Cutting weight may just be one of the hardest things about competing in jiu-jitsu. It’s never fun and almost always leads to some sort of discomfort or decreases in performance. So, do you really need to cut weight? Is it necessary? What is the best weight class for you? Too often we cut weight simply because we assume we have to and so, we think we should. However, we rarely take a step back and look at the bigger picture and determine what our best weight class is. Maybe you shouldn’t cut weight. Maybe you should go up a weight class. Maybe you should cut weight, but cutting weight for the sake of cutting weight because “everyone does it” isn’t the right answer. I’m not saying it’s bad and you shouldn’t do it, I’m simply stating that you should take the time to analyze all the facts and then decide what is best for you.
Changing weight classes
Now, don’t get me wrong, weight cutting can be beneficial and there is definitely a reason why most people do it. When done properly it can give you an advantage and allow you to maximize performance. The key is looking at all the factors and doing it properly. Dropping a weight class is probably the most common decision when it comes to competing. The reason being that if you drop a weight class you will immediately have an advantage over your opponents and you’ll be able to dominate them. The theory is, “if I am bigger and stronger than everyone then I can beat them easily.” Sounds great, but is it necessarily true? Do you dominate everyone in the gym in the lighter weight classes? Are you fast enough to keep up with them? Flexible enough? I can tell you that some of the people who give me the hardest times are the fast little squirmy guys. Remember: styles make fights. You must always take into account your style and the style of the weight class you want to move to. What are your strengths and weaknesses in your current weight class? If you’re getting overpowered by most of the opponents in your weight class, then dropping down may be right for you. It could even out the playing field and allow you to take advantage of your strengths. You must also take into account the general strengths and weaknesses of the athletes in the weight class you’re thinking of competing in. Are they similar to your own? Can you exploit a weakness in that weight class? Let’s say that by moving up a division, your strength will be slightly below average, but your speed and explosiveness will be significantly above average for the division. This may make you a more difficult opponent to beat and give you the competitive advantage. Start to analyze your training sessions and see where you perform the best and whom you perform the best against. It just may surprise you.
Dropping a weight class
After you decide whether or not to drop a weight class, the next thing you need to figure out is if you can. Sometimes dropping a weight class is a great idea, but it just might be too hard for your body type. If you have extra body fat and you’re not very lean, then it should be no problem. However, if you’re already lean with very little body fat, then dropping a weight class might not be feasible. If it is hard for you to make your current weight class then dropping another 10 pounds may hurt your body and kill your performance. Remember, the reason to cut weight is to obtain a competitive advantage. If it damages your performance then it’s a competitive disadvantage. Trust me, performing at 100% trumps 5 pounds every time.
Cutting weight for jiu-jitsu is very different than cutting weight for most other sports. In fact, I don’t really like the term “cutting” weight for jiu-jitsu athletes. Most other sports weigh in the day before or hours before the event. In this case, you will have time to rehydrate and refuel before you compete. Jiu-jitsu, on the other hand, forces you to weigh in right before stepping on the mat. This gives you no time to rehydrate and refuel. For this reason, jiu-jitsu athletes should “lose” the weight before the competition rather than “cut” it for the competition. If you decide to drop a weight class for your next competition you should start the process today. Slow and steady weight loss means fat loss and not muscle loss. The point of dropping a weight class is to take advantage of your size and strength. The key to this is preserving muscle mass and losing fat mass. To do this we must create an energy deficit, while still feeding our muscles the necessary nutrients. You have to train hard and diet hard. My first suggestion is adding an extra training session or two a week if you can. This will increase energy expenditure and fuel weight loss.
If you are already maxed out on training sessions (which you should be if you are competing), then diet is going to play the biggest part. The first step is cutting all the “junk” out of your diet. This includes candy, soda, pizza, fries, etc. You should also try to avoid processed foods as much as possible. Your focus should be on lean meats, whole grains and vegetables. A lower carbohydrate diet is effective for losing weight. Notice I said, “LOWER” and not “NO carbohydrate diet.” Carbohydrates are necessary and should be a part of your diet, especially immediately before and after training. Keeping carbs low during the rest of the day and on off days can be very beneficial as well if weight loss is the goal. Protein intake must remain high to prevent losses in muscle mass. I would suggest at least 1 gram per pound of bodyweight. Your overall goal should be about 2 pounds of weight loss a week. Slow and steady is the key to dropping a weight class and maximizing your competitive advantage.