How to Make Weight for a Weightlifting Competition
Currently trying to make weight for a weightlifting competition? Here are our tips and tricks to help you make weight for your sport - straight from a seasoned WAG Coach and international-level weightlifter.
There are many sports out there that may require you to fall into a specific weight class to be eligible for competition.
Weightlifting, powerlifting, judo, boxing and wrestling are just some of the sports that require athletes to be divided into weight classes and ‘make weight’ in that category.
If you’re competing in a weight-specific sport, you may need to be a bit more focused on your body weight than the average athlete.
Well, when it comes to competition time, you’ll need to be at or below a specific weight class.Then, a couple hours later, you will actually be competing in your sport and need to feel your best.
Before we dive into it, please remember that being nervous is normal! But it is just like anything… If you do your research, put what you learn into practice and then keep practicing, it becomes easier and less stressful every time you do it.
It is important to know the tactics and strategies used to make weight in your sport while also making sure your body is well fueled and recovered.
Before talking about how to actually make weight, let’s talk about how to choose a weight class and how to know what class is right for you and your body.
How to Choose a Weight Class
Success starts before eating the correct macros and planning a cut. You can set yourself up for success from the get-go by picking an appropriate weight class.
What Weight Class Should I Compete In?
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a weight class.
If you’re new to the sport you’re competing in, we generally recommend not thinking about weight classes yet. You’ll get more out of focusing on building on technique, strength, and fueling for performance. Show up, weigh in and compete at whatever weight class your natural weight puts you in. Once you are more experienced and competitive, it may be time to focus on picking and aiming for a specific weight class. For your first few competitions, go out there and have fun.
- Current body weight & body fat percentage
The leaner you are, the harder it will be to lose a substantial amount of weight. As a rule of thumb losing more than 4% of body weight close to competition is likely to cause a hindrance in performance. This is less than ideal for an athlete (like you!) competing in a performance-based sport. Although everyone is different and time of weigh in before competition can be taken into account, it is usually not a good idea to cut to a lower weight class if you are already extremely lean and want to perform your best.
- Calorie intake
In any sport, fueling the body for performance is extremely important. Choosing a weight class that allows you to eat the most amount of calories needed to perform well and build muscle is key. If you are eating too little and feel hungry and low energy with poor recovery, moving down a weight class may not be you. Focus on fueling your body properly and filling out your current weight class.
By nature, taller athletes are typically better suited for heavier weight classes. Thus, it would not be ideal for taller athletes (ex: a 5’10'' female) to cut down to lower weight classes (ex: a 55kg weight class). For an in-depth look at weight-to-height ratios and height chart averages, check out THIS ARTICLE.
We advise that minors and young athletes do not consider cutting to a lower weight class. At this age, cutting and being hyper-focused on weight could negatively impact your relationship with the scale, body, and food in general. Much like beginners, younger athletes should be more focused on building on their technique, strength, and fueling for performance first and foremost.
This is a big one to consider. If you’re at the highest level of your sport and on the brink of breaking records or making an international or Olympic team, cutting weight for a competition could make sense given what opportunities are on the line. However, you still need to consider the sacrifices, stress, energy, and discipline it takes to commit to a lower weight class in light of being more competitive.
If you have high stress and anxiety levels during competition, worrying about weight and the number on the scale on top of caloric intake will just add fuel to the stress fire. If this sounds like you, consider staying in your current weight class and focusing on performance first.
Now that you know what to consider, there are a couple of different types of weigh-ins to become familiar with.
2-hour weigh-ins vs. 24-hour weigh-ins
The most common kinds of weigh-ins are two hours before competition or 24 hours before competition.
These are two dramatically different scenarios that you will have to plan for in terms of your cut.
24-hour weigh-in strategies
You may be able to be more aggressive with your weight cut strategy since you’ll have more time to recover and replenish after their weigh-in. You can weigh in and then eat and drink without worrying about putting on any extra weight through food volume or hydration.
In other words, you may be able to cut more weight more quickly without seeing a negative impact on your performance when you hit the competition floor.
2-hour weigh-in strategies
In this case, you need to be at your ideal weight AND peak for performance from a fueling standpoint right before competition.
2-hour weigh-ins tend to require you to take less aggressive actions (like cutting calories farther from competition and planning weight-cut strategies farther ahead of time) to reach your goal weight as aggressive weight cut strategies are more likely to impact performance.
Planning and Timeline For A Weight Cut
Depending on how far out you start to prepare for competition, there are different strategies you may need to use. At WAG, we encourage our clients who need to cut weight to let us know about upcoming competitions as soon as possible.
Cutting Weight 2-3 Months Out from Competition
If you’re an athlete with more weight to lose you will likely benefit from starting your cut a little bit farther out so it doesn’t have to be as drastic. This can help you spare muscle and keep performance levels steady through training and competition. If you have less weight to lose, starting a cut a little closer to competition is more ideal.
Depending on the amount of time you have after your weigh-in, you’ll want to be within an appropriate range seven days out of competition at the latest.
Here are a few examples:
- FEMALE: a 59kg weightlifter should be within 1-2kg over their weight class seven days out before starting ANY weight cut strategy besides their prescribed caloric deficit. This gives them enough wiggle room to implement a larger calorie deficit one week out and/or implement water manipulation strategies and still make weight. (Don’t worry - we’ll cover water cutting soon!)
- MALE: a 96kg weightlifter should be 2-3kg over their weight class seven days out (maybe more depending on the body type/ ease of weight cut).
As a general rule of thumb, heavier athletes have an easier time losing weight. This does not always apply since every athlete is different, but it is almost a guarantee that a 96kg athlete will have an easier time losing more water and body fat than a 59kg woman since they have more mass to work with.
Knowing the date of the competition and time of weigh-in as early as possible is most important here to properly assess how large of a deficit you should implement or whether the goal of making weight is realistic.
Cutting Weight One Week Out from Competition
Seven days before weigh-in, it’s essential that you stay in tune with your body and accurately monitor changes and responses. You’ll need to keep tabs on:
- Their water intake
- Macro intake
- Body weight before going to bed
- Body weight when waking u
You’ll need to weigh yourself before bed and in the morning so you can track how much weight is usually lost overnight.
This is called your “float weight”. Your float weight is the average amount of weight lost after a full night's sleep.
Calculating Float Weight
Knowing your float weight will help you decide what you should weigh the night before your weigh-in.
For example, you’re a 96kg weightlifter and average 1kg heavier going to bed than when you wake up the week before competition, we know your float weight is 1kg. We then know that you can “safely” go to bed 1kg over your goal weight.
If body weight is trending in the right direction from morning to morning based on your goal, this is when you would keep nutrition the same and only make adjustments closer to the event if necessary.
Carbohydrates and Water Weight
If your body weight is not moving in the appropriate direction quickly enough, there are other last-minute options for losing weight.
Depending on current nutrition, there are a few adjustments you can make to your plan to drop weight quickly before a meet. In this case, carbohydrates are the main adjustable factor.
Weight Cut Adjustments
Here are a few options:
- Drop total carbohydrates - for every 1g of carbs, the body holds onto about 3g of water so will likely drop water weight when carbs are reduced
- Decrease fiber intake so there is less food residue in the intestines/stomach
- Decrease sodium intake a couple days out to prevent water retention
- Stop eating earlier the day before weigh-in (ex: tell your client to eat their last meal at 4-5pm vs 7-8pm)
- Implement a water load the week of the meet. If this is the case, be sure to decide this 6-7 days out so you can implement it properly.
Remember, cutting calories and creating a large calorie deficit can create low energy levels and potentially impact performance if not handled properly. Long-term, it can also impact healthy hormone levels - especially in women.
What is Water Loading?
A water load is exactly what it sounds like: increasing water intake to help flush out fluids and lose water weight.
This generally requires drinking 2-2.5x more than your current water intake and then cutting back to very low hydration levels as your weigh-in gets closer.
How Does Water Loading Work?
The body has mechanisms to promote water loss when water intake is at very high levels. In simple terms, more water in means more water out, and drinking more water will cause the body to flush out the excess.
High hydration levels also help your body lower aldosterone and ADH (Antidiuretic Hormone) - the two primary hormones involved in urine production and water secretion. Lower levels of Aldosterone promote increased water loss.
When water intake goes up, the increase in urine output does not happen instantly and Aldosterone and ADH are slow to respond. This is why starting a water load needs to happen about a week before competition. As you continue to keep water intake high, you will start to see those hormones respond through urine output increases and weight decreases.
This lag in response also occurs when water intake is decreased. This means water loss remains high even with very little water intake. Most people see this trend continue for 72+ hours before ADH and Aldosterone catch on and levels start to increase causing water retention.
Athletes can lose anywhere from 5-8lbs through a water load depending on how aggressive it is. Because everyone is different, no specific amount of weight loss is guaranteed and you will have to see what works best for your body through experimentation.
When to Implement a Water Load
This is completely individualized based on factors like:
- How much weight you need to cut
- Current water intake
- Current calorie intake
- Comfort and experience level
For example, if you compete in the 55kg weight class and weigh 56kg the week off, there is no reason to do water load and cut because you can easily lose 1kg with calorie manipulation and last-minute water, sodium, and/or fiber manipulation.
Water cutting is an extreme way to cut weight and may leave you with lower energy levels come competition time. We generally recommend only using it if necessary instead of relying on it as your main method of making weight.
This requires you to get into conversation with your nutrition coach about future competitions so you can make a plan together to cut weight with slower, more controlled calorie manipulation instead of last-second strategies.
How Does a Water Load Work?
Here is an example that works well for most athletes looking to lose 3-4+ lbs of solely water weight.
Amount of Water to Drink:
- 6 days out from competition: 2-2.5x water intake
- 5 days out from competition: 2-2.5x water intake
- If you keep losing weight with this water intake, keep it the same for day 4.
- 4 days out from competition: 2-2.5x water intake
- 3 day out from competition: decrease to 1.5-2x water intake
- If you lose more weight with a water decrease, keep the same for day 2. If you didn’t lose much, cut to normal water intake on day 2
- 2 days out from competition: decrease to normal water intake
- 1 day out from competition: ½ normal water intake (if that)
- Weigh in day: no water until after weight in
After a Water Cut
If you decide to use the water loading technique, it is very important to properly rehydrate after weighing in.
This means drinking water as well as rehydration liquids such as Pedialyte, taking a multivitamin to assist in any micronutrients lost, and eating salty food items to help replenish and hold onto water.
Keep in mind that while in a water cut you still need to monitor nutrition daily and make adjustments to carbohydrates as necessary. It is also encouraged that you reduce sodium intake, as the body will hold onto the sodium while the sodium holds onto the water.
Checking Weight On Official Scale
Have you ever had a nightmare about getting to your competition and realizing their scale is calibrated differently than yours? This is easily avoidable!
Double-check your weight on the official competition scale as far out as possible. The scale you use to weigh yourself at home may not be calibrated the same way as the scale you’ll have to step on come weigh-in time.
Imagine your scale says you are on track to make weight, but the competition scale reads 0.2 kg heavy. You need to avoid this kind of discrepancy and have the most accurate information.
Most events provide access to the official scale or a test scale that is calibrated the same as the official scale. The sooner you test your weight the better.
Bring your scale with you to the official scale and check your weight on both - one right after the other - to compare. This way you can both note the difference and continue to use their own scale without needing to check the official one again.
Last Minute Weight Cutting Strategies
If your weight is higher than ideal the day before/day of weigh-in, sweating may be something you need to implement into your cut.
Ideally, you’ll want to implement this as last minute as possible as these tactics may leave you feeling drained and low energy. Here is some direction and suggestions:
- Sauna - Sit in a sauna with as few clothes as possible for about 30 minutes to start. Bring a towel or credit card to wipe the sweat off as it accumulates so you continue to sweat. The body’s way of cooling down is to sweat, so when you remove it, the body rapidly generates more which is ideal for losing water weight.
- Hot Bath - Fill up a tub as high as possible with hot water. It should be hotter than a hot tub but not hot enough to burn you. Put as much of your body into the tub as possible. Sit in the hot bath for 20 minutes. Make sure you get out of the tub slowly in case you get lightheaded (especially if you’re water cutting or working on low calories). Pro tip: keep the bath hot by floating a towel on the top of the water as you are in it.
Be sure to check your weight before and after these tactics and track how much weight you lose. Then, if you have to repeat either method, you’ll know about how much you can expect weight to change.
You may need to do a couple of rounds of a bath OR sauna if you didn’t lose much water weight the first time around. This is normal for some people who have a harder time sweating and losing weight.
If you’re still a bit over your competition weight after all other tactics have been exhausted, try spitting. This is meant for real last-minute weight loss. You’ll need something sour or sweet - like fruity mentos, sweet tarts, skittles, gum etc. Chew/suck on the candy to promote salivation and spit that salivation into a cup. Yes, it’s a bit gross but this is a great way to lose quite a bit of last-minute weight. We have seen athletes spit up to 500-600g before.
These are ONLY meant for last-minute weight cuts and not for everyday dieting or weight loss. These methods of cutting weight can be very unhealthy and disordered if not for specifically making weight for a competition.
Competition Day Nutrition
You might be wondering -- what exactly should I eat and drink the day of competition? Well, we’ve got you covered on ALL fronts.
Pre-Weigh In Nutrition
If you’re right at your ideal weight when you wake up, you’ll need to avoid eating or drinking anything until after your weigh-in.
If you’re under your goal weight, you may be able to eat before hitting the scale and you’ll need to know what time you weigh in to strategize properly.
To ensure you’re not going OVER your weight class with the food and drinks, add the actual weight of your food or liquid to your current weight. Make sure it doesn’t put you over your weight class and remember to take any tupperware or packaging into account.
- It will make the most sense with an example! Say you’re competing in the 73kg weight class and your weigh-in is at 12pm.
- If you wake up at 72.7kg and want to eat a little something, stand on your (pre-tested!) scale with 300g of food or less ( 72.7 + .300g = 73kg) and make sure you weigh exactly 73kg. At this point, it’s really just about what the food going in your body weighs rather than macros.
Post Weigh-in, Pre-Lifting Nutrition:
It’s the most important meal of them all!
Decisions here will determine how you feel on that platform so don't take this meal lightly. Here are a few of our top tips for pre-weigh-in meals before you hit the lifting platform:
- Eat the same foods that make you feel your best in training.
- Stick to foods you absolutely KNOW make you feel strong, digestively good, and high energy.
- Opt for a low glycemic, slow-digesting carbohydrate source and a solid protein source to keep blood sugar stable and to stay fuller longer. Keep fats low as they slow the digestion of carbohydrates.
Meals To Eat After a Weigh-In
- Oats + protein powder + blueberries
- Sweet potato + egg white/eggs hash
- Rice + lean beef + veggie
- Whole grain bread + deli meat sandwich
If you’re hitting the floor for a weightlifting competition, you’ll perform the snatch first before moving on to the clean & jerk.
It's common to get super jacked up with adrenaline from snatching and then crash come time to move on to the clean & jerk. You need to ensure you continue to send fuel to your muscles between lifts to increase your likelihood of performing well on both.
A personal recommendation from WAG Coach, Alexa:
“Make sure you are prepared with some sort of snack. A turkey sandwich with mayo and lettuce is perfect for between lifts! This is my go-to between snatching and clean & jerking since it sustains my energy!”
Easy-to-eat snack foods and carb-filled drinks are also great options. If you know you can digest them well, try…
- Rice cakes
- Coconut water
- Something sweet (think higher glycemic carbs - this would be a better time to have something higher in sugar)
Dehydration is an athlete’s nightmare… no matter what sport you are in!
Pedialyte post weigh-in is a great option because the specific electrolytes included are immediately absorbed into your muscles while helping you retain water.
Pro-tip: If you had to shift hydration to make weight, you’ll likely be pretty thirsty when you hop off the scale. Despite that, DON’T chug liquids post weigh-in. It will make you feel full, bloated, and uncomfortable. This combination is no fun before a competition. Take things slow and steady to make sure you feel your best.
It may be tempting to eat lots of sugary foods (donuts, anyone?) after you finish competing. This will be especially true if you had to cut weight and drastically decrease calories in the weeks or days leading up to your competition.
If that is the case, please, please, please get in a substantial meal first! If you go for the sugary stuff first, blood sugar will spike and it is more likely that you’ll experience a crash at some point. A good meal post-lifting is hugely important to replenish glycogen and keep energy stable.
Opt for a complex carb + protein + healthy fat source before those donuts. ;)
Communication is Key
And there you have it! Everything you need to know about cutting weight, making weight, and competition-day nutrition for a weightlifting meet. If you want to download this information (and more) in one convenient location, check out our Weight Cutting Guide.
No matter who you are or when your competition is, communication with a coach who can help you make weight in a non-stressful way increases your likelihood of not only making weight but performing at your best when you get there. And at the end of the day, that’s really what it is all about, right?
At WAG, we teach our coaches to guide you through weight cuts while keeping you as strong and fueled as possible. We get our information from the latest science and some pretty awesome WAG coaches who go through this first-hand as they compete on national and international stages.
Ready to cut weight like a pro? Get a WAG Coach!
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