Water Cutting

In an ideal world, our walking-around weight would be the same (or very close) to our competition class, where we perform at our best.

Sadly, we don’t live in such a world. Instead, we live in one where we have to fit into a specific weight class, which is primarily because of two things:

  1. Our natural settling point isn’t necessarily the same as the one we should compete in
  2. We often have to gain some weight to build muscle before trimming down for competition

But what happens to your body when you try to make weight for a competition? Where does the temporary weight loss come from? Let’s see.

The Art of Water Cutting
We are all familiar with dieting and weight loss:

We begin to eat fewer calories, maybe add a bit of cardio to the equation, and slowly lose weight in the form of fat, muscle, water, and glycogen. That’s clear enough. The process typically takes weeks or months, depending on body fat percentage and how much weight we want to lose.

The issue is, things sometimes don’t go according to plan, and we find ourselves dangerously close to competition while still having a few pounds to lose.

Enter water cutting.

These days, it’s become standard practice for powerlifters and other athletes to cut water to lose weight quickly and fit into a weight class. A common way is to drastically increase water (and sometimes sodium) intake for several days. Then, around twenty hours before the official weigh-in, cut water and sodium entirely. This process leads to significant water losses, which help you drop pounds rapidly.

The mechanism behind this effect is simple:

By drinking more water (as much as 50 to 80 percent more than your usual intake), your body gets used to flushing out fluid regularly. But as you suddenly cut your fluid intake, your body keeps flushing out water because it takes some time for changes to take effect.

Particularly eager individuals can also combine this with sauna sessions to sweat even more water out.

What We Think of Water Cutting (Is It Worth It)?
Water cuts certainly seem like a good tool, but you need to be aware of the drawbacks. Since you’re essentially dehydrating yourself, there is an inherent risk of losing performance, which defeats the whole purpose of preparing for months, only to flop at the meet. 

Water cutting can also lead to headaches, brain fog, and general fatigue. All of these are things you don’t want to happen when peak performance is expected of you.

In an ideal scenario, you would replace some of the lost fluid after the weigh-in and before the lifting starts. For every kilogram of weight you’ve lost, you should try to get a litre of water in. The issue is, you might have to chug a lot of water in a short period. Plus, we need to account for the time it would take your body to absorb that liquid.

For most people, we recommend not relying on water cuts. Instead, give yourself enough time to make weight. That will reduce the risk of performance loss and prevent you from doing those gruelling water cuts. If you do have to do a water cut, avoid losing more than two to three percent of your weight. For example, if you’re 83kgs (183 pounds) and need to fit in a 82kg weight class (181 pounds), that would be acceptable. But if you’re over 84kgs (185 pounds), a water cut will likely do more harm than good.

August 16, 2021 — Daniel Felstein

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