It was Monday morning and Adam stood on the scales as normal. 79.3kg flashed back at him. The meet was on Sunday, and anything less than 74kg would mean he was out before he even started. Training had been going fantastically over the last 6 weeks, but the short-term diet he planned never got off the ground. The little bit of weight gained over Christmas had hung around more than expected, and now the March powerlifting meet was next week and time was running out. The chance that all of his hard work could be scuppered by the legacy left by two weeks of mince pies 3 months ago played on his mind.
1,000 Calories a day might do it, he thought, fuck starvation mode. He would stop all water intake in the days before, and attempt to sweat the rest out. By Friday afternoon, in between bouts of sweaty cardio wearing cold weather clothes, he jumped back and forth between the step machine and the scales. He was still over. By Saturday morning, tired, hungry, and dehydrated; he’d missed out by 600 measly grams. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a better long-term strategy or a few more well-used tools in the box, making weight can be almost effortless.
For me, there exists an ideal way to make weight for a powerlifting meet. It involves dieting down to less than your weight class, before “eating into” the competition. The buffer created by being under weight means that your diet in the week or two leading up to the comp can be slightly more liberal and carb laden. While this may or may not actually give you a competitive, performance-based, edge; it will make you feel good. On top of that, you just won’t be worried about it, allowing you to focus on your training instead of anything else. This, however, is not how it usually happens, with something much more like Adam’s story being the norm.
When you absolutely, positively, have to make weight and you need to get there fast, you have a few different, usable, options. By manipulating water, the carbohydrates stored in your muscles and liver, and the contents of your gut, what you thought was immovable weight can plummet like a slut drop in Oceana at midnight. The idea is to focus on a few big hitters. By keeping it simple, and sticking to the 3 techniques I’ll lay out here, you can achieve quite predictable results. Before we get started though, I have a few rules:
- You are not a boxer. Boxers have 24 hours between weighing-in and competing. You have 2. Where they can get away with epic amounts of depletion and dehydration and still find time to put it all back in, you cannot. Do not try.
- You must try to test these techniques at least 6 weeks away from a competition. By testing, you’ll get a feel for what you can achieve rather than relying on guesswork.
- Ideally, you should try all of these independently, so you really know what you can expect from each one
- If you don’t have to drop much weight, stick to the simple tools. Only add complexity if you need to achieve more. Throwing in the latest fad diet is often counterproductive. Testing will build the kind of confidence you need to keep a few things back.
Most people who have taken part in any weight making sport will have heard of the concept of “water cutting” or “water loading”. Within the body, there is a system that regulates blood pressure and water balance. When you drink more water, you pee more out. When you suddenly stop drinking, you carry on peeing it out until the system catches on. In theory, you are left with less water and thus, less weight on the day. Theories are all well and good, but despite the popularity of water loading, there is actually only one decent study on this.
- The study by Reale et al 2017 (currently unpublished) tested whether loading water before restricting it led to greater overall fluid losses
- There was a water loading group who had 100ml per kg of body weight per day and a group that had 40ml per kg
- They did this for 4 days before restricting water intake
- After the restriction, the water loading group lost 0.5 to 1kg more than the other group
While drinking what might feel like a bathtub full of water every day isn’t easy, the concept is simple. Drink a lot of water for several days, then restrict. For this reason, it goes to the top of our big 3 list of weight making strategies. Here’s what you should do assuming a Sunday competition:
Very low carb diets are something that I don’t use very often. Despite what the legions of ketards might tell you, there is no benefit to fat loss compared to any other diet. One advantage though is in depleting the carbohydrate stored in your muscles and liver, and the tag-along water that comes with it. There is in the region of 400g to 800g of carbohydrate stored in your muscles depending on their size. There’s another 100g or so in the liver. For every gram of stored carbohydrate, there’s another 3g or so of water stored in there. By eating less than 40g of carbs for a few days leading up to the meet, you can deplete your body’s stores and potentially drop 2 to 3.6kg pretty easily.
The thing to remember about powerlifting is that even though being loaded with carbs make you feel like a badass, it might not actually contribute to making you lift more on the day.
- A study by Jacobs et al (1981) showed that glycogen depletion (your body’s form of carb storage) results in impaired maximum muscle strength
- However, 1 to 2 hours before the strength test, the people in the study did 30 minutes of cycling, 75 minutes of running, followed by sprint cycling and rapid, maximal contractions of the quadriceps. I don’t know about you, but my legs might not have much pop left after that lot, regardless of glycogen levels.
- In a study by Mitchell et al (1997), strength trainees were depleted of glycogen in their quads by performing cycle ergometry followed by a high or very low carb diet for 48 hours. They then did various lower body strength tests showing no difference in performance between the high or low carb groups.
My take-home message where this is concerned is that low glycogen levels will not affect your performance in a powerlifting meet negatively. In the two hours before the weigh-in and the squat, you’ve got some time to refuel to a certain extent, and if you’ve followed my rule to test, you’ll know for yourself how you’ll perform before the meet anyway.
Eating fewer than 40g of carbs isn’t always easy if you’ve never done it before. Below is an example of what Adam might eat on one day with about 2,100 Calories to spare.
Ever heard of people losing several pounds after having colonic irrigation? A healthy diet with lots of vegetables will carry with it a lot of fibre and bulk, which hangs around in the gut for some time. If that were to suddenly disappear, a not insignificant amount of weight can be lost. Now, before you rush out to get a coffee enema or consider sticking that detoxing grapefruit suppository where the sun don’t shine, there’s an easier, less intrusive way to net yourself another 0.5 to 1kg weight loss before the event. This comes in the shape of a low residue diet.
Quite simply, one day before the competition, you consume nothing but easily digestible, very low-fibre foods. Bearing in mind that you’re consuming low carbs, and still need to get your Calories in, higher fat foods like full-fat dairy, eggs and fatty fish will be good. Anything containing fibre is out. Protein shakes are fine, but remember that fluid intake is going to be low the day before the comp and shakes count towards that. Below is another 2,100 Calorie example day for Adam.
Assuming you’re going to use all three strategies at once, here’s how it would play out, again, assuming a Sunday competition.
The last thing left is what to do after the weigh-in. Really, this isn’t as important as you think so I’m going to give you some basics.
- Fluid first. Before you eat anything, smash down a drink containing 10% or less solution of carbs, and some sodium. Don’t get fancy, buy a couple of Lucozade sports and have those.
- After that, my recommendation is to eat whatever makes you feel happy. One of my clients eats Nutella and banana sandwiches before hitting PR’s.
- Remember you’ve only got 2 hours between the weigh-in and the squat. Don’t stuff yourself. Throwing up on the platform is not a good look.
Making weight for powerlifting doesn’t have to be difficult. Avoid extremes, stick to the three techniques listed above, and you’ll be fine.
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