Please note that everyone’s body is different, and there are many things that can work for some and not for others. The following tactics are used by professionals that have worked for them and/or their clients.
TITLE spoke with James Krause, an MMA fighter in the UFC with a record of 22-7, and Travis Conley, owner of Underground Gym, LLC, Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitor and strength and conditioning coach for L.C. Davis, to get their takes on the way fighters at every level can ensure they’re making their weight in the healthiest and most effective way. These two veterans of the game took us through their timelines for a fighter from general training to camp to weigh-ins.
“There is no quick fix to cutting weight. You have to prepare and give yourself time so you’re not destroying your energy levels before a fight,” says Conley.
To be a fighter, you have to live the life of a fighter. All the time. We all have cravings, cheat meals, etc., but you have to be disciplined. So when you’re not under contract or agreement for a fight, make sure you’re staying in the shape you need to be in when that call comes for a fight. At the lower rungs of professional fighting you never know when that opportunity will come and you don’t want to be scrambling to make weight. That will only hurt your performance.
“If you make your life a routine outside of camp, then it makes the cut ‘easy,’” says Krause. “It still sucks, but it’s bearable, safe and calculated, so starting camp in shape helps a ton.”
“Eliminate your processed foods and refined sugars. Make sure you’re eating lean proteins, tons of vegetables and healthy fats (nut butters and nuts) which are great for energy,” says Conley.
It shouldn’t need to be said but the effort you put into your diet should be equal to the effort you’re putting forth in the gym. But everyone in the game has seen fighters come in totally drained from rushing the cut at the end or overweight because they didn’t commit to their nutrition plan…or didn’t have a solid one in the first place. If you start and commit to a research backed nutrition plan as soon as the fight is agreed (or even better yet if that’s just the way you live as a serious fighter), then you can make the process longer and easier on your body.
“My first step is to start loading my body with water,” says Krause. “I’m not overloading. I’m just hydrating myself to the point where it’s creating a reserve for later and I also start my clean eating.”
In addition to a nutrition plan for cutting weight, Conley uses interval and metabolic training to make sure his trainees get the most out of their workouts.
“Running for an hour is hard on your joints. Sprints, stairs, high intensity training for 30 seconds followed by a 30 second rest is a much better workout for building muscle, not breaking it down,” says Conley.
“Because of my water dump at the beginning, I don’t rush at the end to drop all my weight,” says Krause. “I cut my water/food portions and sodium starting the Sunday of fight week and the weight just falls off. Because of the extra gallons of water I put in throughout camp, all I’m losing is excess water weight meaning I don’t ever have to do the sauna or hot tub.”
The science and process behind a fighter’s weight management can make all the difference when it comes time to step on that scale. Like Krause before weigh-ins, the routine can and should be so precise and measured that no desperation pounds have to be lost.
“The complications and big last second cuts can be avoided,” says Conley. “It’s very easy. It just takes being informed and dedicated.”
A common theme in the world of fighting (other than those competitions with same day weigh-ins) is for the fighter to gorge themselves after successfully making weight. That doesn’t mean all fighters go out and grab fast food, but whether it’s a greasy hamburger or just bigger portions than you’re used to eating, the sudden uptick can be detrimental.
“It’s not beneficial at all to binge eat after weighing in,” says Conley. “Your body can’t acclimate itself that quickly from a 5-8 week diet.”
This just takes logic. After practicing detailed portion control throughout camp to get yourself in the best possible shape, your body is used to certain nutrients at certain times in certain amounts. So throwing any sort of wrench in that routine can hurt your performance when you step into the ring.
“I don’t even look at a menu when we go eat after I’ve made weight,” Krause says. “My trainers pick for me, because they’re going to pick for the next night’s performance…not my taste buds. Taste buds don’t mean sh*t when you’re getting your face pounded on.”
General Tips from Conley and Krause
Travis Conley, owner of Underground Gym, LLC.
Conley - “Don’t be someone that has to be babysat.”
Krause - “Hold yourselves accountable. If I mess around in camp and don’t take it seriously it could be the difference between missing and making weight. I promise you the guys that cheat on themselves wish they wouldn’t have when they’re in the sauna.”
Conley - “A big misconception is that you have to starve yourself. You don’t. You adjust your micronutrients and your timing.”
Krause - “If you want to be able to prove yourself, take advantage of opportunities and make a career/living out of it then you have to make it a total lifestyle.”
Krause - “Be smart. Surround yourself with people who can help you make decisions. A fighter wants to fight, but there needs to be someone who can emotionally detach themselves to make sure that a) you’ll be able to make weight in a safe way and b) be able to perform at a high level.”
James Krause, UFC Fighter, photo via BJPenn.com.