Recently, the Three Amigos Podcast had the opportunity to pick the brain of George Lockhart, nutritionist to current and former UFC stars like Rory MacDonald, Jon Jones and Brian Stann. You can read the first part of the interview here. This part has George going into much more depth about how to cut weight and rehydrate safely and effectively, and what effect the IV ban will really have on the process.
Let's take a fighter who weighs 195 lbs and fights at 170 lbs. If he is cutting and rehydrating properly, he should be back up to around 190lbs on fight night. That being said, the important thing isn't how heavy you can get, it's making sure your glycogen and electrolyte levels are in the correct range. A lot of guys just want to get as heavy as possible and end up over-filling as a result.
The amount of lean muscle mass a fighter has determines how much weight they will regain. The more muscle mass a guy has, the more glycogen he will hold in optimal condition - for most guys it's around 13g of glycogen per kg of muscle. Each gram of glycogen holds 3 grams of water, and that's where most of the water is cut from while cutting weight.
If you take in too much glycogen (sugar), then you will feel heavy and lethargic the next day. That glycogen holds water and you will feel slow and bloated. That's not how you want to feel going into a fight.
A lot of people want to know how much water weight a guy in weightclass X should be cutting. The truth is it depends on the individual, and his lean muscle mass. There's a big difference between a guy with 20% body fat and a guy with 8% body fat. The guy at 8% body fat will have a much easier job cutting water weight, because it's much easier to get the water out of and back into the muscles.
Generally speaking though, for a 205 lbs guy it's around 20 lbs of water weight. When you get down to 170lbs it's closer to 15 lbs. When you get down to a guy fighting at 145 lbs cutting 15lbs is pushing it. At 135 lbs you're cutting around about 10 lbs and at 125 lbs... That's a whole other ball game; they're not holding a whole lot of anything.
If I absolutely had to say a percentage, then I'd say a fighter can cut about 10% of his total weight in water. The more a guy weighs, the higher that percentage. The reason for that is you're primarily trying to cut the water from the muscles. For a small guy, a larger percentage of his body weight comes from his bones and organs than a bigger guy. Your muscle mass increases by a larger factor than your bone and organ mass as you get bigger.
SAUNAS & SWEET SWEAT
The goal is to never have to use a sauna, but I always leave that decision to the fighters. Some people are accustomed to the sauna. They feel better if they use it. It's a psychological thing. Same thing with the IVs. Some don't even need them. I've had guys that will only need to cut a couple pounds the week of the fight, like 2-3 pounds, and they'll go get an IV after weigh-ins.
I prefer the hot bath. It's a lot easier on the body, a lot easier on the insides of the body. This is the best way for women, especially. Women do not sweat in the sauna. It's just something I've found in working with them. I hate to not have any science behind that, but it is something I've noticed to be a real factor with them. You put them in a hot bath, and they're golden. If you have done everything right in the 8-10 weeks prior that you were in training camp, the cut shouldn't be a big ordeal.
I've tried Albolene and all that stuff. Sweet Sweat really does work, no joke. It's very effective and helps them crack really early. Once they crack, I like to have them get a light workout, then get them in a hot bath. When it comes to cracking, Sweet Stuff works wonders. You want your fighters doing as little as possible physically to make weight.
STEP BY STEP GUIDE TO MAKING WEIGHT
Say the fight is on Saturday and the weigh in is Friday. Two weeks beforehand I'll have guys start loading up on water and drinking a lot more than they usually would. This freaks some guys out, because they can suddenly put 10lbs on, but it's temporary weight; it's just water and it'll come off as easy as it went on.
On Tuesday we start cutting back on some things, but the water intake stays high. I load fighters full of high fat foods like macaroons made from coconut, flax seeds and chia seeds. There's actually a gripload of calories, but they're in these little baggies. Guys look at me like, ‘that's my meal?' But once they eat them they don't feel hungry because fat burns so slowly.
By the Wednesday before the fight the guys should have been water loading for 10 days. When Wednesday rolls around we keep the water intake high, but we finish earlier in the day. If they've been drinking 2 gallons a day the aim is to have them drink that by about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. A lot of guys will be at their heaviest today, but they'll lose a lot of this water weight overnight. I had a fighter recently lose 10lbs overnight after loading. In terms of food, Wednesday is basically the same as Tuesday.
Thursday is the most important day. On Thursday we start cutting back on the water. We make sure the only thing they drink is ice cold water and we keep their core temperature down. A lot of guys make a mistake at this point and they walk around in sweats trying to stay warm and sweat out more water. That's really not necessary, it's much easier to just control the body's hormonal response and have it pee that water out instead of having to work out and sweat it out.
By control the body's hormonal response I'm referring mostly to aldosterone and vasopressin. Aldosterone is the hormone that affects how your body handles sodium. Your body can excrete or hold onto sodium whenever it feels it needs to, using aldosterone. If you start cutting out sodium (salt) a few weeks out, which a lot of guys do, your body starts releasing aldosterone as a response, which will make you hold water just the same as if you ate tons of salt.
Vasopressin is an anti-diuretic hormone that controls how much water your body gets rid of. The more vasopressin in your body, the less you will sweat or urinate. When your blood gets thin, like when you're dehydrated for a period of time, your body produces more vasopressin. If you can make sure the body is producing less vasopressin, you can lose water really easy. You do this by giving the body plenty of water in the weeks leading up to the weight cut, and by doing things like keeping the environment cold to keep the blood thicker.
On Thursday I'll actually start giving guys fruit, which we've been avoiding the past two days because we don't want carbs holding onto water. But on Thursday because they're not really taking in any water, there's no water to bind to those carbs. In essence you're fueling guys up for the cut on Friday. They get some more sugar and stuff so they mentally feel better and stronger, but the weight is still going down because they're expelling water.
I want guys to sleep as late as possible tonight, which can mean going to sleep later. I'll usually give them a pretty high dose of melatonin or something similar to help with that. The reason is if you're not weighing in until 6pm, you don't want to spend all day thirsty and drained and miserable.
On Friday they should wake up pretty close to their weigh in weight. Usually my fighters wake up within a couple of pounds of their weigh in weight. I give guys a little bit of sugar today. A mistake some guys make on weigh-in day is they'll try to eat really healthy food. This sounds crazy but it's the weight of the food that matters on weigh-in day. It's better to eat something sugary like a jolly rancher than something healthy and heavy.
If you don't eat at all on weigh in day you're going to get dizzy and lightheaded before you even get into the sauna, because your blood sugar levels drop so low. If you have some sugar you get the energy you need.
Your body has a crazy mechanism that sends a signal to your brain telling it you have glycogen in your system if it tastes something sugary. That response works whether you actually have enough glycogen in your system or not, and when you're cutting weight, you don't.
Generally as long as guys have done the cut properly, they should just pee or sweat that pound or two off before the weigh in just by moving around. As long as the aldosterone and vasopressin levels have been handled properly the body should still be totally capable of doing that. If not a hot bath and/or some sweet sweat will do the trick.
THE PROCESS FOR REHYDRATING WITHOUT AN IV
The first step is to work out how much glycogen someone's body can hold. Once you know someone's lean muscle mass, you know roughly how much glycogen they can hold. It's usually around 13g of glycogen for every 1kg of lean muscle. If someone is particularly lean or muscular, or if they had another camp shortly before this one, it can be more like 14 or 15 gm of glycogen, because the body will adapt how much it can store based on the demands you put on it.
Once I have the amount of glycogen that person can hold I add another 20% to that number. That's how much glycogen their liver can hold. Now that I have the total amount of glycogen needed I divide that by 8, because I'm going to give them 8 meals and shakes between weigh ins and the fight.
Basically, I'll create 2-3 shakes for an individual based on how tough their cut is, and if they're bloating or not. So, we've found out this is exactly how many carbs the person needs. I want to refuel them at a ratio of 4g of carbs to 1g of protein. So, if we've got the number for how much glycogen somebody needs to reload by fight night, I find out how much carbs they're having in each meal. Now, I divide that by 4, and it will tell me the amount of protein that I'm going to need for each meal. That 4:1 ratio is going to help the body reload.
It's been found that the 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein is the ideal ratio to reload the muscles with glycogen after they've been depleted, whether that's by a weight cut or by working out. The protein, specifically BCAAs, help open up pathways in the cells which the carbohydrates use to reload the muscles with glycogen.
Another problem is that protein makes you feel really full. Normally that's a good thing, but when you have 24 hours to reload all of the carbohydrates in your system feeling full is the last thing you want. Ideally you want to get the exact amount of protein for your needs, but no more than that.
We want to keep fats to a minimum. It's a slow burning source of fuel, so it will affect the digestion process and slow everything down. If you only have 24 hours to reload, you don't want a whole lot of fat. You don't want to be chowing down on nuts and things like that.
We've got the amount of glycogen and protein the person needs for each meal. When I start creating the shakes, I use the nu-salt, and now we'll be giving a teaspoon of sea salt or regular table salt in each one of the shakes. That will give 2500 mg of sodium. You want to make sure that each one of the shakes is ice cold. I'm going to add an equal amount of the nu-salt, which is the potassium, in each shake. They're going to taste extremely salty. They're not pleasant. If somebody has a digestion problem, you spread it out even more. That right there will equal close to 1000ml iv bag. You get the chloride, the sodium and some potassium (which the iv's don't provide). Usually with an iv, I'd end up loading people on potassium.
So they've got the first shake, which is going to have about 20 gms of waxy maize. The waxy maize gets into the small intestinal tract very quickly, so it's not going to affect the digestion or the absorption of all the electrolytes, and it will also prevent bloating. Then I give them about 5 gms of BCAA. The person will take digestive enzymes with this shake.
If you chug something fast, you're going to bloat. It sits in your stomach, then your body is going to push it out, and it won't absorb everything properly. You've got to make sure there's no chugging, just normal drinking. If they start bloating, they've just got to sit back and let their body digest. From there, they go on to the next bit.
About 10-15 minutes after they're done with the first shake, I give them a Rockstar recovery. It's easy and it's convenient. It's going to give them all their B vitamins and it also has caffeine, which increases the rate that your body absorbs glycogen. From there, they go on to their next shake.
That shake will be the exact same as the first one. If they're not bloating at this time, I will give them dates. Dates are loaded with potassium, but they also have a perfect ratio of calcium and magnesium. You usually want to get a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium anytime that you're reloading the body. You're getting a good ratio there with the dates, and it's also reloading the carbs nicely with the sugar that's in them.
If they're feeling good, and they're starting to get that hunger back, especially if they had a hard cut, we might kick back on the third shake for 45 minutes. Once we hit 45 minutes, they can have their first meal, and they will take digestive enzymes here again. I usually give them some green ‘superfoods' loaded with digestive enzymes. There are also pills that do the same thing, but I prefer to avoid them.
I'll generally have guys go and eat out after this, mostly for psychological reasons; I don't want them sitting in their room thinking about the fight the entire time. I take them out and they have a light hearted time and it takes their mind off of what they have to do tomorrow.
The next day I give them the same foods I would give them on a regular training day. The adrenaline is going to be up so the portion sizes are bigger, but we still keep that 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, They'll eat every 2-3 hours.
They have their biggest meal about 5 hours before the fight, and they'll probably feel a little bit too full after that. What that meal does is kind of overload the body and makes it work to process all of the fat. That means that 5 hours later at fight time the stomach is empty but the body is full of the micro and macronutrients they need.
About 10% of your metabolism is spent breaking down food, so if the body is still breaking food down at the time of the fight your body can't put 100% of its energy into what you need for fighting. Digesting food also requires a certain amount of blood flow to the stomach, and again if that blood is going to the stomach, it's not carrying oxygen to the muscles. When you get butterflies in your stomach, that's actually your body routing blood away from it to your limbs, but it's best to not give your stomach anything to do at all during the fight.
BENEFITS OF AN IV FOR REHYDRATION
If you do all of the stuff I've just talked about you'll be just as rehydrated as you would using an IV. The biggest benefit of an IV is time, plus the fighter doesn't have to put down all this nasty junk in the shakes to get rehydrated properly. Basically, an IV can be used to load somebody up full of potassium, because you need an equal amount of potassium to sodium.
If a guy is rehydrating without an IV for the first time, there are a few simple things they can do to make it easier on themselves.
1. Make sure that they are constantly intaking sodium the day prior.
2. Have equal amounts of potassium and sodium.
3. Eating a lot of foods the day after the weigh in that are good sources of calcium and magnesium.
The reason being, if you overload on electrolytes the day prior to the weigh in, overnight, your body will balance itself out. If you do that you'll be bloated and you'll feel like somebody put an air pump in your arms and you'll feel that blood rush really quick the next day.
Also, make sure that whatever you're drinking every single day before bed, you're not pounding it, because if you pound it, you're just going to flush everything out. I like to have people stay up later the week of their fight, so they're able to eat a little later and have more time to get in their water.
George has a diet and nutrition program for everyone from soccer moms to elite fighters at fitnessvt.com. You can read more from George on nutrition and weight cutting in a previous article here.
*You can check out George's first audio interview via the embedded player below*