Making Weight For Combat Sports (Boxing, Kickboxing, Wrestling, etc…)

In the world of combat sports, athletes strive to achieve the perfect balance between power and weight. This balance is crucial because fighters are typically categorized into weight divisions, and they must meet a certain weight requirement before a competition. This process, known as “making weight,” involves a weigh-in where the athlete’s body weight is verified. The time between this weigh-in and the actual competition can vary greatly, ranging from just 15 minutes to as long as 30 hours.

To gain a competitive edge, fighters would have been manipulating their body weight for years. They use nutrition and training techniques to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass. In addition to these long-term strategies, many fighters employ acute weight loss (AWL) methods just before the weigh-in. This practice is commonly referred to as “cutting weight” or “making weight” and temporarily lowers the fighter’s body mass to compete in a lower weight division. Afterward, they strive to reverse the negative effects of this weight loss during the recovery period.

In this article, we’ll explore the various strategies fighters use to cut weight, consider the physiological effects and risks of these methods, and discuss nutritional strategies to optimize performance and health before competition.

Determining the Extent of Weight Cutting

The time available for recovery after the weigh-in significantly influences how much weight fighters can realistically cut. Generally, with more than 12 hours between the weigh-in and competition, fighters might aim to cut up to 10% of their body mass. However, for sports with limited recovery time (around 6 hours or less), they should aim for no more than about 5% body mass reduction. In scenarios with ample recovery time, substantial weight manipulation can be a pragmatic way to enhance competitiveness.

Nutrition professionals and coaches should advise against excessive weight cutting and encourage safer, evidence-based methods. Solely relying on dehydration to achieve these losses is unsafe. Instead, a calculated approach involving gut content manipulation, carbohydrate stores, and body water should be employed.

Acute vs. Chronic Weight Loss Strategies

Professionals working with combat athletes need to be well-versed in both chronic and acute weight loss techniques. They should take a balanced approach that considers both short and long-term goals, performance, and the athlete’s physical and mental well-being.

Common Acute Weight Cutting Strategies and Their Effects

Acute weight loss strategies shouldn’t be the primary method for making weight. Fighters often increase exercise, use dehydration techniques (like saunas or hot baths), restrict fluids and food intake, and sometimes even use laxatives or diuretics in the hours leading up to weigh-in. This can result in fighters losing 5-10% of their body mass in the week before the weigh-in.

However, extreme and excessive acute weight loss can have serious consequences, including severe performance decrements and health risks, including death. Youth athletes are advised to avoid moderate to large acute weight loss strategies and focus on good nutrition practices and training.

There are three main methods of acute weight loss:

1. Manipulation of Gut Content: Dietary restrictions can reduce the mass of intestinal contents and total body mass. While complete fasting and laxatives can be effective, they may also impact energy and nutrient intake and result in performance reductions. Reducing fiber intake is a preferable strategy that doesn’t restrict energy and nutrient intake.

2. Manipulation of Glycogen Content: Manipulating glycogen stores, which are carbohydrates stored for later use in muscles and the liver, is another strategy for acute weight loss. Athletes reduce carbohydrate intake to deplete glycogen stores. Recommendations suggest a low-carbohydrate diet combined with training and a minor energy deficit can achieve a 2% body mass reduction. The exact approach varies among athletes and situations.

3. Manipulation of Body Water: Dehydration is a primary acute weight loss strategy, and fighters can achieve it by consuming less fluid and/or increasing fluid excretion. A 24-hour fluid restriction may result in a 1.5-2% body mass loss. However, passive sweating (like saunas) may affect performance more than active sweating. Combining fluid restriction with active sweating is often a pragmatic strategy. Reductions in sodium intake can also lead to body water losses.

Post Weigh-In Recovery Nutrition

To reap the benefits of cutting weight leading into a competition, fighters must implement a solid post-weigh-in recovery plan. This plan should focus on rehydration, glycogen restoration, and managing gastrointestinal distress.

Rehydration: Athletes should aim to rehydrate to within at least 2% of their pre-dehydration body mass to minimize negative performance effects. They should also consider electrolyte replacement, especially sodium, as sweat losses contain electrolytes.

Glycogen Restoration: While full glycogen stores may not be necessary, glycogen depletion without adequate recovery can affect performance. Post-weigh-in recovery nutrition should include enough carbohydrates to fuel the competition and maximize glycogen stores.

Managing Gastrointestinal Distress: Reducing fiber and fat intake is advisable in the post-weigh-in period to minimize GI discomfort, as reintroducing fiber or consuming large amounts of fat can be problematic.

Pre-Event Nutrition

Pre-competition nutrition involves fine-tuning nutritional status and other non-dietary routines. However, in combat sports, this period often involves reversing weight-cutting efforts. Athletes who weigh in the day before competition can focus on recovery before sleep and competition preparation upon waking. For those weighing in on the day of competition, balancing recovery and preparation can be challenging.

Carbohydrate availability before exercise is essential for performance. The recommendation is to consume at least 1g/kg of carbohydrate in the hours before competition.


Cutting weight in combat sports is a complex process with both benefits and risks. Athletes should be aware of the associated risks of rapid weight loss and follow best practices. Avoiding extreme weight loss, particularly excessive dehydration, is essential to maintain both performance and health. Athletes should develop a well-planned strategy that incorporates familiar practices and continually refine their acute weight loss and recovery methods throughout their careers.

by Manuel Attard M.Sc RD – Sports Dietitian & Nutritionist in Gozo, Malta

Published by Manuel Attard

Manuel Attard Registered Dietitian & Nutritionist

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