How Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

UFC fighter, MMA fighter, MMA training

Cutting weight is something that almost every fighter needs to do before an MMA bout. It helps you to shed those last few pounds to ensure that you’re under the specified weight limit. While it’s very common, many wonder how it’s possible.

We often hear that a fighter can magically lose and regain about 20 pounds but where does this come from? Thankfully for you, we have all the answers right here as we give you everything you need to know about cutting weight.

Why Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

Before we look at how do UFC fighters cut weight, it’s important to know why they do it. If you’re wondering “what is a weight cut in UFC?” the answer has to do with the weight divisions that fighters need to fit into.

Cutting weight allows a fighter to fit into a lower weight class and avoid matches against opponents who are much bigger than them. This allows for more competitive fights against people who are a similar size.

You can lose a significant amount of water weight in a very short amount of time. If you didn’t cut weight and your opponent did, they are likely to be much heavier than you come fight night, as they would have rehydrated.

While divisions could be separated on height, this wouldn’t be as fair due to different body shapes. While it does have its issues, having fighters compete who are the same weight makes for the fairest contest.

How Do UFC Fighters Cut Weight?

There are two distinct parts to a fighter cutting weight. Firstly, they need to gradually reduce their body fat through careful dieting. Then in the lead-up to the fight, we get the famous weight cut, which is almost exclusively about losing water weight.

How Do UFC Fighters Lose Weight Fast?

The best way to cut weight for a fighter is by losing water. Due to this, the method of cutting weight in the UFC can’t be applied to general life as it’s only temporary. Once a UFC fighter starts drinking normally again, they regain all that lost weight.

This is usually a 6-day process and actually starts by consuming a large amount of water. For example, if you had a weigh-in on Friday, you’d start the process by drinking around two gallons of water on the Sunday prior.

You’d then follow this up with drinking one gallon of water on Monday and Tuesday. This drops to just 0.5 gallons on Wednesday and 0.25 on Thursday. On Friday, you wouldn’t drink at all until after the weigh-in.

Your body reacts to what you put into it and if you drink an excess of water, then it’ll happily flush out of your system thinking that they’ll be plenty more water to come. When you then reduce your intake, your body will still be in that flushing mode before it realizes that water is being restricted.

This will lead to a simple equation of your body releasing a lot more water than it’s getting in. And given that a gallon of water is 8.35 lbs, this means you’re going to lose a lot of weight very quickly.

If you’re wondering how do boxers cut weight or similarly how do boxers lose weight fast, the process is exactly the same. It is also the same process for any sport that requires you to fit into a specific weight class.

What Do Fighters Eat When Cutting Weight?

Of course, the question of what do UFC fighters eat to cut weight is very important too. It would be useless to go through the process of losing all that water if you had too much fat. Therefore diet is extremely important too.

Before fight week you need to keep your body fat low with a calorie-controlled diet. Around 10% body fat is the aim. Less than 8% and you can suffer a range of issues with the most significant ones being low energy levels and poor muscle recovery. Simply put, if your body fat is too low, you won’t be able to perform.

Going into fight week, you need to start seriously restricting your carbs. Feel free to eat as much protein and greens as you want, as long as it’s offset but your calorie output. Here’s what you should be doing in the lead-up to a fight.

Low Carbs – Carbs are vital in day-to-day life, but they retain a lot of water. Due to this, you want to restrict yourself to a maximum of 50 grams per day in fight week. Any fruit, sugar or starch should be completely avoided.

High Protein, Low Fat – Your diet should be mainly focused on high protein and low fat. You can eat as much as you want. This is because the focus of fight week is to lose water and not fat. As long as your calories in equal calories out, you’re good. Eggs, meat and left green are the best foods to have.

No Salt – Salt is similar to carbohydrates in that it increases water retention. Everyone knows that salt is a great absorber of water. Avoid it completely and ensure your meals aren’t high in salt (and sodium).

Natural Diuretic – If you’re struggling in the last few days then you can try a natural diuretic. One of the best to use is dandelion root but other plants can be good too such as hawthorn, juniper and parsley.

In the lead-up to the fight, it’s best for a UFC fighter to eat three healthy meals a day as there is no benefit to being hungry. The only exception would be if they have failed to get their body fat percentage under control and are desperately struggling to make weight.

On the day of the weigh-in, it’s best to eat very little, if anything at all, before you get weighed. Exactly what to eat depends on the time of the weigh-in but in recent times UFC fighters get weighed in the morning. If that’s the case, it would be best to wait until after it to eat.

Other Tips for Cutting Weight

While most of a UFC fighter’s water loss is going to be expelled through urination, there are a few other ways to lose water. While these all involve making you sweat, there are a few different methods to do it.

Hot Baths – A hot bath is easy, right? Well, not actually. Here we’re talking about a bath that will be uncomfortably (but not dangerously) hot to make you sweat a lot. A good tip is to add Epsom salts to the bath to help draw out that water.

Sauna – This is the same principle. Many UFC fighters will sit in a sauna for hours as it gradually draws the water out of their body through sweat. It’s usually best to do these activities supervised due to their extreme nature.

Exercise – Your goal of exercise is not to lose fat but to sweat. So it’s a good idea to push yourself hard and wear extra layers to generate more heat. Doing any form of exercise in the last few days of an MMA weight cut can be very tough.

How Long Does It Take UFC Fighters to Cut Weight?

The process generally lasts around six days, including the day of the weigh-in. That’s enough time to load up on water and then go through the process of flushing it out. Added to this, you’ll also need to have gone into fight week with a low body fat percentage.

In terms of losing water, any longer than six days and you’d be loading up on water for no good reason as three days is all you need to flush it out. On the other side, four days wouldn’t be enough time to load up on water and get rid of it.

The whole process of cutting weight takes much longer when you consider the requirement to lower your body fat percentage. You want to go into your fight week with the same body fat percentage you’ll be at on fight day.

How long this takes will depend on how long their camp is and their body fat percentage before they start training. Some UFC fighters will gain a lot of weight in between fights whereas others will stay in great shape.

What Happens After Weigh-In?

After weigh-in is the time to do the complete opposite of what you’ve just been doing. Immediately after the weigh-in, an MMA fighter will start to drink as much water as they can.

The body will absorb a maximum of 1 liter of fluid per hour so there’s no need to drink more than this. It’s best to be constantly sipping water and aim for that 1 liter per hour mark. Your body will hold on to a large percentage of this water and your weight will dramatically increase.

At this stage you can eat whatever you want. However, an MMA fighter will still want to eat healthily to feel great and fully energized. Carbohydrates are important here, not only for that source of energy, but also for better absorption of water.

Another trick to replenish that water weight is to add as much salt as possible to all of your meals. As with carbs, this is going to allow you to retain much more water. On fight day, you’ll want your three regular healthy meals.

For maximum performance, it’s best to stop eating and drinking three hours before the fight. This will allow you to go into the contest with an empty bladder and not feel bloated.

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UFC Weight Cut Rules

While there are set weight limits in the UFC, there are also set rules for what happens when a fighter misses weight. Along with this, there are a few exceptions that can be made. Let’s check out what these rules are.

What are the Rules for Making Weight in the UFC?

A fighter needs to hit their weight limit on the weigh-in, which is usually held on the morning of the day before the fight. While they have a limit, there are no restrictions for fighters going under the required weight.

In non-title fights, a fighter is allowed to be slightly over the weight limit and is generally given a one-pound allowance. In championship fights, this allowance is cut down to half a pound.

California has a specific rule which states that a fighter can’t cut more than 15% of what they determine to be their healthy weight. For example, a lightweight at 155 lbs can’t weigh more than 178.2 lbs on fight day otherwise the fight can be cancelled. This is a rule brought in aimed at preventing fighters from cutting a dangerous amount of weight.

What Happens if UFC Fighters Miss Weight?

If a fighter misses weight in their morning weigh-in, they are often given a little more time to lose that extra bit of water. This is usually two hours which is enough time to lose one, maybe two pounds.

If a fighter is way over the limit, then it’s pointless giving them any extra time to do so and a decision will need to be made on the fight. There are two possible outcomes here which are a catchweight fight (outside of normal weight limits) or a canceled fight.

The fighter that made weight holds all of the cards here and would need to agree to any new terms. If the fight does go ahead then the fighter that missed weight would need to sacrifice 20-30% of their fight income. They would also not receive any ranking points for the contest.

What Happens if a UFC Champion Misses Weight?

The UFC takes an extremely dim view of any fighter that has missed weight. If the champion has missed weight, they will be stripped of their title and the bout will become a vacant title fight. However, only the challenger that made weight can win the vacant title.

If the opposite happens and the challenger misses the weight, it becomes a non-title fight. Even if the challenger won, the current champion would retain the title as it wasn’t a fight in the specified weight limit.

If both fighters miss weight, it would just become a regular non-title catchweight fight but the champion would be stripped of the title.

How Much Weight Do UFC Fighters Cut?

There is no requirement for a fighter to get weighed on fight day and therefore we don’t have any data on exactly how much weight UFC fighters cut, on average. The answer can depend on a wide variety of factors.

For example, there could be two fighters with a four-inch height difference between them. In this scenario, the taller fighter would most likely need to cut more weight than the smaller fighter, unless they had significantly different muscle mass.

Along with this, there are also heavyweights who often don’t need to cut any weight at all as their weight limit is much higher.

All that being said, it’s generally accepted that most UFC fighters will cut somewhere between 10 and 20 pounds in the lead-up to the weigh-in. In extreme cases, some fighters are able to cut up to 30 lbs or more.

Biggest (and Worst) UFC Weight Cuts

As stated, fighters aren’t required to weigh themselves on fight night so we’ll never know for sure what the biggest UFC weight cuts are. That being said, there are some notable examples.

Conor McGregor weight cutting grabbed the headlines a few times, never more so than in his fight with Jose Aldo. He looked gaunt and sickly at the weigh-in, with many concerned about his health. He apparently regained 29 lbs for the fight and used that weight to devastating effect with his brutal knockout.

It was against Jose Aldo that Max Holloway had a huge weight increase too, jumping from 145 lbs on the weigh-in to 178 lbs on fight night. It’s crazy to think that any human can add that much weight in just a little over 24 hours.

Anthony Johnson is an interesting example of the difficulties of cutting weight. At the start of his career, he was a welterweight, which has a weight limit of 170 lbs. Unsurprisingly he had problems meeting that weight, especially when you consider he ended his career as a light heavyweight with a limit of 205 lbs.

In women’s UFC the most famous example of extreme weight cutting is Cris Cyborg. She weighed in at 145 lbs but a few days after would be walking around with a weight of 175 lbs. She has often documented the punishing sacrifices she had to make to get her weight down.

There can also be a huge difference between someone’s ‘walking weight’ and their fight weight. Walking weight is referred to the weight a person is when they are out of training but still in shape. Gleison Tibau is perhaps the best example of this as he had a walking weight of 220 but incredibly fought 65 lbs below this at 155.

What are the Dangers of Cutting Weight?

Cutting weight in MMA is a controversial subject. It can carry dangers in both the short and long term that can have a serious impact on a fighter’s health. Here are some of the significant risks of weight cutting.

Dehydration – Perhaps the most obvious risk is dehydration due to your incredibly low water intake. The consequences of dehydration are electrolyte imbalances, heat exhaustion/heatstroke, and impaired physical and cognitive function.

Injury Risk – When dehydrated, another consequence is that your muscles and connective tissues aren’t as resilient. This will give you an increased chance of the likes of muscle strains. You will be particularly vulnerable during training sessions and fights.

Cardiovascular Stress – Extreme weight cutting will place a significant amount of stress on your cardiovascular system. This can increase your chance of heart-related issues and this would only be made worse by intense exercise and dehydration.

Long-Term Health Consequences – Repeated weight cutting puts a lot of stress on your whole body. Your kidneys especially take a lot of punishment but it can also lead to hormonal imbalances, metabolic disorders, and issues with bone density.

Mental Health Impact – Of course, we can’t ignore the mental health aspect either. Dramatically cutting weight can cause a lot of psychological stress. This in turn makes a fighter more susceptible to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other psychological issues.

Reduced Performance – After extreme weight cutting, some fighters can find it difficult to get back to their optimum level of performance. It’s hard to get your strength back quickly after being at such a physical low.

Final Thoughts

The process of a fighter cutting weight is simple, yet grueling. It involves loading up on your winter intake before severely limiting it. This tricks your body into flushing water out of your system, which allows you to dramatically lose weight.

Along with this dramatic weight cut, fighters will need to ensure they are eating properly to maintain a low body fat percentage. Cutting weight remains a controversial subject but there are no signs of the UFC changing their rules any time soon. 

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Kenny Jarvis
Kenny Jarvis
I have been practicing and studying boxing since I was a teenager. I am passionate about the sport, along with many other martial arts. While my fighting days may be over, I love channeling my passion into my writing to provide insightful blogs.