This article was written by JustLift athlete Heather Amundrud. For those of you competing at our club meet on Feb. 28th this may very well come in handy!
Standing on a scale is a fact of life for competitive weightlifters. If you are normally safely within your weight class, awesome! Eat, drink, and be merry! However, if you are like most weightlifters, your actual body weight is likely to be just a little heavier than your weight class (I compete as a 53kg but am normally closer to 55kg). That’s fine for training, but how do you “cut weight” for competition day?
Step 1: Flex that self-discipline muscle because you’re going to need it!
Step 2: Weigh yourself and track your food intake for at least a week, ideally starting at least a month before competition day. Get an idea of what you are eating and how it affects your weight. To do this:
Step 2a: Buy a digital scale! A decent digital scale is about $30 at Target or Canadian Tire. Invest in one now (extra batteries wouldn’t hurt, either). Every morning, get out of bed, go pee, and weigh yourself; this is probably the lightest you will be all day, so record that number in your training or food log.
Step 2b: Track your food! There are smartphone apps and websites to help you with this. Spreadsheets also work. Count calories, grams of protein, grams of fat, and grams of carbohydrates to establish a nutritional baseline. Always make sure you are consuming enough protein! This is crucial! Rule of thumb: 2 to 3g of protein for each kilogram of body weight. For example: I weigh 53kg, so I aim for about 160g of protein per day.
Step 3: Ideally, starting three weeks before competition day, tighten up your nutrition:
Make sure you are consuming enough protein.
Cut out the “junk calories,” especially sugar and processed food!
Go easy on the salt (say bye to bacon!).
Drink enough water, i.e. never let yourself become thirsty.
Keep your caloric intake about the same or slightly less (no more than 10% deficit).
Track your body weight by using your new scale! Do this for one week and see how your body responds.
Step 4: Ideally, two weeks before competition day, lower your carbs. This will usually cause an immediate decrease in body weight (anywhere from 1-2kg), however there’s a limit: when carbs drop below a certain level, you may not feel good (foggy, dazed, light-headed). If this happens, increase your carb intake slightly or live with it until you adapt. This is something you should consult with your coach about, though, as everyone’s tolerances relative to performance is different. Remember, were cutting weight to make weight and lift as much weight as possible relative to our body weight. Were not trying to get leaner. And, of course, track your body weight. Do this for one week and see how your body responds.
For example, my carbs are usually about 80g/day. A few weeks before a competition I’ll decrease that to about 65g/day. I find that if I lower my carbs much below 60g/day I’m woozy and can’t concentrate. Remember, though, I’m a 53kg lifter, and this number doesn’t apply to everyone. Once more, if you have a coach, ask for his/her advice on this!
Step 5: Water loading, a.k.a., the joys of drinking like you’ve never drank before! Water loading is an easy way to drop anywhere from 1 to 4kg (depending on the body weight you start at) within a few days. Cutting more than that will likely lead to a poor competitive performance. As weightlifters, we only have a two hour (and it’s usually a little less) window to rehydrate before we lift!
Six days before competition day, drink double the amount of water you normally drink (you did track this in Step 2b, didn’t you?). Anywhere from 0.5-1.0L every 1-2 hours is reasonable. An essential part of this is organization. Do not attempt to makeup for a disorganized hydration schedule by slamming down 4 liters of water in an hour (more on this shortly). For instance, if you normally drink 3L of water per day, then, for your loading phase you would need to drink 6L of water. Most people are awake for 14-16 hours per day. In this case, you can easily divide your loading phase, roughly, into a 500ml per hour schedule, give or take. Repeat for the next three days.
On the fourth day, drink half the amount of water. On the fifth day, you may drink up to 1 liter of water, but this must be consumed at least 16-18 hours prior to weigh-in. The sixth day is competition day.
As noted above, you absolutely MUST distribute your water intake throughout the day. If at any point during the water loading phase you experience a headache, confusion, dizziness, changes in behavior/mood, or drowsiness, immediately stop drinking and get yourself to a hospital! Water poisoning (dilutonal hyponatremia) is very real, and can lead to lots of bad things (including death). A healthy individual can excrete roughly 1 liter of water per hour. If you’re sick, have kidney issues or anything else related to electrolyte absorption/excretion that might hinder your disposal of water, then, water loading is not for you.
After weighing in it’s imperative to, as quickly as possible, replenish your body with a drink such as Pedialyte or a comparable oral rehydration solution. I personally use coconut water.
To give you an example of the above, I normally drink 4L/day of water (coffee, tea, BCAAs, protein are not included in that figure!):
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I drink 8L/day of water,
Thursday I drink 4L/day
Friday I drink almost nothing
Saturday is competition day! After making weight (!) I drink a large carton of coconut water.
Make sure that you give your body a chance to incorporate the fluid back into your body’s various tissues prior to eating! Twenty minutes should suffice. In some cases, rapid rehydration and feeding can cause diarrhea. It’s useful to keep an anti-diarrheal medicine such as Imodium (Loperimide HCl) on-hand for this reason.
Step 6 (Optional): Laxatives. Most people have anywhere from 1-3kg of feces in them at any given time; obviously, this isn’t useful body weight! Make sure you’re “regular.” If this doesn’t happen naturally, don’t stuff yourself with “whole wheat” this and “12-grain” that. Try an over-the-counter, overnight laxative (such as Senokot or Ex Lax) one or two evenings before you weigh in (depending whether you weight in early in the day or later). These medicines, as of now, are WADA compliant, but you should still check just to make sure as the rules change every year.
You MUST experiment with this well ahead of competition! Do not pop 4 laxative pills 15 hours before weigh-in or I guarantee bad things will happen. On the platform. In front of everyone.
Step 7: Eating (or not) before the competition. If you are close to your maximum weight on the morning before competition day, then, consider eating only a light breakfast and a light dinner (both with very few carbs) and nothing else. Leaner proteins such as fish, chicken or eggs digest quickly relative to a steak, and are advisable given the point above; you don’t want last night’s dinner sitting in your gut when you step on the scale. Consider eating asparagus two days before and the day before competition because asparagus contains naturally-occurring, diuretic phytochemicals. How much you eat the day before competition depends on how close to making weight you are relative to your personal comfort. Again, see Step 1: don’t do all the hard work of preparing for competition and then blow it by gorging on pizza the day before!
One note for the women: you may notice your body weight increases before your period (“premenstrual water retention”). This is normal. If you weigh in on one of these days, you will have to work extra hard to ensure the you’re on track to make weight.
One final note: it is always better to weigh in under weight, so aim to be at least 0.3kg under weight on the day of the competition. You never know when your scale will read slightly more than the competition scale!
There you have it! This is how I, along with many of my teammates, make weight for competition! While there are more advanced (and often harsher methods) the steps outlined above should be more than enough for you to successfully make weight, and compete well. If not, then, maybe you need to think about moving up a weightclass! And, as always, consult your coach before embarking on anything pre-contest that he/she may not be familiar with!