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Weight Cutting for Jiu Jitsu: Alex Ecklin's EBI7 Weight Cut

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 Profile

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.  

THE PLAN

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?

Eat Simple

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. 

Scheduling

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. 

In Conclusion

 

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. 

If you ever want to discuss weight cuts, nutrition plans for your performance optimization, feel free to check this page out or contact me!

Be well,

Mark

My Nightly Rituals for Better Sleep, Recovery, Mood and Health

About a year ago, I wrote about something that really resonated with a lot of people on my morning rituals. In many ways, it was years in the making and continues to be my practice to this day.

What about the end of my day, though (or the end of your day)? It’s equally important, as it sets you up for what is hopefully restful sleep, which is profoundly important in recovering from your training, the stress of the day, and keeping you healthy.

I believe that “winding down” is very personal, that is to say, things that relax me, may agitate you, which will create a lousy type of alertness. Thus, you should use this as a guide to give you ideas and a “jumping off” point in which you can create your own.

Here are my night time rituals, or how I end every day:

Stop working on anything 2 hours before bed (minimum)

Admittedly, it took a while for me to do this, but it is of note because I love my work and how I spend my days and professional life. For me, it’s not a stressor to be working on training programs, but if I take myself too deep into the evening doing so, I will have a very hard time shutting off my “problem-solving brain” and be very alert and awake. I won’t be unhappy, just not in a restful state, so to avoid it, I make sure I stop all real work around 2 hours before I go to sleep. I fill the rest of my evening with things that tune me down a bit: reading, laying down/relaxing, talking with my girlfriend, and watching old re-runs of the Office. ;-)

Imagine for a moment that you are the opposite: you’re stressed by work, angry you have to do the task you need to, and that it’s taking you so long. Now you have to go to sleep. Not a great state of mind...

A light-to-moderate movement ritual

I like walks in the evening, but a few nights a week, I’ll get a little more aggressive and go to a local rock climbing wall in the traditional “dinner hours" and do some climbing. It has a relaxing effect on me. It’s the opposite of traditional working out, jiu jitsu or anything full-contact, so it’s a nice reprise. Moving at the end of the day like this feels right in a way that's hard for me to quantify. I find I need it before I shut down for the day. Sometimes I’ll do yoga during these hours as well.

Walking during sunset is a powerful way to reset your circadian rhythm- the colors in the evening sunset help signal to your body that the end of the day is near, and you can start "shutting down" for the day. I highly recommend when you travel, that you spend as much time in the evenings outdoors as possible. 

For many years, I always went back and forth with how I advise clients and athletes to treat their movement at the end of the day. I’m not the biggest fan of late night workouts, because of the cortisol dump happening at a time when you typically want it gone, but I do believe that you should move around a little in the hours before you sleep. As I said, I'm sometimes at a rock climbing gym in the evening, so it's a bit of a double-edged sword. I’d cut it off 2 hours before sleep, regardless.

A Warm Shower

At different times of year, and at different times of the day, I find warm or cold exposure to be equally relaxing. In general however, a warm shower at the end of the day will help relax me a bit, loosening my muscles up, and generally just feels good. 

Aroma or Sound Therapy

I have a recent preference and fondness of aromatherapy- something about the right scent will change my mood immediately, and helps me relax, if it’s the right scent. Often times, I find we aren’t so conscious of our sense of smell unless we’re smelling something awful, so it’s nice to get a refreshing blast of something pleasant.

You may find that a white-noise machine, or some ambient sounds help you relax all the same. If you live in a noisy area, or are around droning, awful sound all day, some nice music may do the trick. There’s also a number of apps that have hundreds of sounds to choose from. 

f.lux on your phone/laptop. Better yet, ditch it all 90 minutes before sleep.

There’s a number of apps out these days that kill the blue-light and overall brightness of all the “screens” in your life. I find too much screen-time to be way too alerting to the senses. In fact, if I'm really drowsy in the morning, I'll read a few Instagram posts to wake me up, it always does the trick. So the opposite holds- don't be getting in text conversations too late in the day or scrolling compulsively through social media before you sleep.

Set your alarm for the next morning ahead of time. Do whatever you need to do to cut the phone or laptop off 90 minutes before bed.

 

Making Your Own Nightly Rituals

It's really all about finding what relaxes you and turns off what I call "the problem solving brain." That "brain" will always keep you awake and alert, and while important, also needs its rest. 

Experiment, and like anything, evolve what you currently do. Naturally, we tend to evolve things anyway, but bring some mindfulness to it, and you'll be sleeping like a baby in no time.

 

If you have any great nightly rituals, leave a comment below, I'd love to hear it!

-Mark

My Morning Rituals & How to Make Your Own

Me demonstrating the Hindu Push Up at Maui Jiu Jitsu. Photo Credit: Kristie Andreula

 

Each morning, I have a wake up ritual that I do all or most of, no matter where I am. Coming out of deep sleep is a delicate thing: from a physical, but also mental perspective. 

How often do you hear about the person (or maybe it's you) who wakes up just in time to get dressed and run out the door to catch a subway or shoot to the expressway to make it to work or school on time... barely. 

That's such a shocking way to start your day. There's a physiological response to that as well: one that you probably don't want if you're trying to maximize fat loss, maintain healthy body composition, stay primed for your best performing self.... Oh and did I mention that the scenario I described above is super stressful? 

Treat yourself a little better. That's the #1 reason to do this. We could sit and discuss the intricate X's and O's of adrenal hormone response, cortisol and fat storage, and the history of successful people and wake up rituals, but the real reason you should plan a morning ritual is because it's simply time for you.  Time you make for yourself always results in a good return on the investment: you're happier, calmer, have time to think, be more creative, etc. 

Getting beyond the physiological and philosophical reasonings and justifications, I also enjoy my routine for these two reasons:

  • The ritual itself signals to me it's time to wake up, gets me out of a groggy state, and ready to train or do whatever I need to that morning. 
  • I've found tremendous benefit mentally in waking up and not putting my mind on anything except what I'm doing to get the day started. 

 

My Morning Rituals 

 

Tongue Scrape

I always do this, no matter what. It's probably the oral health routine most people do the least, but would feel the best after doing. I use Dr Tung's metal tongue scraper, as the plastic ones never work and aren't particularly durable, and using a brush just sort of has the effect that smushing mud with your shoe into your shag carpet would. You'd be shocked and possibly disgusted as to what comes off your tongue, so it's best to get it off! I do this before drinking any water. I'll let you Google the sulphuric compounds that build up on your teeth and smell like death...

 

Brush My Teeth

This is what most people (hopefully) do anyway, but after a good tongue scrape, I brush my teeth. Self explanatory as to why, and you can debate what toothpaste you want to use. 

 

Coconut Oil Swish and "Pulling"

This is something that I've found to be the most refreshing and waking of any morning habit, and it's so easy to do! Simply take about a tablespoon of coconut oil (unrefined, extra virgin works best and is all I recommend), and swish for 15 to 20 minutes. Besides the different benefits people commonly write about across the Internet and literature of the oil pulling away impurities and acting as an antimicrobial, I find that it has the effect of "moisturizing my mouth." On the east coast, much of the year is very raw and dry, and your skin and sinuses get pretty baron. The throat is no different. The oil feels really refreshing on your gums, mouth and throat and takes away any scratchy or overly parched feeling. It's like a moisturizer for your mouth.

 

Drink a glass of room temperature water

I make sure the first thing I drink after the steps above is water: never coffee. After going about 8 hours without fluids, it's a good idea to hydrate. I also feel, intuitively, that it starts to wake up my "insides" and helps get the digestion or "elimination mechanisms" primed.  

 

My Choice Mobility Exercises

If I wanted to, I could do a movement for each joint in very little time (5-10 minutes), but usually in the morning, I do the most important areas for me: neck, shoulders, spine, hips.

Most days, after I do the specific joint mobility of what's listed above, I'll do:

  • A minute or two of Hindu Push-Ups (no rep prescription
  • A minute of two of Hindu Squats
  • 10 straight legged forward bends, bringing my forehead to my ankles.

I don't always assign rep counts, and usually go for time because I like to move until I don't hear any more crackly creeks or pops in the body or joints. That's my sign that I'm mobile and I've started to get the joints and connective tissue lubricated. 

NOTE: This is NOT a morning workout, it's simply getting my body moving and ready to move for the day.

 

Don't Eat Until Moving My Bowels

While this one may be controversial for some (or a giggle-inducer), it really shouldn't be. I was introduced to Dr John Tilden's book, Toxemia Explained a little over a year before writing this. In it, he makes the case for us essentially being digestive machines. In other words, we are only as healthy as what we can digest. When we are burdened digestively, it's not a bad idea to fast and let our body deal with what's already there. 

The logic for me in this practice is this: Most people poop in the morning, so after that morning "movement," they accumulate a whole day of eating, drinking, etc. That stuff is just waiting in que to exit the body all day. Then when you sleep, there's a host of metabolic processes that happen overnight, not to mention a nice little "gravity shift" on you when you stand up in the morning.  I like to let all this run its course, drink water (as stated above), and if necessary, some coffee for "added stimulation" to let the process happen. Then you start the day with a clean slate. You aren't piling shit on top of shit, so to speak. 

Making Your Own Morning Routine

Beyond that- it's up to you. Many people have really awesome rituals that are worth reading about, Steve Maxwell and Nikolai Amosov come to mind, but I think what's most important is just having a routine. Famously, Tim Ferriss loves to ask all his high profile interviewees about this topic, and while I do believe the best performers in the world have morning routines, that's not why YOU should- I just think it's a nice thing to do. 

 I believe and benefit from having a morning routine and I think it's less important to get caught up in the minutia of what to do, or why doing it will "put you on the path to excellence," but rather concentrate on constructing a routine that you find beneficial and puts you in your unique, calm headspace. Then, just do it.

(If you come up with a cool one, drop me a line!)