Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Weight cutting for jiu jitsu women

My team is gearing up to compete in the World Jiu Jitsu Championships at the end of May, which means we are now beginning training camp. Camp is a lot of work and it involves getting beat up, but truth be told I love it - with the one giant exception of weight cutting.

I've cut weight for several IBJJF tournaments and have never had an easy time with it. I've never failed to make weight, but I've never really nailed it either. I'm often that person on the morning of the tournament jumping rope or running sprints in a sweatsuit, trying to sweat out that last half pound. Sure, a small amount of last minute dehydration is not the end of the world, but it's not an ideal situation either.

I don't want to mess with that this year, so I am starting my diet early. I also did a little bit of research. The most helpful article I have found about weight cutting for women was actually written for female Olympic weight lifters. A Woman's Guide to Cutting Weight for Meets by Lindsey Craft, in Lift Big Eat Big, provides a step by step guide for losing up to 10% of one's body weight before a competition, while still retaining muscle. I won't bore you with details, but read the article yourself for the basic 3 stage plan.

Besides the eating plan, which I intend to follow, I am taking away some other major points from the article.

1) Cutting weight is harder for women than for men

          "Making weight for women is very different and much more difficult than making weight for men," Craft writes. "Men can do bigger cuts in a shorter period of time than women and get very predictable results, because their hormone levels are stable and they can deplete themselves of more water and glycogen weight than women.
          Women typically have a lower body weight than men (which limits the total amount of weight that women can lose), a higher % of body fat (limiting the relative amount of water weight that women can lose) and less muscle mass (once again limiting the relative amount of weight that can be lost from glycogen, which is stored with-in the muscle and liver)...Fat, like all lipids, is hydrophobic (meaning it repels water). So an increase in body fat decreases the amount of mass that will be affected by a water cut. Women’s hormones (such as estrogen and progesterone) fluctuate, and these hormones affect water retention and energy metabolism, making a cut (especially a water cut) more unpredictable than a man’s." For these reasons, Craft recommends a slower, longer weight cut for women.

Finally, some validation for something I have long suspected! - cutting weight takes longer for me than it does for my male teammates. Case in point - an MMA fighter on my team regularly cuts weight in the sauna before his fights. During a 30 min session, he can expect to cut at least 3 pounds. Before the Pan Ams this past fall, I spent 30 min in a 170 degree sauna and - after drying off thoroughly and blow-drying the sweat out of my hair - I had cut a whopping 1.5 pounds of water. 

Ronda Rousey cutting weight in a sauna

2) Women should make sure they are cutting weight for the right reasons

I cut weight for the same reason that I lift weights - because I want to be the strongest person in my division. I like to think that I'm giving myself a competitive advantage, but in reality I'm only leveling the playing field. In big competitions such as Pan Ams or worlds, nearly everyone lifts weights to get strong and nearly everyone cuts weight to be on the heavier side of their division. To not do either would be to put myself at a competitive disadvantage. 

I'm not cutting weight because I don't like the way I look or because I feel like I'm fat...I know that I'm in pretty darned good shape already. But if I were to compete at my walk-around weight, my division would have no upper limit and I would very likely go up against women much bigger than me. I'm cutting weight because I know logically that if I weigh in a little lighter, my chances of medaling increase greatly.

However, we live in a thin-obsessed culture and it can be easy to lose this perspective. If you struggle with a poor body image or disordered eating, than weight cutting is not a good idea. Your physical and mental health are worth more than any tournament medal. As Clark puts it, "If you get hung up on weight because of body-image, just give it up. No-one looks good in a singlet. We all look like sausages. And skinny doesn’t look as good as being strong feels."   


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