Weight cuts, especially for jiu jitsu competitions, are a weird thing. Many (though this is changing in some competitions) have same day weigh-ins, often minutes before you start your fight. As you could imagine, this has helped to eliminate the extreme cuts you see in most MMA organizations, who weigh in days before. For same-day competitions I strongly advise people to think of the process as an aggressive “weight loss” rather than a “cut,” because in reality, you’re not doing a true "cut" in weight the week of.
If you’re more strategic, you can maintain a weight very close to the actual division all year-round. This was the case for Alex Ecklin, a Vitor Shaolin black belt and co-owner of the school Masterskya Brooklyn. Alex fought and competed in the Eddie Bravo Invitational 7 (EBI7), as well as EBI 1. He asked me to handle his nutrition for his EBI7 fight against Baret Yoshida. No strength and conditioning, just nutrition coaching.
Alex's diet overall consisted of quality food in a good quantity. He’d always look to eat lunch at a place like Whole Foods, or lean towards home-cooked meals when possible. This was good. The two things we had to address were:
What exactly to eat (and how to combine it)
When to eat it
The mistake most athletes make is that they either eat too much or way too little. Combat athletes tend to be more measured, or lean toward eating too little, mostly due to years of habitually eating light to make weight. Alex’s intake was close to where I would have wanted it to be anyway.
The tournament was for featherweights (145lbs), but Alex has a history of competing at even lower weight classes (135lbs). His "walking around weight" was very close to 145lbs (plus or minus 5-6lbs on any given day). On top of that, EBI weighs in the day before the tournament, so we had a lot of wiggle room. As we only had to lose about 5-6lbs, which in truth is quite easy, we didn't have to worry so much about losing significant weight and could instead maximize his performance through the right nutrition. So for him, this wasn’t really a cut, but more of a “nutritional upgrade:” He wanted to feel better while training and in everyday life and fix what he felt was a randomness in his eating habits and nutrition. So that’s where we started, and what we accomplished.
Alex is an impressive athlete and the quintessential martial artist. The thing about working with the highest levels of athletes is that their attention to detail and drive is unmatched. When I gave Alex his plan, he snapped right to it, and understood and took to heart everything I shared with him from our initial conversation.
The highlights of our plan:
No “bad combinations” of food that were digestively burdensome, aka: Eat Simple
No eating too late
Adopting a schedule of eating around his teaching and training schedule
What do each mean?
Eating simple is profoundly important. You need to make things easy for your body - and generally the more simple the meal, the easier it’ll be to digest. Without going into too much depth (because the topic deserves volumes), any effective nutrition and health system that I’ve encountered has echoed the idea that your plate at any given meal should not be complicated. Generally if there are over 3-4 different types of food, it’s too much.
Alex had a pretty good handle on this to start, but we brought some mindfulness to it so his meals made sense: one centered around protein, another around something more starchy and dense for energy, and another of just fruit. We didn't mix, and we didn't snack (that will happen sometimes, but we managed them).
No Eating Late
Whether you’re on an intermittent fasting diet or any weight loss plan, you shouldn’t be eating too close to bedtime, and especially not things that are too energy dense (ie: carbohydrates). In Alex’s case, we didn’t eat too late and had a cut off of at least 2 hours before bedtime. It’s a pretty simple rule that we didn't have too many issues with, but late night classes sometimes created problems. In this event, we tried to have him eat before the later trainings or classes, but afterwards was acceptable sometimes- we just let the scale and his overall feeling/performance be the guide.
It was as simple as it sounded; if we could get Alex eating a few hours before bed, not too soon before training, the right mix of nutrients post-training and eliminate snacking, we'd be successful.
That's the key here, you have to be in tune with your body and you have to talk to each other... a lot. For this, we had to let "feeling" be a guide, and this is the core of a good coaching relationship: the athlete has to feel comfortable sharing everything, but the coach has to create that environment in the first place. Then, and only then, can the coach be the coach. At that point, my job is to interpret what they're saying and know the right call to make. Scheduling when to eat in this sense, becomes more of an art.
It's important to me to empower the person I'm working with: you need to teach them how to care for themselves, be self-reliant, and to trust what they're feeling. Both Alex and I made that our mission, and in truth, because he was such a fast learner, I had to do very little. He immediately learned to trust what he was feeling and went with it. Sometimes all we need is positive affirmation in that direction, and we're off to the races.
Alex was on weight at least a week before the weigh-ins, so the last part of his journey to EBI from a nutritional standpoint was just maintenance. We stayed the course, with some minor alterations throughout his travels out to LA, and stayed light in the days before the official weigh-in, which he hit with ease.
If I could sum it up in one sentence: less was more, simple was better. Everything we did was simple. We literally and figuratively, cut the fat. There's a lot of advice on supplements and strange foods out there, but that stuff only is relevant if you have a good baseline.
I hope this gave you all some idea and some positive support in handling your weight cuts responsibly and treating it like a pro. Again, I can't reiterate enough how encouraged I was to see a professional athlete shy away from barbaric methods and cuts of old and really take an optimized and measured approach.