Regardless of your competitive goals in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, if you plan to compete at all, you need to understand the basics of cutting weight vs losing weight to decide if it is worth cutting down to a lower weight class. This article breaks down everything you need to know about weight cutting for BJJ including the benefits, risks, best practices, and the difference between cutting weight and losing weight. Let’s dive in!
WHY DO COMPETITORS CUT WEIGHT FOR BJJ?The basic idea of a weight cut is that for weight-class sports such as wrestling, MMA, and BJJ, you will have an advantage by being on the bigger end of whatever division you compete in. Most divisions have an acceptable weight range of 10 to 15 pounds – in theory, the closer you are to the top end of the cut-off, the more mass you can bring to the fight, which should give you strength and weight advantage. The idea of cutting weight is to drop a bunch of “scale weight” leading up to the event – which mostly consists of food and water in your body, to come just under the upper limit of your weight class.
After weigh-ins, you will re-feed and rehydrate back to your “normal weight,” which is typically 2 to 15 pounds above the cutoff of your weight class for most BJJ events. Though it’s important to note that all organization’s weight-in schedules are different. For example, in IBJJF tournaments you weigh in immediately before your bracket’s scheduled fight time. This doesn’t leave much time to properly hydrate. In a perfect world, you are now competing in a division against people who are truly 5 to 10 pounds lighter than you if they did not cut weight. At the very least, you will not be on the losing end of that equation.
CUTTING WEIGHT VS LOSING WEIGHT: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
The terms cutting weight and losing weight are frequently used interchangeably, although they are not the same thing.
Losing weight refers to the process of shedding body fat and sometimes muscle as a result of eating fewer calories than you burn. Traditional weight loss programs target this type of weight loss – in fact, most of the time, “weight loss” really means “fat loss,” since most weight loss programs are meant for health and aesthetic goals, not simply to be skinny and malnourished with no muscle. Traditional weight loss/fat loss is accomplished by reducing overall caloric intake and increasing physical activity over extended periods of time such as weeks to months. For fat loss, losing a pound of weight per week is considered a good, sustainable rate of loss. This requires a daily caloric deficit of around 500 Calories to see a pound of fat loss in a week. At this rate, losing 10 pounds should take roughly 10 weeks. Note that during traditional weight loss, your water weight will fluctuate daily and you may “lose” more or less than a pound per week on the scale, but the underlying loss of fat is the mechanism we actually care about in that instance.
Cutting weight is a different process altogether. When cutting weight, the goal is to sweat out as much water from your body as you can while also reducing the weight of the food in your digestive tract leading up to your weigh-in. Typically, athletes begin a “weight cut” about 10 days out from an event, with the final 3 to 5 days comprising the bulk of weight-cutting activities. Weight cutting strategy generally revolves around reducing carbohydrate and salt intake while drastically increasing sweat output by using a sauna, sweatsuit, and extended periods of medium-intensity training to sweat as much as possible. The closer to the competition, the more focus is on the sauna and low-impact sweating activities to avoid any last-minute injuries. While some minor fat loss may occur as a side effect of the increased activity and potentially reduced caloric intake, the goal of a weight cut is to be under the weight cutoff when you step on the scale before fueling back up for the final preparation. A keynote on cutting weight is that you really need the weigh-ins to occur the day prior to fully rehydrating if you cut more than a few pounds. This is why professional fights typically weigh in the night before – that way athletes can get IV drips and whatever resources they need to physically recover before the fight.
Weight cutting takes a major toll on the body, and if you do not properly refuel immediately after, your physical performance will suffer. If you are cutting weight with just a few hours or even minutes between weighing in and competing, you will not be physically capable of performing to your maximum potential in the event.
SHOULD I CUT THE WEIGHT FOR BJJ?
Now you have had a brief look at the differences between cutting weight and losing weight, you’re probably wondering, should I cut weight for BJJ? The answer really depends on which tournament you are doing, the structure and timing of weigh-ins, and how it fits into your medium and long-term competition goals.
CUTTING WEIGHT FOR YOUR FIRST BJJ TOURNAMENT
If this is your first BJJ tournament, you should not concern yourself with a complicated weight cut. Even if you have 24 hours, there is too much going on the first time you compete to have this added stress. Unless you are already experienced with cutting weight for a wrestling or another sport, focus on your gameplan, technique training, and having fun the first few times you compete. In terms of picking a weight class, your best bet is to eat a light but nourishing dinner and see where your weight is the next morning, then sign up for whatever weight class you fall into. Often, eating a heavy meal full of carbohydrates and salt can add 5 or more pounds of water and food mass, which in itself could bump you up a full weight class. Previous disclaimers aside, if you are right on the cutoff and can drop a weight class by just eating a light meal, that will typically make your tournament experience far more enjoyable. On the other hand, if eating a light meal still puts your pounds above the cutoff, just focus on the tournament this time around. If you are competing in a gi tournament, you’ll most likely need to weigh in with your BJJ GI and belt on. This is often an overlooked aspect of weight cutting, you will need to factor in 3-5lbs in additional weight for your gi.
CUTTING WEIGHT FOR SUPER FIGHTS & DAY-BEFORE WEIGH-INS
Super fights are a competition format where you and a single competitor have a 1-on-1 single match in a similar style as an MMA event, just with grappling. Typically these events have a day-before weigh-in and you only have a single match against your pre-determined opponent. In this case, cutting weight is more appropriate. You will agree upon a weight cutoff with the promoter and your opponent, and you are then responsible for making that weight. If you are doing a super fight, you are probably a bit further into your training, perhaps a blue belt or higher. At this point, you have a game plan and are not a first-time competitor, and it is appropriate to add weight cutting into your competition plan. The same can be said for tournaments that have day-before weigh-ins. Depending on the level of the event, you may decide cutting weight is worth it.
CUTTING WEIGHT FOR HIGHER-LEVEL TOURNAMENTS
Large tournaments such as ADCC may be worth cutting weight for. At this point, you are competing at the professional level and likely have at least one major weight cut under your belt. Often, weigh-ins occur on the same day, so you should know your body by now well-enough to decide exactly how much weight you can cut and still perform well on the same day. By the time you reach this point in your career, weight cutting will not be new and you probably have it dialled in.
HOW DO CUT WEIGHT FOR BJJ
So you’ve decided to do your first weight cut. Now what?
TRUE WEIGHT CUT
There is no one-size-fits-all formula for weight cutting, and you will likely need a few iterations before you dial your method in. Nevertheless, cutting 5-15 pounds of water weight is best achieved through the following:
- Increased water intake (1 gal+ per day) 3-5 days before weigh-ins, moderate salt and carbohydrate reduction
- Further increases to water intake (2 gal/day) when 2 days out from weigh-ins. Drastic salt and carb reduction.
- Stop water intake 1 day out from weigh-ins, no salt or carb intake
- Add sauna/sweat output throughout to keep water cycling
- On the final day of weigh-ins you shouldn’t have much at all unless you are already under your weight, your body will flush most of the water out since you have had no carb and salt intake.
- Rehydrate with electrolyte water, refuel with high glycemic carbohydrates, and get a good night’s sleep.
Cutting more than 10-15 pounds gets even more difficult and extreme and should only be done under the supervision of an experienced professional.
Pro tip: do a ‘practice weight cut’ before signing up for a tournament to gauge exactly how much you can realistically cut in a week.
AMATEUR WEIGHT CUTS
Although this isn’t technically cutting weight, if you are a hobbyist competitor looking for an advantage without the entire weight-cutting process, eating lightly the day or two before weighing in can be a quick and easy way to drop down 2-5 pounds and potentially land in the lower weight class. This only really works if you are close to the cutoff already but is worth mentioning as a theoretically in-between form of ‘cutting weight.’
DROPPING A WEIGHT CLASS
You sometimes hear about athletes “dropping a weight class.” This typically refers to the process of an athlete strategically losing weight and/or body fat leading up to a fight camp. This athlete will be cutting weight in the week before competition regardless, so the ‘dropping a weight class’ term really refers to getting the athlete to a low enough weight where a further cut into the next lower weight class is possible. For example, if an athlete can cut 15lb pounds from 170lb to make a 155lb division, then dropping a weight class would require them to lose an additional 10lb to walk around at 160lb and be able to cut down to 145lb. At a certain point, you can only cut so much weight in a week, so large weight class reductions will require longer-term strategies to walk around at a lower weight, to begin with.
THE DOWNSIDES OF CUTTING WEIGHT
Although cutting weight can give you a strategic advantage, there are some major downsides to cutting weight you should consider before signing up for your division.
1. CUTTING WEIGHT SUCKS
No ifs, and, or buts. Restricting carb, salt, and water intake to drop weight is not comfortable. Every cell in your body will scream at you and by the time you step on the scale you’ll be craving plain water more than pizza because of how dehydrated you are.
2. CUTTING WEIGHT CAN REDUCE PERFORMANCE
If you are 10+ pounds dehydrated and underfed, you won’t perform. Even a carefully planned refeed may leave you at 90% of your full potential, but this may be worth fighting a smaller weaker opponent.
3. THERE MAY BE A MONSTER IN THE LOWER DIVISION
The entire premise of cutting weight is to have easier opponents to beat. Often, especially at non-black belt levels in local tournaments, a player in a lower weight bracket might be far tougher than every bigger guy in the bracket above. Remember, Jiu-Jitsu is supposed to let smaller folks beat bigger folks with technique. Sometimes, the smaller technical opponent is much tougher than the larger stronger opponent. If this happens, you may have completely defeated the purpose of cutting weight.
CUTTING WEIGHT FACTS
The following are a couple of additional facts about cutting weight: Water is stored in muscle. The water you squeeze out during a cut is stored primarily in muscle tissue. Having more body fat does not mean you can cut more weight, as the body fat is basically ‘dead weight’ going into the cut and you can’t do much about it. Muscular, lean athletes can safely cut more weight on a pound-for-pound basis. It is not possible to lose pounds of fat in the week leading to the event A pound of fat stores roughly 3,500 calories. You would have to completely skip eating for days on end to lose fat at that rate, which has many other negative consequences. Depending on how much weight you need to cut, you may get away with just the sauna sweating or just manipulating nutrition. The more weight you need to cut, the more methods you will need to employ.
CUTTING WEIGHT FOR BJJ: THE BOTTOM LINE
Cutting weight is here to stay in combat sports. Although cutting weight is often the source of controversy, it is possible to safely cut large amounts of weight fairly quickly through dietary manipulation and increased sweat production. At the higher levels of BJJ, cutting weight is a must if you are trying to have every edge possible against the competition. Nevertheless, cutting weight should be carefully planned and is only worth doing in certain circumstances. If you are new to competing or on the fence about cutting weight, consider skipping the process until you have more experience under your belt – there is a good chance a person in the division below you will blow your entire bracket out of the water anyways. On a final note, if the thought of cutting weight stresses you out to no end – skip it. BJJ is supposed to be fun after all!