Making Weight for a Meet?

Written by Melissa

Topics: Nutrition, powerlifting

I found a great article that helped me get focused on making weight for my powerlifting meet this weekend.  The key really is to drink plenty of water..plenty!

 

The reality of competing in powerlifting is that at some point in time we
all have to make weight. Making weight can make or break your lifting
performance. For optimal performance, a lifter should be at the very top of
his respective weight division. If you compete at the lower end of a weight
class, you’re usually at a disadvantage compared to your heavier
competitors.

As a twelve-year veteran of powerlifting, I’ve had to make weight in all but
two of my competitions. Making weight usually means that you’re on the
borderline of one weight class’s limits and on the lower end of the heavier
class. If this is the case, it pays to drop the last few extra pounds and
fit into the lighter weight class where your total will likely be more
competitive. For those who are in the middle of a certain weight class (i.e.
a 260-lb lifter who is in between the 242-lb and 275-lb weight classes)
making weight really doesn’t apply to you. These folks can simply lift at
their current body weight and eventually grow into a full 275 lbs. Most of
us find ourselves in the previous situation where we’ve trained at a
slightly heavier body weight during our training cycle to hopefully take
advantage of some added strength. In the last few weeks, we then have to
lose a few pounds to fit into our weight class. The question remains, “How
do we lose those last few pounds and not lose any strength?”

If there was only one way to make weight, we would all be doing it.
Conversely, there are right ways to make weight and there are wrong ways to
go about it. Before I explain how to make weight easily without adversely
affecting your performance, I’ll share with you the wrong way.

At 25-years-old with two years of competitive experience under my belt, I
thought I knew all there was to know about making weight. I followed the
practice of losing weight gradually over the course of the training cycle so
I wouldn’t be in shock when the competition came around and I had additional
weight to lose. On July 1, 1997, I was competing in my first national
powerlifting championship at the USPF Seniors in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I was planning on lifting in the 198-lb (90 kg) class. I had been training
at a body weight of about 205 lbs and was making good strength gains. I
started losing the weight early, and when I left for Philadelphia the day
before the meet, I was 198 lbs right on the nose. Perfect. Or so I thought.

When I arrived at the meet site, I checked in and immediately found the meet
scale so I could check my weight. I was scheduled to weigh in the next
morning. I undressed, hopped on the scale, and much to my dismay, it read
202 pounds. I thought to myself, “This can’t be right. I weighed 198 lbs
right before I left and didn’t eat or drink anything on the drive up from
Maryland.” I got off the scale and got back on, and sure enough, 202 was the
number. I panicked. I was four pounds over with less than a day to lose it.

To make a long story short, until weigh-ins, I didn’t eat anything except
lettuce. I sipped distilled water. I took not one but two enemas. I’ll spare
you the details and won’t even explain how that went. Use your imagination,
and I’m sure you can come up with some gruesome yet hilarious images in your
mind. And to top it all off, I sat in a sauna off and on for approximately
two hours the next morning doing push-ups and jumping jacks. What can I say?
I was grasping at straws. I finally made weight, and I don’t even need to
tell you how I performed. Simply stated, I had the single worst athletic
performance of my life. I went 4/9 and had the rare opportunity to
experience full body cramps with my training partners having to literally
stand on me to try and keep me from curling into the fetal position. It goes
without saying that this is an example of making weight the wrong way.

I learned many valuable lessons that weekend and decided it was time to
educate myself on the basic physiology of making weight for competitions. I
knew there had to be an easier, safer, and more effective way to lose a few
pounds without suffering decrements in performance. I began to learn basic
hydration principles and came to understand the importance and influence of
sufficient water in the body. I spoke with more experienced lifters, I read
everything I could get my hands on, and I even experimented with different
methods on myself.

Today, I’ve developed an easy-to-understand and effective system of making
weight without adversely affecting performance. I’ve used this protocol with
myself as well as with many local, state, national, and elite level lifters.
When followed correctly, it works like a charm. Frankly, it’s not rocket
science, and I’m certainly no genius. All you need is a basic understanding
of some nutritional and physiology principles. Take that knowledge and
couple it with some self-discipline and you have a very safe and effective
way of making weight without having to kill yourself like I did. If you
don’t learn from your own mistakes take the time at least to learn from
mine.

Before beginning the discussion of making weight, one must recognize and
understand appropriate times for weight loss. Unless a young athlete is
clinically obese, it is never appropriate for them to lose weight. Famed
Russian powerlifting coach, Boris Sheiko, admonishes that weight loss for
young athletes has negative effects on one’s overall health including
disturbances in the activity of the endocrine glands and the cardiovascular
system. This translates to impaired physical development in athletes, who
are not finished growing as well as the intrusion of poor performance and
results. Dave Tate of EliteFTS takes it a step further to explain that, “The
last thing a beginner needs to worry about is making a weight class. They
need to focus on getting stronger.” I agree wholeheartedly. If you’re a
novice, just lift. Focus on your technique and on getting stronger. Then hit
some PRs.

Alas, there are two sides to every coin. Those who need to concern
themselves with making weight are fully grown and experienced lifters. Even
then, unless you plan on totaling elite, breaking a record, or competing at
the highest levels, what’s the point of losing weight?

Another consideration is to understand the difference between when to lose
the extra weight and when to move up into the higher weight class. A good
rule of thumb to use is if you’re continually having to lose more than 5
percent of your weight class limit, it might be time to move up to the next
weight class. For example, if a female lifter who is desirous of lifting in
the 165-lb class is often having to lose more than eight pounds (165 X 0.05
= 8), perhaps your body is telling you that it’s time to move up to the
181-lb class. Sometimes this isn’t necessarily the case because a lifter
really just needs to clean up their nutritional plan and lose some excess
body fat. Over time, powerlifting makes us all bigger, thicker, and more
muscular. It is extremely rare to see a lifter compete in the same weight
class for their entire career.

By the same token, maturing into a heavier weight category often takes time.
As your body weight increases your leverages change. Increased body weight
is usually favorable in both the squat and the bench press. However, the
added weight often inhibits or slows progress in the deadlift. Leaner
competitors that carry a low body fat percentage will find it more difficult
to keep making weight. I used to train with an elite 114-lb lifter who was
extremely lean. His body fat was so low that when he did cut weight for
competition he lost muscle. This severely hampered his performance, and he
eventually moved up to the 123-lb class where he is happier and stronger.

Articles featuring various methods on making weight have recently been
presented. Many advocate losing the weight as fast as possible and then
putting it back on in the same fashion. This makes sense if you have a
weigh-in that is 24–48 hours in advance. Some powerlifting federations allow
early weigh-ins like these. With an early weigh-in, the most popular school
of thought is to train at a heavier body weight and then lose the excess
weight as fast as possible, often employing drastic means like diuretics,
dehydration, fasting, hot baths, and sauna. This ensures that the body is at
the lower body weight for as short a time as possible.

Immediately after weighing in, the buffet begins. Rehydration and massive
eating resume in an effort to put the weight back on as quickly as possible.
If you can make it all the way back to your original weight, you’re usually
going to be in good shape. This method may be sufficient for early
weigh-ins, but for the sake of this discussion, we will focus on making
weight for the two-hour weigh-in.

Understanding your body’s response to water is the most critical aspect of
making weight. The human body acts like a sponge. If you only consume small
amounts of water, it’s like taking a few drops of water and pouring it into
a small sponge. What happens? The sponge absorbs the water and holds onto
it. The opposite is true when you drink large amounts of water. Now imagine
taking that same small sponge and pouring a gallon of water into it. What
happens now? The sponge first absorbs the water then it overflows and pushes
out the excess. Your body functions much the same way.

This is where people make horrible mistakes with making weight. Most lifters
think they need to stop drinking early. On the surface, this seems like a
practical solution, but the process is flawed. When you cease water intake,
your body responds by saying, “Whoa! I’m not getting enough fluids so I
better hold onto whatever little bit I’m getting.” That’s what makes you
feel bloated. When you’re bloated, you’re actually dehydrated from a lack of
fluid intake. Conversely, when you’re fully hydrated, you feel normal,
leaner, and not as puffy and swollen because now there’s a constant flow of
fluid intake followed by excretion.

Most lifters make the mistake of stopping their water intake way too soon. I
can’t count how many times I’ve gone to national and world championships
only to see elite lifters walking around like zombies because they’ve
stopped drinking water. Science tells us that dehydration symptoms become
noticeable after a mere 2 percent of one’s normal water volume has been
lost. (1) Thirst, decreased urine volume, urine that is darker than usual,
fatigue, headache, dry mouth, dizziness, loss of appetite, and hypotension
(decreased blood pressure) are all classic symptoms of mild dehydration.
Most important, athletes (powerlifters) can suffer a loss in performance up
to 30 percent and experience flushing, low endurance, cramping, rapid heart
rates, elevated body temperature, and the rapid onset of fatigue. (1)
Additional water loss such as sweating causes these symptoms to become more
severe. Obviously, there are no advantages to being dehydrated.

It is rare for a powerlifter to heed the recommendations of a bodybuilder.
Nevertheless, this is one of those infrequent times when powerlifters should
learn from bodybuilders. When a bodybuilder steps on stage, they are at
their leanest and most vascular. What the casual onlooker doesn’t realize is
that while they might look like the epitome of a human anatomy chart, they
are actually in their most depleted state. They are malnourished (in a
caloric deficit), often dehydrated, small, and weak. It is commonplace for
bodybuilders to cramp while posing. While this transient state of exhaustion
may be the perfect recipe for displaying muscular proportion, it is the
worst possible scenario for optimal physical performance.

Accordingly, powerlifters (and all strength athletes) should be at their
biggest, most hydrated, and completely nourished state when they step onto
the lifting platform. Nobody cares if your posterior deltoid is in
proportion to the development of your latissimus dorsi. The only thing your
competitor is concerned with is how much weight you lift.

Making weight usually comes down to understanding body water and managing
your water intake. A large portion of the human body is water. Blood is 83
percent water, and lean muscle tissue contains about 75 percent water. Body
fat contains 25 percent water, and bone is roughly 22 percent water. In
males, approximately 55 percent of the body’s mass is water. In women, the
value is about 51 percent due to a higher proportion of body fat. (2) I
mention these statistics to illustrate how abundant and important water is
to the human body.

Simply stated, water is the single most important nutrient in the body. It
helps regulate nearly every bodily function from digestion to brain function
to maintaining healthy skin. Death due to dehydration can occur in three
days (or less in hot weather), and no one normally lives more than five to
six days without water. To further illustrate how vital water is, we need
not look any further than a former political and spiritual leader of India,
Mahatma Gandhi. On several occasions, Gandhi led nonviolent protests that
included fasting. He once went twenty-four consecutive days without food.
However, these prolonged demonstrations would not have lasted without water.

Most research states that healthy males should consume approximately three
liters of water daily and females should consume 2.2 liters daily. I’ve
always strived for more than a gallon daily though there’s really no
research behind that. It’s just what works for me. With every nutritionist
I’ve spoken to, the same sentiments have resonated repeatedly. The more
water you drink, the better off you’ll be. The better you’ll feel, and the
better you’ll perform. That’s enough incentive for me. The effort it would
take to drink the amount of water required to induce death by water
intoxication and hyponatremia (electrolyte disturbance) is monumental. Most
deaths from water intoxication occur as a result of complications from other
medical conditions, water drinking contests, and long bouts of intensive
exercise in extreme heat during which time electrolytes are not properly
replenished.

The first step to making weight without impairing performance is to begin
charting your weight in the evenings immediately prior to bedtime. Record
the number, go to sleep, wake up, urinate if you have to, get weighed again,
and record the new number. Do this for one week and average the amount of
weight you lose overnight. This is how much play you’ll have come meet time.
Always use the same scale. That way even if it’s wrong, it’s consistently
wrong and you still know how much weight you’ve lost or gained.

After you establish your overnight weight loss, continue to weigh on
Saturday mornings only. Body weight can fluctuate from day to day. Think of
it this way—one gallon of water weighs eight pounds. So hypothetically
speaking, if you drank one gallon of water, did not urinate or lose water by
sweating, and then stepped on a scale, you would be eight pounds heavy.
Sodium rich foods can cause tremendous water retention so don’t worry
yourself with daily fluctuations. I also recommend Saturday morning because
most of us compete on Saturday and you want to try to create the exact same
situation as you’ll experience on contest day. Furthermore, if you get
weighed with underwear on, wear them every time. Do not get weighed in jeans
one Saturday and without clothing the next. You’ll never be able to
establish any kind of accurate account of your weight.

If you have approximately 5 percent of your body weight to lose, start
early. When you begin to plan for your next competition, look at the
calendar and consider how many weeks of training you’ll need to adequately
prepare. By beginning the weight loss process early, it will be more gradual
and less of a shock to the system than last-minute weight loss, which can
wreak havoc on your body and create all of the aforementioned negative
symptoms that adversely affect your performance. Gradual weight loss rarely
affects strength in a negative way whereas abrupt weight loss is almost
always accompanied by strength loss.

Another advantage to gradual weight loss over the course of the training
cycle (one pound per week is best) is you will know exactly how your gear
will fit on meet day. If you’re heavy early on and procrastinate until meet
week to begin losing the extra weight, your gear can often feel loose at the
meet. There is nothing worse than starting warm-ups for the squat and
pulling your squat suit on to find that it fits like a pair of baggy jeans.
As I usually compete in either the 220-lb (100 kg) or 242-lb (110 kg) weight
class, I prefer to start losing weight early on in the training cycle so
when meet week arrives I’m within three to four pounds of my weight class
limit. If that’s the case, I can eat lots of clean calories the last week to
fuel my body for optimal performance.

We should all be drinking at least one gallon of water daily. This is even
more important during our training cycle because of the exertion on the
body. And if you sweat a lot like I do, you need to replace what’s lost.
Most of the literature on water intake advises us to count food, juices,
sodas, teas, coffee, and other beverages toward our total daily water
intake. I prefer to only count the actual water that I drink. Some beverages
contain caffeine, which has a very mild diuretic affect. Not to mention, who
has the time to add all that up? I’d like to meet the person who knows how
much water is in my steak, sweet potatoes, and broccoli. I don’t have a clue
or the inclination to waste my time calculating the water content in my
food. That way, at day’s end, I know that I actually drank a gallon of plain
water.

There are very specific nutritional guidelines to follow during meet week.
Avoid breads, crackers, any products made with dough or flour, and dairy
products like cottage cheese, yogurt, and cheese. While some whole wheat,
flax, and grain breads are a good source of complex carbohydrates, flour
makes your body retain water. Dairy products create the same effect. Water
retention and bloat is not something you want until after weigh-ins. Your
carbohydrates should come predominantly from oatmeal, sweet potatoes, and
truckloads of fibrous vegetables. Asparagus, broccoli, leafy greens, and
spinach will all help keep things moving. Avoid white potatoes, rice, and
pasta during the last week. Protein should come from whey protein powder,
egg whites, chicken, lean turkey, lean beef like flank steak or round, and
white fish. Include fats like almonds, walnuts, olive oil, and fish oils.
You can still eat a lot of calories to fuel your body. They just have to be
clean.

On the Monday of meet week, increase your daily water intake from one to two
gallons. Be absolutely sure you get two gallons down every day of meet week.
This will ensure adequate hydration and additional fluid excretion.
Urination will increase as will overnight weight loss.

If you are flying to your competition, this adds another variable to the
equation. Flying and the subsequent changes in air pressure and altitude
have a dehydrating effect on the body. It makes your body retain more water
than usual. This is why lifters who cut out their water pre-flight have so
much trouble making weight after landing. They arrive and because they
haven’t had any water, their bodies immediately start to hold onto
everything. This makes weight loss extremely difficult, especially on
overseas flights. It can take up to 24 hours for your body to acclimate to
having flown for more than five hours.

My wife has this system down to a science. She drinks like a fish pre-flight
and during the flight as well. On our last two overseas flights to the IPF
World Championships, I think she spent more time in the plane’s lavatory
than she did in her seat. When she wasn’t drinking or going to the bathroom,
she was tracking down a stewardess for more water. This year I decided I’ve
had enough with being disturbed by her frequent bathrooms breaks so I went
online to Best Buy Catheter Supply and bought the newest model. Now my only
concerns are how we’re going to get it through security and where to put the
drainage bag. All kidding aside, she drinks nonstop and I mean nonstop.
However, when we land, she’s barely bloated, hydrated, and closer to making
weight.

If you’re not flying to your competition, the process is a little easier.
Continue drinking two gallons of water daily. A good rule is to keep
drinking until approximately 12 hours prior to weigh-ins. For example, if
you weigh-in at 8:00 am on Saturday morning, cease water intake at 8:00 pm
on Friday evening. If you shut your water off at 8:00 pm, you’ll still have
a couple of hours to urinate and lose some more fluid before bedtime.
Immediately after the cessation of water intake, eat one whole lemon. Lemons
have nearly innumerable functions and increasing urination is one of them.

The morning of the competition, wake up, go to the bathroom, and if you’re
already on location (as in a hotel), then immediately check your weight on
the meet scale. Hopefully, you’ll be right on or slightly under. If you’re
one pound under then you can eat one pound of food and still be safe. Do not
drink before weigh-ins. Water is heavy. Two cups (16 ounces) of water weigh
one pound. You would rather fuel your body with calories then add weight
with water. If you absolutely need to, just take small sips of water to hold
you over until weigh-ins. Invest in a small food scale. They’re not
expensive and then you can place your food directly onto the scale to see
how much you’re eating. For those who have to drive to the competition, if
you’re on weight or under, you can eat accordingly.

Immediately after weigh-ins, start drinking water again. Drink at least 16
ounces of water. Then eat some high energy foods. Focus on quality
carbohydrates like oatmeal, apples, apple sauce, or bananas on meet day.
Include foods that you enjoy because they are easier to get down if you’re
nervous. I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread. They
taste delicious and they’re jam packed with calories including carbohydrates
and fats for energy. Avoid sugar-filled and high glycemic carbohydrates like
grapes, watermelon, candy, and fruit juices. This will spike insulin levels
and lead to a crash. You want carbohydrates that will provide sustained
energy.

You can eat a candy bar when you get ready to deadlift if your energy levels
have dipped and you need a quick boost. There’s no need to concern yourself
with protein on meet day. It takes too long to digest and can slow you down.
Lastly, it’s important not to change too much on contest day. If you’re not
used to eating pancakes with syrup, then don’t all of the sudden eat a short
stack before you lift. This could potentially wreak havoc on your stomach.
Eat foods that are familiar.
After eating your first post weigh-in meal, drink another 16 ounces of
water. Then you can introduce sports drinks like Gatorade, Cytomax, or even
Pedialyte. There has been research supporting how ingesting a lot of sodium
and potassium via sports drinks immediately after depletion can be
dangerous. The good news is that if you follow these simple steps of proper
hydration and sufficient caloric intake you won’t be dehydrated nor depleted
of electrolytes. In fact, you’ll likely be exactly where you want to be. So,
in this situation, the sports drinks aren’t dangerous.

You can also eat salty foods like plain salt, potato chips, or canned
chicken soup or drink a V-8. All of these are ultra high in sodium and will
be absorbed quickly so your body will begin to retain more water and then
your gear might even fit a little tighter.

Overall, the plan is fairly simple once you have an understanding of basic
physiology and your body’s response to food and water. Lifters make the
process out to be more than it is. If for some reason you get in a bind the
last week and have difficulty losing those last few pounds, you can use a
mild, over-the-counter diuretic like Absolute Nutrition’s Watershed or
Eclipse Shrinkwrap Definition. They are potassium sparing and don’t contain
stimulants. Because some powerlifting federations prohibit the use of
diuretics, always consult your federation’s drug testing policy. The key
ingredient in your diuretic is uva ursi. Uva ursi comes from the leaves of
an evergreen shrub and is used to treat common urological issues like
urinary tract infections, bladder inflammation, and kidney stones, thereby
having a diuretic effect. Dandelion root is another herb with similar
effects. Vitamin B-6 and green tea help too.

Under no circumstances should you ever use a sauna or rubber suit, purposely
dehydrate, take an enema, or turn to other drastic measures. These are
foolish last resorts, and they will surely claim almost all your strength.
Making weight does not have to be an arduous task, and when done correctly,
you can preserve the strength you trained so hard to acquire. Eat well,
drink a lot of water, and make weight the easy way. Then have fun and hit
some PRs.

www.elitefts.com

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