The term “cutting weight” has recently become synonymous with the world of Mixed Martial Arts. Fighters use their own cutting weight strategies to enter their desired weight class in order to secure a specific match. While cutting weight is just now catching on with the MMA crowd, the sport of wrestling has been safely and effectively doing it for decades.
Due to recent controversies in the MMA world, cutting weight has taken on a less than positive reputation. Athletes are abusing the practice and taking it to extreme measures. This puts them in danger while ruining the technique for so many others.
If you’ve ever been curious about weight cutting for performance or weight loss, it’s time you get the facts. Let’s discover the history of the practice, the benefits, and how you can safely try it.
What is Cutting Weight?
First things first: How do you define the weight cutting process. Cutting weight is based on losing water weight through the means of increased body heat. The most ideal way to trigger this increase in body heat is with a sauna or a sauna suit.
As mentioned above, the primary use of weight cutting is in the sports field where athletes compete in a weight-class sport such as wrestling or boxing. It’s not just about sweating until you can’t take it anymore. The idea behind weight cutting is to lose a specific amount of water weight that is safe AND effective. We like to refer to this as the “safe zone” for cutting.
Ideal Safe Zone of Weight Cutting
When you’re cutting weight, the ideal number to shoot for is approximately 5% to 10% of your bodyweight. For example:
- You weigh 200 pounds
- You want to lose between 5% and 10% of that total weight number
- Your water weight loss should be between 10 pounds and 20 pounds
While 5% to 10% of your bodyweight may seem excessive, it’s important to remember that this is water weight. With that said, you may be hesitant to try cutting weight because of the idea that you’ll “gain it all back.” So, the question becomes…
Why Should I Cut Weight?
While it’s true that you will gain back the lost water weight, the act of weight cutting can provide you with a number of incredible benefits that have been scientifically proven. Unlike the temporary water weight loss, these benefits are long term. When you use a sauna or, the most convenient option, a sauna suit to trigger the needed increase in body temperature, you are tapping into a world of potential benefits.
Increased Caloric Expenditure
Studies show that sauna use or wearing a sauna suit can boost the amount of calories that you burn by up to 13% (1-3)
Increased EPOC Levels
- EPOC stands for Excess Post Oxygen Consumption and this is your body’s attempt at working to achieve equilibrium. All that extra work means MORE calories burned. According to a study by Dr. Lance Dalleck, EPOC levels may be boosted up to 22% following using a sauna suit. (1-3)
Greater Release of Growth Hormone
- Growth hormone is released in our bodies throughout the day with an emphasis during deep sleep. Growth hormone is important for a number of bodily processes including recovery, growth, and maintaining proper hormone health. Time spent in a sauna environment has been shown to spike growth hormone levels. (3-6)
Boost in Serotonin Levels
- Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that delivers more than just a boost in mood. Serotonin also helps with intercellular communication and muscle contractions. Time spent in a sauna environment helps to improve serotonin levels. (3, 4, 7)
Increased Total Fatigue Time
- Who can’t benefit from more endurance? It doesn’t matter if you’re an athlete or a weekend hiker, endurance is important. The sauna environment found within a neoprene sauna suit has been shown to increase total fatigue time by up to 67%. This boost in endurance may allow you to smash your best personal workout records. (1-3)
Increased Tolerance to Heat
- Exposing yourself to safe and healthy levels of increased allows the body to increase its tolerance. This is especially useful for summer-focused sports, careers that require you to work in high heat environments, and the general ability to not be as bothered by a hot day. (1-3, 8)
The right stress is beneficial for your body. Think about weight lifting. The bench press may be tough at times but it is a positive stressor that promotes several key benefits. Treat weight cutting via a sauna suit like any stressor by staying within safe boundaries and reaping the benefits that follow.
The Science of Cutting Weight
Although sauna usage has been around for thousands of years, science is only now catching up to demonstrate the benefits. On the surface, you are losing water. When your body temperature increases, your body sweats profusely in order to cool itself down. This is to ensure you don’t overheat and experience a multitude of complications, which we’ll discuss below. That’s cutting weight in a nut shell but there is much more going on here.
There are a few incredible ways that sauna usage triggers the benefits mentioned above. Let’s focus on two of the primary mechanisms that are going on behind the scenes.
Heat Shock Proteins
- These specialized protein cells are often referred to as stress proteins as it is under the presence of physical stressors that they are released. One of the best ways to trigger the release of heat shock proteins is a sauna or a sauna suit. HSP have been suggested to reduce protein breakdown while promoting protein synthesis. In theory, this could promote the growth of lean muscle tissue. If muscle isn’t a major concern, you can at least be comforted by the fact that HSP support proper recovery. (3, 4, 9)
Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF)
- The science behind BDNF is really fascinating. This chemical compound is directly linked to a healthy weight, elevated mood, memory, and the development of new brain cells and communication pathways. Sauna usage has been shown to trigger an increase in BDNF. The potential applications for everyone from athletes to the general population is immense. Athletes may boost their retention of learned skills while those suffering from emotional disorders may find some relief. (10)
Methods of Cutting Weight
Okay, not that you’re convinced and you’re ready to give weight cutting a try, let’s talk about the two methods you can use and how to safely achieve your goal.
Method 1: Loss of Fat and Water
- This long-term method is the ideal method for someone who wants to improve their health without having to worry about a weigh-in for an athletic event. It is focused on a proper diet with a reduced caloric intake while simultaneously increasing your caloric expenditure. In other words, you’ll be eating better foods that are lower in calories while engaging in exercise that promotes high caloric burn.
- For example: You may want to pair a Paleo or Ketogenic diet with high intensity interval training.
Method 2: Water Weight Loss
- This method is ideal for athletes and those needing to drop weight quickly but with the understanding that the weight will be restored. Remember the ideal safe zone above? Your goal in this short-term weight loss will be 5% to 10% of your total bodyweight. The way to trigger the best water weight loss is to use a sauna or a sauna suit. This heat environment is ideal for triggering all of the benefits we mentioned above including your water weight loss. You can combine sauna usage with training.
- For example: 30 minutes of MMA drills followed by 15 minutes in a sauna.
Method 3: Hybrid
- The third option you have is a combination of the two. If you combine a healthy long term approach while supplementing with a short-term water weight loss before an important event, you will be more apt to experience the greatest level of benefit without risk of complications. Place yourself on a clean, low calorie diet while exercising on a consistent basis. You can also use a sauna or sauna suit on a regular basis without the intention to quickly drop weight. When there are a few days until your event, that is when you can begin to utilize the sauna or sauna suit with the intention to cut 5% to 10% of your total bodyweight. Remember: The water weight loss approach is short term! This is why it’s ideal to combine the long-term approach with the short-term approach.
Sample Weight Cutting Regiment
Assuming you are following the third option, here is a breakdown of a sample routine that you can use to safely and effective cut weight leading up to an event. Let’s assume your weigh-in or goal day is Saturday:
Monday through Wednesday
- Continue following your low calorie, high exercise program as usual
- First day of weight cutting
- Decrease your caloric intake by 100 to 200 calories
- Increase your cardiovascular training
- Increase your time spent cutting water weight (E.g. – If you usually do 5 minutes in a sauna suit, increase this to 10 minutes)
- Second day of weight cutting
- Follow the same routine as Thursday
- Increase your time spent cutting water weight – Consider trying intervals of time in the sauna suit
Recovering from Weight Cut
Everyone has their own ritual of recovery but let’s review the most common and most cost-effective ways to recover following a water weight loss of 5% to 10% of your total body weight.
If you lost 5% or less of your total body weight:
- You may find that the simplest measures are all that is required to bounce back after a water weight loss like this. You can simply drink a sports drink such as Gatorade or an electrolyte heavy drink like Pedialyte. Eat light and do not binge on carbohydrates as you’ll find yourself bloated and stuffed. You should fully recover in less than 6 hours.
If you lost 5% or more of your total body weight:
- Everyone is going to respond to recovery differently so it may take more than some Gatorade if you’ve lost 20 pounds of water weight. Follow the methods listed above but focus on the replenishment of electrolytes and not just drinking plain water. Again, eat very light following a B.R.A.T. Diet until your body lets you know that it’s okay to begin increasing caloric consumption. Eventually, you’ll return to your original caloric intake. It may take up to 12 hours to recover. For extreme cases, you can use an intravenous drip to recovery but it’s highly unlikely you’ll need this.
This may seem like a great deal of weight but just remember that your body is made up of 70% water. You aren’t losing hard-earned muscle or stored body fat. This initial weight loss is solely from water. The desire to lose more weight, regardless of your athletic prowess, is going to be there. While it may be tempting to push the limits of weight cutting to look better or achieve a certain weigh-in, the dangers can quickly become apparent if you abuse this process.
The Dangers of Abusing Weight Cutting
The most obvious danger from weight cutting is dehydration. If you are promoting rapid water loss past the 10% threshold, you are bound to hit a point when your body cannot take anymore. This is a tell-tale sign to stop. For those who continue to push the limits of what their bodies and, more importantly, their internal organs can take, serious complications may arise. For example, losing too much water and entering a state of extreme dehydration can cause your organs to fail. Here are the possible complications of abusing weight cutting from least severe to most severe.
- Mood swings
- Decreased strength
- Decreased performance
- Decreased muscle strength
- Decreased muscle performance
- Loss of consciousness
- Organ complications (most notably the kidneys)
These complications are not meant to scare but to inform. Remember, these side effects are not from safe and responsible weight cutting. These are the complications that arise when people ignore safety warnings and push their bodies far past their limits.
What to Watch Out For
One more temptation you may run into when cutting weight is the idea of using a short cut to achieving your target weight. Aside from diet, exercise, and sauna usage, you may find other methods being pressed upon you. We would recommend steering clear of these tempting tricks:
- Pills / Supplements
- Forced vomiting
- Spitting in a bottle
- Training immediately AFTER a sauna session
The benefits of heat exposure are clear when you safely approach it. Whether you’re an athlete or simply someone who wants to improve overall health, the act of weight cutting may be beneficial to both performance and longevity. Follow a safe method as listed above to maximize benefits without exposing yourself to complications.
As always, if you have any questions, please reach out and contact us directly.
For more information on the benefits of the sauna suit, please visit our article section at kuttingweight.com/blogs/news.
If you’d like to purchase a Kutting Weight sauna suit, please visit our online store at kuttingweight.com/collections/sauna-suit-clothing.
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- Dalleck, Lance. (2015) “Chronic Health and Performance Benefits of Exercise with the Kutting Weight® Sauna Suit: Technical Report” Gunnison, CO. Western State Colorado University.
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