Competing in combat disciplines and other weight category sports require athletes to make weight. In this article we’ll explore what are the challenges and common mistakes when making weight for BJJ.
What is making weight?
In many sports, including combat disciplines, athletes compete in weight categories (a.k.a. classes) with the purpose of making competition more fair. The actual categories depend on the sport and other factors such as the affiliation or type of event (e.g. Olympic Games vs world championship).
Making weight refers to the process of manipulating an athlete’s weight to fall within the limits of their weight class. This usually involves losing weight as it is advantageous for an athlete to train at a heavier weight in order to build strength and cut weight just in time for weighing in prior to competition.
The amount of time between weigh-ins and competition will determine to what extent the athlete can refuel and rehydrate.
Finding the athlete’s optimal weight category
Ideally, athletes should compete at a weight at which they feel the most comfortable at, considering speed, strength and cardio. In addition, this weight should be easily attainable if it’s not their usual weight.
Fighting at an assigned weight category
In some competitions where there are not enough competitors, the organisers may reserve the right to merge athletes into another category within certain parameters. This means that an athlete can end up fighting at a higher weight class with little notice, which could represent a disadvantage.
BJJ vs other sport weigh-ins
Different sports and different affiliations within any one sport have different weigh ins. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) competitions tend to have same-day weigh ins, which is great to ensure athletes are fighting at or close to their actual weight. On the other hand, the lack of time for rehydrating and refuelling means athletes should considering not cutting weight at all or be conservative with their weight cutting process.
Manipulating the wrong weight component
Besides losing a combination of fat and fat-free mass, you can make weight by reducing one or more of the following components:
- Glycogen (carbohydrate + water)
- Intestinal contents
When deciding which component(s) to manipulate, the athlete needs to take into account how important is that component to performance of their sport and whether it is possible to recover that component given the time they have between weigh-ins and competition. For example, most athletes will not perform well if dehydrated but can manipulate body water if they have enough time to rehydrate before competing.
Using the wrong strategy
The components listed above can be manipulated using several different strategies, which will be discussed in a later article. Each strategy varies in effectiveness and associated risks. In addition, the response to each strategy is highly individual due to biological differences and preferences.
Not testing things out
Every change made to an athlete’s routine should be tested before competition, ideally around training sessions that resemble the actual competition. If time permits, multiple tests should be performed to allow for failure and to determine the best strategy.
Underfuelling on comp day
It is very common to underestimate how much fuel you need to perform well. In addition, many people avoid eating too much to prevent gastrointestinal issues such as nausea and vomiting, which get exacerbated with the stress of competing. This can be addressed by practicing ahead of time as mentioned above.
Getting the pre-competition meal wrong
This is highly individual but in general the pre-competition period should be focused on replenishing the elements that were depleted during the making weight phase, i.e. fluids, glycogen, etc. Moreover, the foods that are consumed in the pre-competition period should be easily digested and absorbed to optimise fuelling and minimise digestive issues. This is the time when refined carbohydrates and liquid calories may have an important role to play.
My experience making weight for BJJ
Choosing a division
When I decided to compete, my weight in the previous 6 months had fluctuated between 56.0 and 60.3 kg, with an average of 58.3 kg, measured first thing in the morning in my underwear. The day I decided to sign up I was 56.0 kg, having lost 1 kg overnight, however it had been higher in the lead-up.
My options for competition were:
- Gi: 58.5 kg (feather) or 64 kg (light)
- No-gi: 56.5 kg (feather) or 61.5 kg (light)
I had to allow 0.5-1 kg for fluid and intestinal contents + 1.5 kg (gi) or 0.6 kg (no-gi). In addition, I wanted to account for differences between scales. This means that my morning weight should be in the following ranges:
- Gi: 55.5-56.0 kg (feather) or 61-61.5 kg (light)
- No-gi: 54.4-54.9 kg (feather) or 59.4-59.9 kg (light)
I was on weight for feather weight in gi, however making feather weight for no-gi would be challenging. I could register for feather weight in gi and light in no-gi, however I could have be matched with a much heavier opponent. This particular competition does not allow single athlete categories, so competitors can be merged into other categories to make sure they get at least one match. They can be merged with competitors up to 2 weight classes apart, which means a potential difference of ~10 kg. Let’s say I was 56.0 kg (57.1-57.6 kg after drinking/eating and with clothes on) and registered for light weight no-gi. I could have been matched with someone up to 2 categories heavier, i.e. 71.5 kg. This means a potential weight difference of up to 13.9-14.4 kg (24-25% of my body weight). Long story short, I registered for feather weight in both gi and no-gi. Luckily, I didn’t get a match for no-gi so I didn’t have to worry about cutting too much weight.
Choosing a strategy
My baseline diet is relatively low carbohydrate with most carbohydrates eaten post-training usually in the form of a small portion of rice (usually brown), sweet potato and/or legumes. I don’t carry a lot of glycogen, so manipulating this component was not an option for me. On the other hand, I eat a reasonable amount of fibre from the aforementioned carbohydrate foods, plus vegetables, nuts and psyllium. In addition, I sometimes get constipated, which means manipulating gut contents was a viable option.
My diet in the week leading to competing was:
- 4 days low carbohydrate, similar to my baseline diet but sans rice, starchy vegetables or legumes
- 3 days low residue and low carbohydrate, as above with only small amounts of cooked low fibre vegetables
- Comp day (after checking my weight): low residue, higher carb breakfast for fuel
Below is my detailed food log (note that the fibre content is a bit off due to some foods not listing this nutrient).
On the day I weighed in at 57.55 kg (i.e. 950 g underweight).
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