Insights into Weight-cuts

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Weight cuts are always a gruelling process and if not done correctly, can result in serious physical complications. For Women, weight cuts are biologically more challenging than it is for men. We caught up with Tricia Yap, MMA fighter, Co-Founder at Warrior Academy, Sai Yin Pun
& Adidas HK ambassador for her take on weight cuts.

1.What are the most important things to consider during this cutting process?

Your current body composition (lean muscle mass versus fat mass), your nutrition, your training regime, lifestyle, sleep, energy levels and your overall wellness. Also, the time between weigh ins and the fight, whether the weigh in and fight requires travelling overseas, and what rules there are around the weigh in.

2. How much time should a Martial Artist give themselves for cutting weight

Depending on how much weight they need to cut down to, but I prefer having between 8-12 weeks notice to assist as a coach.

3. How much weight is too much weight to cut.

This would depend on your body composition and also time between weigh in and fight, but given a 24 hour weigh in time before fight, about 10% of body weight is my personal benchmark when it comes to weight cuts. Any more than that, and one would have to be very careful. Men at heavier weights can and do cut a lot more, but for women, it’s not my preference to do so.

4. What is your opinion on cutting weight in general?

Firstly, I’d like to point out the difference between fat loss and weight cuts. The latter is a very short term thing and involves a process of not just glycogen depletion from muscle but also whereby concentration levels of sodium and water in the body are manipulated, and perhaps some “cleaning” out of the gut to result in a decreased weight on a scale. The former – fat loss – is exactly what most MMA athletes should be doing before they even do a weight cut; i.e. stay lean throughout the year because unlike some sports, MMA doesn’t have an off season or game season.

Stop starving yourself to cut weight. It hampers your performance at training and when it comes to fight day, you may not have the gas to last the rounds. Stop donning sweat suits and running miles at steady state for “cardio” to lose weight. Not only does this strip muscle if you overdo it, you are training yourself to be slow. Stop sitting in saunas and shadow boxing to dehydrate yourself to a point where your performance is affected or worse still, cause damage to your health or cause death. None of my fighters will do this, and so far, none of them have missed weight or walked into a ring or cage with no energy.

Fight in a reasonable weight class as opposed to trying to weight cut huge amounts of weight. If you are cutting down several weight classes from your walking weight, consider that you will be a different fighter at 75kg versus 62kg – so think twice before you embark on dropping so much weight notwithstanding the risk you put your health at.

5. What are you main words of caution or advice for athletes that need to undergo a weight cut.

First and foremost: Be careful with your nutrition as a fighter – carbs are not your enemy. The number of fighters and irresponsible coaches I have seen who prescribe very low calorie diets and carbless diets, are too many. Generally most fighters prepping for competition will train twice a day, 5-6 times a week. In order to perform during training, you need to fuel accordingly. Low carb diets and kerogenic style diets do not work for most, even for those who need to drop weight. Focus on staying lean all year round by eating real and nutrient dense food: if you can kill it, pluck it from the ground or pick it from a tree then go for it. Eat when hungry, view your nutrition as fuelling yourself to perform better and not as a weight loss goal.

Overtraining is a common occurrence with female fighters. Train hard but smart. Recover just as hard as you train. We only have one set of adrenal glands, and as women, our endocrine (hormonal) system can be easily out of balance from stress – whether this is physical, mental and/or emotional. One of the signs of when things are going wrong is missing or losing a period completely. A weight cut is very stressful on the body, and the more irresponsible weight cuts you do, the more of a long term effect it will have on your body and the harder each weight cut will be, particularly if you are an older athlete.

Post weight cutting: rehydrate correctly, don’t go overboard on “cheat” food and mentally focus on visualising your win. After the fight: have a massive treat meal or two, but then go back to proper nutrition and increase food slowly to prevent a bad “rebound”.

Ultimately, consider whether the weight you need to lose is reasonable or not within the timeframe you have. Do you even need to cut this much in

Co-Founder of Warrior Academy, Sai Yin Pun, Hong Kong

the first place? If you have a higher body fat percentage, but a short timeframe to cut weight, perhaps you should fight at a higher weight class and after the fight, focus on getting lean in the long term so you can achieve your desired weight class. Instead of simply focusing on being the bigger opponent, remember that size doesn’t always mean a win. Focus on mastering technique in the various disciplines, applying that in sparring, make better daily choices with food because food is your fuel and invest in a structured strength training program with a knowledgeable strength coach. Get strong, get technical, get lean, get smart.