If you are an athlete whose sport requires staying within a certain weight limit, chances are at one point or another, you've frantically tried to cut weight in order to qualify for the weigh-in for an upcoming event.
Sports that require weigh-ins include wrestling, boxing, martial arts and even rowing. For some sports, weigh-ins are meant to help pair you with a fair opponent and help keep athletes safe. However, starving yourself, exercising excessively and crash-dieting to qualify for a lower weight class is not safe or healthy.
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Apart from being mentally taxing, the strains of losing weight quickly in a short time can be physically taxing, too. You could experience fatigue, weakened athletic performance, digestive problems and more from lack of nutrients, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Here, learn the ways you can safely lose weight for weigh-in day.
Always talk to your doctor before going on any extreme or fast weight-loss diet. If you are under 18, are pregnant or breastfeeding or have an underlying medical condition, diets in general may not be safe for you.
4 Tips to Lose Weight for a Weigh-In
It's unlikely that weight-cutting for combat sports (in particular) will stop anytime soon. But a combination of strategies to minimize weight-cutting and improve recovery time could drastically improve the health of athletes and sports' culture, according to a May 2019 review in Sports.
In other words, if you still have to make weight for wrestling, there are heathy ways to lose weight before a weigh-in. Here are some tips:
1. Manage Portion Sizes
A common recommendation dietitians make to help clients lose weight is to manage portion sizes. One of the ways you can do this at meals is with The Plate Method, according to the American Diabetes Association.
The method (which was originally created for people with diabetes, but can help others lose weight) calls for filling half your plate with non-starchy vegetables like leafy greens, one quarter with complex carbohydrates like brown rice and one quarter with lean protein like chicken or fish at every meal.
Another tip that helps some athletes is to eat several small meals per day, as opposed to three big ones, to keep blood sugar stabilized and keep your metabolism running strong, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Never starve yourself, even when managing your portion sizes. If you are hungry, more than likely your body is signaling that you need to eat, per Penn Medicine.
2. Try Intermittent Fasting
If you find that managing portion sizes is tricky to do, especially when you are hungry after a training session, intermittent fasting (sometimes called time-restricted feeding) could be a good alternative.
Intermittent fasting involves taking brief breaks from eating, i.e. fasting periods. A common approach to this is called 16:8 — or, eating within an eight-hour window and then fasting for 16 hours, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
If you are an athlete, you may want to schedule your eating window around training sessions, so you don't feel faint or weak during practice.
For example, you can try eating light before bed, even on the night before weigh-in. Try to avoid fatty or sugary foods late at night, which can not only disrupt your sleep, but are also more likely to be stored as fat in the body, per the Cleveland Clinic.
Talk to your doctor before trying intermittent fasting. Children and teens under the age of 18, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those with type 1 diabetes and those with a history of eating disorders should not try intermittent fasting, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.
3. Get In a Morning Workout Session
Sometimes, it's helpful to get in a workout on the morning of the weigh-in. You may not weigh less from that one workout, but it could help you calm your nerves about getting weighed.
There are a few studies suggesting that working out on an empty stomach can help you burn fat and lose water weight, including a January 2020 study in Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine. However, more research about the best time to exercise is needed.
Most training sessions for sports are scheduled in the morning, but exercising on your own time should be whenever you have the energy and motivation to do so, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Can Saunas Help You Lose Weight Fast?
Some wrestlers have been known to visit saunas, wear snow caps and crank up the heater during workouts prior to weigh-ins, but there is not enough scientific evidence to show that sweating can help you burn fat or lose weight long-term.
If anything, you may dehydrate yourself, which can lead to heat exhaustion, kidney problems or other negative effects, per the Mayo Clinic. So, if you're wondering how to weigh less on a scale, sweating can help, but it's not a safe or healthy approach.
4. Avoid Salty Foods
Foods high in salt will cause you to retain water — precisely the opposite of what you need when you're trying to weigh less on weigh-in day.
Sodium attracts and holds water, and some people retain sodium more easily, leading to water weight and increased blood pressure, per the Mayo Clinic.
Examples of foods high in sodium include, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Breads (pizza, sandwiches, rolls etc.)
- Cold cuts and cured meats (deli turkey, ham, beef etc.)
- Savory snacks (chips, pretzels, crackers etc.)
So, if you want to weigh less on weigh-in day, try limiting salty foods leading up to and on the day of weigh-in.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less per day for adults. Adolescents ages 9 to 18 should stay between 1,800 to 2,300 mg.
Make Sure You Drink Plenty of Water
Some coaches will suggest limiting fluid intake and only drinking water in the 24 hours leading up to a weigh-in. This is mostly because it has no calories and may help you lose water weight. Also, water passes quickly through your system.This does not mean that you should dehydrate yourself or stop drinking water altogether for a weigh-in. Make sure you are still getting plenty of fluids and electrolytes so you don't feel weak by the time you get to the competition.
It's recommended to get between 11.5 to 15.5 cups of water per day, whether through drinking water or through water-rich foods, per the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
While it's not safe or healthy to lose weight too quickly, there are some steps you can take to lose weight for a weigh-in.
If you are unsure about how to lose weight in a safe way for your sport, talk to your doctor or consult your coaches or trainers for advice.
- GrappleArts.com: How to Cut Weight
- Bodybuilding.com: How Can You Make Weight Before Your Match?
- Sports: "The Current State of Weight-Cutting in Combat Sports"
- American Diabetes Association: "Eat Good to Feel Good"
- Cleveland Clinic: "How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High"
- Penn Medicine: "Are You Really Hungry? How to Your Understand Hunger Cues"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work?"
- Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine: "Exercise Training and Fasting: Current Insights"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Does It Matter (to Your Heart or Otherwise) What Time of Day You Exercise?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Sodium: How to tame your salt habit"
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025
- CDC: "Top 10 Sources of Sodium"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Is It Bad to Lose Weight Too Quickly?"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Is Eating Before Bed Bad for You?"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dehydration"