Disclaimer:

Your humble writer is here more humble. In fact, he’s just a shrug shy of total ignorance regarding this whole weight cutting thing–whose battle camps & academic tangles he encountered only just after agreeing to review a book on the subject.

Imagine you read a few clicks’ worth of info on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and then had to teach a seminar on it; moreover, imagine yourself tasked with explaining why said form of grappling was superior to, say, Greco-Roman or Russian Sambo.

If your imagination serves, you can imagine where I’m coming from. And if this here Epsom salt goes down easy enough, feel free to continue. Perhaps, like me, you’re a neophyte in the world of pedialyte and starve-to-scale and dehydration and the less-than-sweet science of macronutrient kinetics. If so, may this review be your first dip into the brine bath.

 

On Weight-Cutting & MMA:

Weight-cutting has been a major part of combat sports since the arrival of weight classes, which elevated the fairness of one-on-one competition and ensured that it was merit, more than meat, that determined the victor. In its youth, the UFC neglected those scales of justice in favor of a “no holds barred” model. “There are no rules,” read the organization’s tagline in the 90s. But the crowds who favored the “no rules” model were thin, and the critics who disfavored were vocal.

The David & Goliath matches, while sometimes encouraging (see UFC 1’s infamous first match, Gordeau vs. Tuli),unnamed seemed unsporting and carnivalesque when compared to boxing’s more regulated approach. And after UFC 12, the organization began integrating more & more weight divisions.

However, as in wrestling, MMA competitors found a way to shirk this system’s ideal physical equality. Since weigh-ins are scheduled the day before a fight, fighters can strategically shave pounds to slip into lighter classes, advantaging themselves against opponents with smaller frames.

The rationale is obvious: If two men of equal skill fight, the bigger, stronger man will usually win. Thus certain parities (and deficits) can be overcome by mass. A fighter need only remove weight for the weigh-in and return it for the fight.

This tactic, however, is as tricky as it sounds, and it’s not rare for fighters to miss weight (as happened twice in UFC 183) or to be so exhausted from a cut routine that they can’t compete (e.g. Renan Barao last August).

As the latter example probably tells, weight cutting can be dangerous. It takes extreme physical circumstances (which we’ll explore here in a sec) for the human body to be able to drop 10 lbs in 24 hrs.

 

Familiar Methods & Reasoning

Since weight-cutting is a game of physical extremes, it’s not surprising that many of the strategies involved in its play are onerous and painful, turning immediate pre-fight plans, which would seem like a good time (at least to the untutored) for relaxation, into self-inflicted ascetic torture-fests of religious proportions. Eating? Ha! Drinking? Ha! Bare comfort? Instead, it’s an afternoon attired in garbage bags dripping sweat in a sauna. Or it’s idling in a scalding bath of Epsom salts, which can dehydrate the body enough to help a fighter like Barao lose 22 lbs (not kidding) in 24 hours.

Such measures beg the question, Why not gradually lose the weight before the fight? The answer: Because you’ll inevitably lose muscle, along with the fat and water weight. I do have some experience with this. For instance, while doing some MMA training one summer I found that I was shedding a lot of weight. I went from 162lbs to 146lbs after only two months. It wasn’t just that I was a little out of shape to begin with; it was also the conditions of the training. We were in Las Cruces, New Mexico during the summer (typically 106F) in a tin garage-style gym sans air conditioner, all while doing high intensity cardio workouts.

At the end of the training, my heartrate and endurance were fantastic–my strength, not so much. I was faster, leaner, but also weaker. And when I tried heavy resistance training again, it was an uphill climb. While unscientific, this experience seems to parallel a lot of what I’ve read about gradual weight cut programs. If you want to maintain a higher muscle mass and still make weight, you’ve got to embrace the stark, day-before-the-scale cut.

 

The Weigh

Here’s where the book comes in. Dr. Nichole Teering’s The Weigh: The Ultimate Weight Cut Protocol for Mixed Martial Artists claims it’s possible to achieve a balanced cut, one that’s fairly gradual but that doesn’t result in reduced strength. As I mentioned before, I’m no PT nor kinesiologist, so my assessment here will be based on the book’s promise rather than practice.

Fortunately, because the method it offers boasts a lack of health risks (and since its practices are definitely more moderate, even to weight-cut dummies like yours truly), I can feel confident in suggesting right off the bat that it’s worth a try for any athlete who’s looking for a less dangerous cut alternative.

Teering’s guide is extremely accessible without being facile, using easy language while veering into science when it needs to provide the whys and wherefores–in other words, comprehensive but not ponderous. It’s 77 pgs long with large font and can be read cover-to-cover in an hour or two.

The cut method it proposes is gradual (four weeks in all), but, as Teering says, offers fighters a way to retain strength through a custom fit nutrition system (there’s a lengthy quiz the book uses to determine your metabolic oxidizer status) while losing weight. Here are the five phases of the book in summary:

  1. Nutrition Detox (2 weeks)
  2. Calorie Tapering (1 week)
  3. Five Day Water Load
  4. Moderate Salt Cut
  5. Nutritive Recovery

As I mentioned, Teering’s process looks like a happy medium for athletes who want to have greater strength but who don’t want to harm their bodies. Lately, the mixed martial arts community (even Joe Rogan) has been leveling criticism at austere cut techniques. By creating a protocol that is half diet, half informed weight cut, Teering’s The Weigh seeks to offer a safer tao for the sport.

About The Author

Paul French
Staff Writer

Paul French is a martial arts enthusiast currently residing in Cloudcroft, N.M. He's the former Managing Editor for the literary magazine, Puerto del Sol, and has had poetry published in Word Riot, Harpur Palate and Slipstream. Paul has trained in Karate, Muay Thai, Taekwondo and Jiu-Jitsu.