How to Make Weight for Competition the Right Way
By Hannah Every-Hall, AccSD.
Avoid crash dieting and make weight for competition the right way
As we know, many sports require athletes to compete in weight categories. In order to participate in the event the competitor must weigh in at a certain weight (or below) before competition – this is commonly referred to as ‘making weight’.
Optimising body composition ideally occurs during the latter part of the ‘off season’ and the early part of the competition season. In many cases, however, there is still a need for some last minute fine-tuning to ensure competition weight requirements are met. Sadly, many athletes can compromise their competition results (and waste all those months of hard training!) by severely restricting food and fluid intake in an effort to rapidly make weight. Fortunately, there are a number of nutrition strategies that can be used to achieve small, temporary weight loss that won’t compromise performance goals, nor harm your long-term health.
Weight loss in all areas of nutrition is complex and making weight with athletes is no different. This information and advice largely reflects my own personal experiences as a national and international lightweight rower over 10 years, along with my expertise gained from working as an Accredited Sports Dietitian with a variety of weight making sports in private practice. Although my background is in rowing, athletes competing in a range of weight category sports, including jockeys and combat sports like taekwondo and boxing, can use these strategies below.
It’s important that each athlete follows their own individual plan and works closely with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to achieve the most successful outcomes.
Last minute strategies to make weight
If you haven’t had a long-term weight management plan in place, some possible strategies to make weight at the last minute are listed below. It should be reinforced that these strategies should only be followed for the 48-72 hours leading into competition and are not representative of the ideal diet to support optimal training.
- Low Residue/Fibre Diet – This is a method of manipulating a diet to minimise fibre intake as much as possible and may achieve ~300-750g weight loss through emptying of gastrointestinal contents (but considerable variation in weight loss occurs from athlete to athlete).
- Salt Restriction – Limiting foods high in salt and avoiding adding salt to meals can help minimise fluid retention and therefore contribute to short term weight loss.
- Fluid Manipulation – Although some athletes have been known to rapidly dehydrate to cut weight quickly and in large amounts, this can be detrimental and harmful – particularly losses greater than 2-3% of body weight. Severe dehydration not only reduces performance potential but it is also dangerous to health.
In some cases, manipulating the body’s fluid levels – by limiting fluid intake the final day before competition (and away from any training sessions) may be a useful, short-term strategy to make weight. Limiting fluid intake may retain more electrolytes, and allow for more rapid re-hydration after weigh-in compared to dehydrating through sweating. However it is important to consider the time available between weighing in and the start of competition as there may not be sufficient time to rehydrate effectively before competing.
Importantly, any attempt to manipulate fluid intake should be done under the advice of an Accredited Sports Dietitian.
Practise makes perfect
As with training, practising different nutrition tactics is paramount. It is important that any last minute strategies to make weight are practised under similar conditions (as close as possible) to a competition scenario to ensure you have confidence in their success and know how your body will respond.
Practising these strategies has the added benefit of allowing you to know how much weight is lost with each technique, what foods and fluids work best for you, and how you will actually feel prior to competition.
Remember – what you do after weigh-in matters!
In order to facilitate optimal rehydration and recovery after you weigh in an appropriate strategy and plan is essential. This also needs to be practised and refined. High carbohydrate foods and fluids should be prioritised to ensure that fuel (glycogen) stores are ready to go for competition.
Hydration is also incredibly important for replacing any fluids lost during the making weight process. The use of sports drinks, meal replacement drinks or smoothies can be helpful as they provide both fluid and carbohydrate in one.
Everyone is different
Every athlete will do something slightly different, and what is good for one is not necessarily good for another.
Once you have determined what strategies work best for you, be confident with your plan. Know that you have trained and practised effective techniques to make weight with good response, and do your best to block out the outside noise.
Ask for help!
If you have left the weight making to the last minute, seek the advice of an Accredited Sports Dietitian to guide you through the process as safely, and in as best condition, as possible.
Remember, there are a range of weight category sports, each with their own set of rules and regulations for competition. It is imperative that you work with someone who understands the sport specific rules and procedures before starting with the planning of weight management.
Overlooked your weight management plans this season?
- Learn from the experience and plan ahead for next season, remembering that optimising body composition starts in the off-season.
- Sit down with an Accredited Sports Dietitian and periodise your weight management plan. Set goals together and have clear weight targets to achieve throughout the whole season – usually small steps are much easier to achieve than looking at the final goal.
- Identify time points where different weight management strategies can be practised without impacting upon important competitions or periods of important or intense training blocks.
- Determine what strategies work best for you, both for long-term steady weight loss and acute competition day options.