How Do MMA Fighters Make Weight?: Weight Cutting in MMA

During the five days prior to weigh-ins, MMA fighters gradually dehydrate, eventually leaving them with 2-10 pounds less water on weigh-in day. Second, they stay away from carbs and salt, and finally, they work up a sweat.

Of course, that is oversimplifying things, but the primary aspect of extreme weight loss is dehydrating their bodies, not burning fat. In fact, MMA fighters swiftly rehydrate and regain their normal weight and vigor 24 hours before their fights. Let’s look at how drastic weight cuts provide MMA competitors a significant advantage.

Why Do MMA Fighters Cut Weight?

The basic goal of weight-cutting is for fighters to be able to compete in the smallest weight class possible, and to weigh more than there opponent on fight day, because weighing more than your opponent in MMA is a huge advantage.

MMA has evolved into a highly controlled fighting sport in which cheating is nearly impossible. Especially in the UFC, where fighters are tested on a regular basis and are not allowed to use performance-enhancing medications, steroids, or other similar substances. However, severe weight loss has been a problem in the MMA community (including the UFC).

What Methods Do UFC Fighters Use to Lose Weight?

Fighters do three things in order to lose weight:

  • Manage bodily hydration
  • Sweat excessive liquid out
  • Stick to a strict no-carb, no-salt diet

The weight-cutting trend is fueled by the better nutrition and medical care available to professional fighters. A fighter can drop upwards of 30 pounds in the week leading up to a fight in order to clear a low weight limit and compete in a weight class that isn’t even close to their actual weight.

How Much Do MMA Fighters Cut?

MMA fighters tend to cut about 10-20 pounds while avoiding dehydration and re-hydration.

Weight cuts differ from one fighter to the next. Some fighters prefer to compete in a weight class that is close to their natural weight, avoiding the need for drastic weight reduction.

In the five days leading up to the weigh-in, the average weight loss for UFC competitors is roughly 15-20 pounds. They do it by adopting the dehydration method mentioned earlier, which allows them to restore a significant amount of weight before entering the octagon.

These average weight reductions differ by category. Smaller fighters in the flyweight and bantamweight classes usually lose less weight. Weight cuts get more demanding as you progress to heavier classes.

The explanation for this is obvious and logical. If a 200-pound man drops 30 pounds to reach the 170-pound welterweight limit, he has shed 15% of his total body weight. That’s still a lot, but it’s doable in just two weeks — a week of starvation followed by a week of dehydration.

If your typical weight is 155 pounds and you want to lose 125 pounds, you’ll have to lose about 1/5 of your total body weight. Dehydration-induced weight loss can lead to major health consequences, including organ failure and even death.

How Long Do MMA Fighters Cut Weight?

Weight cuts for MMA fighters are determined by each fighter individually, because it depends on their weight and what weight they are trying to achieve (their weight class).

It depends on how they arrive at training camp in shape and how much weight they need to drop to reach their goal weight. Most fighters lose 15-20 pounds to reach their goal weight, so they don’t have to start dieting too early in training. Dehydration is used to make the final weight reduction five or six days before the weigh-in, and it can help the combatants lose as much as 25-30 pounds in that period. The less weight you need to lose, the easier it will be to lose weight. Although the process begins five days before weigh-ins, the majority of the weight is lost in the final 48 hours. Dehydration sets in at this point.

You don’t simply quit drinking water in the five days leading up to a fight. Instead, drink 4 liters of water in the first three days, two on the first day and one each day after that. This guarantees that your body enters “flush mode,” meaning that it begins rapidly filtering out water.

The next day, you reduce your water consumption to half a gallon, then a quarter gallon, and eventually no water on weigh-in day before you step on the scales. When you rapidly cut water intake while your body is still in “flush mode,” you’ll begin to lose more water than you ingest, drying your body.

The procedure, however, does not finish with the weigh-ins. The rehydration period begins as soon as you step off the scales. You’ll drink 1 liter of water every hour for the following 24 hours leading up to the fight (your body can’t absorb much more in that period). Fighters can regain up to 20 pounds in a single day, giving them a significant weight advantage in the ring.

What Do MMA Fighters Eat to Cut Weight?

MMA fighters need to follow a strict diet for the last five to six days, that includes cutting carbs, starch, fruit, sugar, and salt, but loading up on high-quality protein like meats, eggs or vegetarian sources of protein.  

First and foremost, they abstain from all carbs. Carbohydrates bring water into your body, and you want to achieve the exact opposite — pulling the water out. It’s not advisable to eat upwards of 30-50 grams of carbohydrates per day during this period. This includes fruit, starch, and any other sugar or carbohydrate.

Instead, fighters typically eat a lot of protein to make up for the calories they’ve lost. Always choose high-quality protein foods like white meat, eggs, or greens like spinach, broccoli, and other vegetables. Protein will not bind water to your cells, allowing the dehydration process to proceed more quickly. Three times a day, eat as much as you like.

However, no salt should be included in any of your meals. If you’re trying to lose a lot of weight, stay away from salt completely. Salt contains sodium, and sodium binds to water, giving you poor weight-loss results. Yes, the food will be bland, but if you can withstand a week of torture, it will all be worth it in the end.

If you need to lose more than the typical 15-20 pounds during the therapy, a natural diuretic can be used in the final two days. Because a diuretic stimulates renal function, you’ll shed much more water. To avoid going overboard, use the diuretic on the final two days of the weight loss program.

How to Work Out for Cutting Weight

Due to their depleted energy reserves, fighters rarely engage in high-intensity training. They opt instead to do lower intensity workouts such as yoga, Pilates, and  jogging.

Instead, they wear a plastic tracksuit and do low-intensity workouts like modest treadmill running or cycling. Other low impact workouts can include walking, yoga, Pilates, swimming and weight or interval training. These workouts tend to be followed by a hot bath or time in a sauna in order to encourage increased perspiration.

What are the Dangers of Cutting Weight?

Cutting weight is extremely risky, and if it’s not done correctly, it can result in organ failure and even death.

It’s critical to recognize that the dramatic weight loss they’ve undergone isn’t something they should do on a regular basis. This is something you should never attempt on your own.

It’s preferable to begin dieting and dropping weight early in the training camp rather than shedding massive quantities of weight in four or five days. If you’re going to undertake the extreme dehydration/re-hydration cycle before a fight, make sure you’re surrounded by skilled nutritionists and medical care.