Making Weight for Competition (Part 2 – water loss)

by Larry Traub

Chad Ullom performing the Thumbless Grip One Arm Deadlift at the 2012 USAWA Grip Championships. Chad weighed in at 238# for the Grip Champs, and then weighed in at 248# the next day for the Dino Gym Record Day. He utilized water loss to make this 10 pound difference in weighins a day apart. (photo and caption courtesy of webmaster)

In the first article I talked about my high school wrestling days and how my extreme dieting made my life miserable and certainly made me less of a wrestler.  I do remember however the fall of my senior year I decided I would start a month or so before wrestling season and start gradually decreasing my weight through diet and a running program. I remember hanging in there a weeks or so, losing a couple of pounds and thinking; ‘This is stupid, I can lose 5 pounds in a couple of hours in the wrestling room with my rubber suit on, I’ll just enjoy the time between now and the start of the season and worry about it later’. In retrospect, I was on the right track, but I abandoned my plan because I didn’t distinguish between fat loss and water loss.

I believe it is possible to use moderate dehydration to your advantage in making a weight class for an athletic activity.  However, it can be tricky and the percentage of body weight that you choose to lose should be determined by several factors.  The method I have used in power lifting competitions many times is to dehydrate approximately 5% of my bodyweight over a 3 day period.  If I am going to compete at 198, I want to reduce my bodyweight to 208, using the fat loss method described in the previous article. I would then lose the last 10 lbs by dehydration and hopefully compete at a bodyweight around 208 or possibly even more.  Let’s say I have a Saturday morning weigh in. I would basically eliminate liquid from my diet after my noon meal on Wed. My projected bodyweights would look something like this:

  • Wed morning – 208
  • Wed night – 208
  • Thu morning – 206
  • Thu night – 203
  • Fri morning – 201.5
  • Fri night –199
  • Sat morning – 198

Notice that the rate of loss decreases over the dehydration period because, as you dehydrate, it will be more difficult to lose additional fluid.  In order to accomplish this, you should be eliminating fluids, as well as eating DRY food.  You must remember your goal is to lose water weight, not muscle, and, at this point, no fat loss, so you must continue to eat well.  If you have been following the fat loss program you really want to take in your normal calorie intake plus at least an extra 500 calories per day. This would put you around your BMR and should keep you from losing anything but water weight.  Actually, I don’t count calories during the dehydration period but I become concerned about getting enough calories. I’m actually reversing the rule of thumb that I used in the fat loss phase. I am trying to get a maximum number of calories from a minimum amount of food. I am still concerned about taking in an appropriate amount of protein and other nutrients, but if I’ve been craving pecan pie, I will go for it.  Just don’t plan on enjoying it as much as you would if you were washing it down with a glass of milk.   In the later stages of the process, I suspect you will have little desire to eat and you may decide you would rather have 6 ounces of water instead of the dry meal in front of you. Stay with the plan or at the very least treat yourself to six ounces of ice cream where you will get substantial calories while enjoying something with moisture in it.

Over the years, I have tried a number of different things. Once, I determined that if I spent some time in the sauna, I could then drink a glass of water at bedtime and eliminate going to bed thirsty.  The glass of water tasted good going down but provided little or no relief for my thirst so I decided it wasn’t really worth it.  Sucking on hard candy seemed to conquer the thirst issue as well as any other thing I tried.  You should also be aware that the morning of the competition you will feel like you would be lucky to squat a 45 pound bar, but as you rehydrate your energy levels will return.  I actually learned to like the dehydration process, somewhat. Normally, a few days before a competition I would start obsessing over my projected lifts and start to get anxious about the contest.  However, when you are dehydrating the process becomes your entire focus.  All you care about is making weight and drinking that first bottle of water. I really feel I’m more relaxed and confident going into the competition because I have spent time concentrating on the dehydration phase instead of the competition itself.   So, you endured 3 days of hell (actually the first day and a half aren’t too bad) in order to give yourself an edge. Let’s make sure you take advantage of it.  Several times I’ve been able to weigh myself shortly before my final deadlift and I would usually weigh around 210. At this point my bodyweight is closer to the 220 lb class than the one I am competing in. This is quite an advantage and I have planned well and worked hard to make it happen!

I start my rehydration as soon as I get off the scale. I usually have a bottle of water, a bottle of pedialyte, and a banana set aside. The water will go down easy, so I quickly consume that and the banana. Then I would force the pedialyte down on the way back to my motel room. The pedialyte was suggested to me years ago by my friend, Dave Glasgow who was an R.N. This nasty stuff was developed for infants who are dehydrated and it works better than sports drinks because it doesn’t contain sugar, which is a diuretic.  By the time I walk back to my hotel room, I hope to be a few pounds heavier and I will sit down, continue to hydrate, and eat a little. I focus on carbohydrates with some sugar for energy. One of my favorites is a whole wheat bread with honey. I will switch to sports drinks but it would probably be to your advantage to get the reduced calorie types that are now available which will help you avoid an excess of sugar. I focus on hydrating and eating without getting bloated and uncomfortable.   Knowing how much time you have before you lift is crucial. Typically I could figure I had close to two hours before my first squat but If I got lucky and I was in the second flight, I might have an additional hour and I would eat and drink a little more,  knowing that I had a little more time to absorb and digest.  I do not intend to be fully rehydrated by the time I squat, but I should be at least 6 or 7 pounds heavier. By the time I bench I will probably be pretty much fully hydrated (around 208) and, if I execute my plan well, I should be overhydrated for deadlift. It is possible to overhydrate because your body compensates for its period of having insufficient water by holding on to all that it can. (I’ve discovered several times that providing a sample for the drug test can become a lengthy process.)  Now, in order to gain 12 pounds I must consume at least 12 pounds over the course of the competition. I accomplish this by having a sports drink or water with me at all times. I will basically sip my way back to being fully hydrated being careful not to make myself uncomfortable in the process. I will also eat small meals throughout the day. Bread and honey, fresh fruits, small sandwiches; one of my favorites is to buy a small unfrosted angel food cake and periodically grab a chunk of that.  Again, don’t make yourself bloated or uncomfortable.  If I finished my last squat and I know I have an hour before I have to start warming up for bench I will eat and drink a little more, but basically you need to listen to your body. 

Of course, the model I’m using here is a full day contest with competition starting two hours after weigh in. Adjustments should be made for different competitions. If it was a bench press meet where the lifting would be completed within 3 hours of weigh in I would probably dehydrate around 3% instead of 5%. If there was a night before weigh in I might push it up to 6% and try and lose the last pound or so in a sauna right before the weigh in.  I imagine the process of dehydration is not extremely healthy; however, I usually competed only once or twice a year, so I don’t have any great concerns about that. If you are going to compete more often, then you should think twice about how much you should dehydrate.  If I could go back to my wrestling days, where I had to make weight a couple times a week, I think that maybe losing about 1% of my bodyweight would be appropriate.  The bottom line is that the fat loss, as described in the first article, combined with dehydration and proper rehydration, may provide significant benefits to your totals. Good luck!!

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