Surprisingly, the most difficult part of being a UFC fighter is often not the fight itself— it’s the extreme measures that fighters use to gain or lose weight before the fight. Using UFC training secrets, UFC fighters can lose up to 30 lbs in the week before the fight and then put all that weight back on again in just 24 hours. Fighters then step into the cage up to 30 lbs heavier than their opponent— obviously a huge advantage in Mixed Martial Arts.
Before we take a detailed look at how UFC fighters pull this off, a word of caution. Extreme dehydration can lead to poor performance, increased heart rate and blood pressure, higher risk of injury, and brain, kidney, and vision problems further down the line. UFC fighters applying these methods have years of weight-cutting experience and are under the close watch of medical professionals. That said, don’t try any of this at home. This article is not to be construed as health advice.
Strategically Decrease Water Consumption
Fighters start off the week drinking two gallons of water per day, then gradually taper off their water consumption. The day of the weigh-in, they drink almost no water at all. Tapering off water consumption in this way triggers the body’s “flushing” mode. Basically, even when drinking hardly any water, they’re going to the bathroom many times a day. By the end of the week, their bodies are flushing more water than they’re taking in, leading to significant weight loss.
Don’t Eat More Than 50 Grams of Carbs Per Day
One gram of carbohydrates adds 2.7 grams of water to the body. That may not seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly! When you’re a world-class athlete trying to cut weight, every little bit counts. Fighters will keep their carb intake low all week to avoid excess water weight and keep their bodies in flushing mode.
Don’t Eat Fruit, Sugar, or Starches
Fruit, starches (such as rice, bread, pasta, cornmeal, or potatoes) and foods containing sugar are strictly avoided the entire week leading up to a weigh-in. This is a crucial step to keeping the body in flushing mode and drop excess weight. Some fighters cut out these foods up to three weeks before the fight.
Eat Meals That Contain a Lot of Protein and Fat
Just because UFC fighters are cutting weight doesn’t mean they don’t eat at all! Fighters still need to eat healthily, so the week before the weigh-in, they’ll load up on leafy greens (like kale, spinach, and collard greens), cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and cauliflower), healthy fats (like avocados), and high-quality proteins (like eggs and meats). Of course, the top-level athletes have chefs that take care of all the food choice and production for them!
Don’t Eat Salt
Salt is another thing fighters need to avoid before a fight. Salt contains sodium, which tends to stick around in the body. This is an issue, because sodium traps water in the body as well! Cutting out salt means less water weight, which means an easier time reaching their weight goal in time for the weigh-in.
Consider a Natural Diuretic
While this step isn’t strictly necessary, it certainly helps, especially as a last resort in the final two days. A diuretic is any substance that promotes what’s known as “diuresis,” or increased production of urine. Basically, it makes you go to the bathroom more often. This can be a helpful extra boost to fighters needing to shed those last few pounds of water weight. Natural options like dandelion root are best.
Take Hot Baths
Going to the bathroom isn’t the only way to flush water from your body! You can shed a surprising number of pounds just through sweating. Hot, humid environments like baths are perfect for fighters looking to cut down their weight. Typical bath procedure involves submerging the body up to the nose for 10 minutes at a time. Scented candles and soothing whale sounds are optional.
Sit in the Sauna
Another option for sweating is to bake in the sauna. Saunas are considered the final touch for weight-cutting routines, usually only used in the last couple of days. While they’re useful for weight-cutting routines, some professionals, such as MMA nutritionist George Lockhart, feel that saunas do more harm (especially to performance) than good.
Weight Cut Schedule Day 1
Fighters say goodbye to starches, fruits, and all sugars and instead turn their appetites to fats and proteins, consuming large amounts of chicken and broccoli. Two gallons of water need to be consumed, so large jugs of water are carried throughout the day. There are many trips to the bathroom. All in all, day 1 isn’t too difficult.
Weight Cut Schedule Day 2
It’s day 2 and things are going well. Still no sugars, starches, or carbs allowed, which isn’t terrible. Fighters continue to console themselves with meat and healthy fats. Fruits are denied with ease— temptation is nothing to a world-class fighter! Again, many trips to the bathroom are had. Only 1 gallon of water today.
Weight Cut Schedule Day 3
Fighters are allowed another gallon of water today. The path to and from the bathroom is starting to wear down. Foods are about the same— still no starches, sugars, or fruit, and very few carbs. Protein, veggies, and fats are delicious, but without salt, foods are starting to taste bland. Not the best day, but not the worst either.
Weight Cut Schedule Day 4
Today, only ½ a gallon of water is allowed, which means that some rationing is in order. Fighters allow themselves only a small glass of water with each meal and quickly realize that half a gallon of water isn’t enough for a whole day. Day 3 is the first day for hot baths (emphasis on the “hot”). Taking a hot bath with barely any water to drink afterward is torture. Dehydration sets in by the end of the night.
Weight Cut Schedule Day 5
Weight cutting is no longer fun in any way. Intense fatigue sets in, and the body feels weak and dehydrated. Day 5 is spent eating, sitting in saunas, suffering through hot baths, and generally lying around looking longingly at sources of water. Only ¼ of a gallon of water is allowed today, which is torturous. Weigh-in feels ages away.
Weight Cut Schedule Day 6
Fighters look unhealthy by this point, and they definitely don’t feel at the top of their game. It’s hard for first-timers to imagine they’re going to aggressively fight someone tomorrow. Little is eaten today, and only a few sips of water are allowed the entire day. Depending on how much weight they’ve lost so far, fighters spend more time in the sauna, sometimes until right before weigh-in.
What Cutting Weight Does to Performance
Unsurprisingly, such extreme weight-cutting procedures aren’t good for performance. Strength, conditioning, and agility all take a massive hit when the body is intensely dehydrated. The only reason UFC fighters go through such extreme weight-cutting is because they have 24 hours to re-hydrate their bodies and put the weight back on. Doing so is now their highest priority.
The Smart Way to Add the Weight Back Fast
Fighters need to put on as much weight as they can in the 24 hours between weigh-in and the fight itself. If they want to fight at peak performance the next day, however, they need to be smart and safe in how they do this. The smart way to quickly regain weight involves three steps: dramatically increasing water intake, eating as many carbs, proteins, and fats as they want, and adding salt to everything.
Dramatically Increase Water Intake
The human body can only absorb around one liter of water every hour, and around 25% of that water is going to be lost to bathroom trips. If a fighter needs to regain 20 lbs, he needs to drink at least 11 liters of water. So, starting with a quick liter drunk immediately after weighing in, fighters spend the time before the fight sipping one liter every hour they’re awake. This continues until a few hours before the fight.
Eat as Many Carbs (and Proteins and Fat) as You Want
Fighters need to eat a lot of carbs to make sure their muscles soak up all the water they’re drinking. Right after the weigh-in, fighters eat a massive meal with as much food as they want: meats, vegetables, rice, sweet potatoes, etc. Junk food is still avoided. The day of the fight, fighters stick to just a few small meals of healthy foods.
Add Salt to Everything
Salt is back on the menu! As explained above, salt promotes water retention in the body, so once they’ve weighed in, fighters make sure to liberally sprinkle salt on everything they eat. This helps their bodies, and their muscles specifically, soak up the copious amounts of water they’re drinking. And of course, everything tastes flavorful again!
Weight Gain Schedule Day 1 (Post-Weigh-In)
Immediately after weighing in, fighters will down a liter of water. Soon after this, they’ll gorge themselves on a single large meal. Plates are loaded with healthy carbs, fats, and protein, and the salt shaker is put to work. One liter of water is consumed every hour before bed. Sometimes the water is mixed with a small scoop of carbohydrate/protein powder for an extra energy and weight-gain boost.
Weight Gain Schedule Day 2 (Day of the Fight)
With nearly a full day before the actual fight, fighters still have plenty of time to put on a few more pounds. One liter of water every hour (again, sometimes mixed with a carb/protein powder mix) up until three hours before the fight (UFC fights don’t allow for bathroom breaks!). While they can’t gorge themselves like they did last night, fighters get to eat a satisfying amount of fats, proteins, and carbs in three or four small meals spaced throughout the day.
What Gaining Weight Does to Performance
Rehydration does wonders for performance! Even though they just went through a hell-week of extreme weight cutting, fighters tend to regain all (or nearly all) the strength and performance they lost during dehydration just by replenishing their bodies with water and nutrients. Even if they lose a small percentage of performance, they’re still fighting 10-30 lbs heavier and at a higher level of strength and endurance than typically seen in their weight class.