating what, to us, seems obvious. They state that many combat sport athletes/wrestlers strive to compete in the lightest weight class possible. Further, they suggest that it is believed that this will result in an advantage of size, strength, speed, power, etc.

When getting down to weight, there are both short-term and long-term strategies that are used. Most often this results in severe caloric restriction and/or dehydration.

With the combination of decreased caloric intake along with dehydration, there is an increased risk of infection. Additionally, mood and bodily functions become impaired.

That, in combination with increased cardio (from running to sweat) and dehydration from sweating (from saunas, hot tubs, etc.), may cause serious injury and, in unfortunate cases, death.

With the risks in mind, the primary focus of this journal article is to offer strategies to promote weight loss and making weight in the safest way possible.

Workout Guidelines

According to the authors, it is now generally accepted that burning fat during exercise is largely influenced by the availability of carbohydrate.

It is also important to keep in mind that fat storage in your body is increased with each meal throughout the day. The authors cite research that suggests this is probably the result of insulin increases.

As a result, fat storage after dinner is greater than when compared to breakfast or lunch.

In order to minimize the effects of this, it is suggested that the total training for a day be spread out. If possible, over the course of a number of sessions (2 or 3 sessions as opposed to one long session).

Obviously your school and/or work obligations impact your schedule a lot, but do your best to follow this suggestion as often as possible.

When put into practice, following this schedule is often seen in the form of:

1. An early morning cardio session (sometimes on an empty stomach with the primary goal of fat burning).

2. A mid-day wrestling session (usually mid-afternoon for most high schools and colleges).

3. An evening strength and conditioning session or another wrestling practice.

Nutrition Guidelines

When designing a meal plan there are a few key focuses to keep in mind- timing, quantity, and macronutrient breakdown.

Because timing plays a pivotal role, scheduling meals around the structure of daily training sessions is of first priority. This will ensure adequate energy, recovery, and body composition changes (gain muscle, lose fat) are achieved.

As far as proper macronutrient breakdown, the authors suggest a diet centered around reduced carbohydrate intake as the day progresses (but not a zero carb plan). Additionally, they suggest a reduced intake of saturated fat.

“In fact, there is now a growing body of literature from our laboratory and others demonstrating that training in conditions of reduced carbohydrate activity actually enhances the oxidative capacity of skeletal muscle, as opposed to traditional guidelines surmising that daily training should be supported with high carbohydrate intake.”

WHEN carbs are consumed with a meal, low glycemic (slow burning) options are your best choice. This is especially important at meals that don’t immediately follow a workout/training session. This helps to minimize the effects of insulin and improves your chances to reduce body fat.

The authors also cite research that showed fat burning in the body was reduced by 30% over the course of an 8-hour post-training period when carbohydrates were consumed before exercise as opposed to after!

As a result, the authors recommend that if you’re looking to maximize fat loss, you should focus on eating your last meal several hours before a training session. Additionally, if there are carbs in the meal, make sure they’re as low on the Glycemic Index as possible.

By following a lower carbohydrate diet, the odds of entering a training session with glycogen stores that are not maxed out is common. While this isn’t a big deal, it does increase the chances of amino acid (protein) breakdown in the body in an effort to supplement your body’s energy needs.

As a result, the authors suggest increasing protein intake in the diet to minimize/prevent any muscle loss. Additionally, I recommend supplementing with Beta-alanine, which is proven in research to prevent muscle loss in wrestlers over the course of a season.

“In fact, we and others have shown that elevated daily protein intake can maintain lean mass even in the face of high daily training energy expenditure and when daily carbohydrate intake is reduced.”

Where protein supplements are being used to support daily protein intake, it is also worth using a supplement that is both casein and whey based. This helps to minimize the effects of insulin on fat storage (caesin impacts insulin less). You will also experience increased feelings of satiety (you feel fuller, longer because caesin is slower digesting).

Based on the experience of the authors (who have designed a number of nutrition plans for various combat athletes), they have found that daily carb intake should be between 2-5 g/kg body weight.

Additionally, fat intake should be between .5-1 g/kg of body weight.

Finally, although current guidelines for daily protein intake are regularly debated on, when it comes to making weight, the authors have found that 2-2.5 g/kg of body weight tends to do the best when it comes to preserving muscle.

Dehydration Guidelines

In the case of wrestling, where a dual meet or tournament begins after 1 or 2 hours after weigh-ins, severe dehydration may prevent you from attaining an optimal state of hydration. Ultimately, this could lead to a decrease in your performance.

Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the training and diet before the weigh-in be as optimized as possible. This helps to minimize or eliminate any last minute dehydration that needs to take place in order to make weight.

Case Study

The authors also detailed their personal experience implementing a lot of the principles above while working with a professional boxer who once fought at 57 kg (featherweight) and was looking to move up to a new weight class of 59 kg (super featherweight).

Over the course of a 12-week training camp, the boxer followed a daily diet with total calories approximately equivalent to his RMR (resting metabolic rate). The diet had a macronutrient breakdown of 40% carbohydrate, 38% protein, and 22% fat.

On average, the boxer lost .9 ± .4 kg per week over the course of the 12-weeks. In total, he lost 9.4 kg.

Additionally, as a result of the regimented plan, the boxer decreased his body fat from 12.1% to 7.0%.

Over the 30 hours between weigh-ins and the fight, the boxer ate a high carb diet (12 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight). He also followed a rehydration program that was not detailed in the case study.

The result of his refueling/rehydration program was a fighting weight (weight he stepped in the ring at) of 63.2 kg; an increase of 4.2 kg (9.2 pounds).

Following that fight, the boxer improved his food choices outside of fight camp. As a result, he now begins training camps no more than 5 or 6 kg over his weight.

Because of this dedication outside of camp, he is able to make weight in a shorter period of time (which means he follows a lower calorie diet for a short time frame before the fight).

Ultimately, he’s able to minimize the weight that needs to be dehydrated off to only 1-1.5 kg before a weigh-in.

Here’s a sample day when the boxer is in fight camp:

6:30-7:15am: Moderate-intensity steady-state run with an empty stomach. The goal is to maximize fat burning.

7:30am: Mod carb, mod protein, low fat breakfast. The goal is to promote recovery, protein synthesis, and some replenishment of glycogen.

10am: Low carb, mod protein, low fat snack to promote glycogen and protein synthesis.

11am-12:30pm: Sport-specific training session.

1pm: Mod carb, mod protein, and low fat lunch. Same goals as breakfast.

4pm: Moderate protein intake to stimulate protein synthesis.

4:30-5:30pm: Strength and conditioning session.

5:30pm: Mod carb, mod protein, low fat snack. Same goals as breakfast.

7pm: Low carb, mod protein, low fat dinner to promote protein synthesis (and minimize fat storage common in the evening).

10pm: Mod protein intake to promote protein synthesis.

*All meals and training sessions include “appropriate fluid intake”.

Paper Referenced

Langan-Evans, C., G. Close, J. Morton. Making weight in combat sports. Strength and Conditioning Journal. 33(6), 25-40. 2011.

A picture of Kyle Dake and Dickie White.
Hi, I’m Dickie (the author of this blog). Here I am with my good buddy, Kyle Dake. While he doesn't have a nice coat like me, he is pretty good at wrestling. Here's what he said about my training system:

Before I began lifting using Dickie's system my wrestling skills were getting slightly better. I've now been lifting under his guidance for more than 5 months and I have begun to dominating ALL of my competition. At first I had little faith in Dickie and his program, but now I would run into a wall if he told me I would get stronger! I know it sounds insane, but I would. The bottom line is Dickie is an expert and knows what he is talking about. If you want to defeat those kids whom you've always lost to and reach a level you never thought possible, I suggest you start lifting using Dickie's system immediately.

-Kyle Dake, 4X NCAA Division 1 National Champion
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Want to see what other wrestlers are saying about my training system? Check out my Success Stories page.

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Want to learn more about Dickie? Check out my About page.

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Want to get started on a program today? Read this post and download your free program- 12 Week Training Program For Wrestlers.

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