Losing and cutting weight is an important part of boxing, whether you’re competing or just training. In this sport, there’s a general principle that the closer you are to your ideal fighting weight (forthcoming), the better you perform. All your physiological advantages will be maximized, not to mention the psychological advantages you’ll gain. In this article, I will give an extremely digestible synopsis on the common methods for losing and cutting weight for boxing.
How to Lose Weight
Long-term weight loss refers to decreasing body fat and muscle mass. Losing body fat is always a good idea. Losing muscle mass, however, may be ideal only when the boxer’s bulk is slowing her down, greatly disadvantages her reach or height in the weight class, or puts too much emphasis on decreasing body fat to make weight. Understand, though, losing muscle is physically and mentally exhausting; it’s a drastic measure and is formally called Muscle Catabolism.
Although you should strive to lose body fat and retain muscle mass, your two methods for generally losing weight in the long-term are dieting and exercising.
You must maintain a caloric deficit. This means eating less calories than you’re burning. As a basic starting point, calculate how many daily calories you need and track your daily caloric intake. Set a deficit goal for yourself, and trust in the process. Start with a small caloric deficit, and adjust if needed. Too large a deficit puts you at risk for losing muscle, training poorly, eating disorders, and many other negative effects. (Dieting apps can greatly assist in your dieting needs.) Alternatively, you could skip the tracking and simply listen to your body. Decrease portions slightly, cut out junk, and see how your body is reacting after a day. This method is not as precise but requires less equipment and prevents obsession over calories, macros, etc.
To get more complicated, consider your performance needs, recovery time, and rate of weight loss. We recommend a macronutrient split of 25/55/20 in order to ensure proper energy levels and recovery times. (Of course, this is a general guideline, as you’ll want to adjust the split according to your training needs, budget, and pre-/post-season.) You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting a diet with all your micronutrients. Numerous diets exist, like keto, paleo, and more. However, generally, athletes should stick with the staple clean foods. For a more detailed approach to dieting and nutrition, see our article on a boxer’s nutrition.
Time your diet by competition or training dates. As a preliminary point, between competition or training camps, boxers should not exceed their fighting weight by 15%. Still, even at 15% above fighting weight, that’s many weeks of healthy dieting. Thus, start dieting well in advance of important dates because losing too much too fast will drain you, leaving you fatigued before the match even begins. Plus, you risk relying too heavily on unhealthy short-term weight loss methods.
The more you exercise, the more calories your body burns while becoming faster, stronger, and sharper. Your strength and conditioning, including its intensity and volume, can help maximize your muscle retention and minimize body fat. For specifics on how to exercise, simply follow the coach’s training plan faithfully. For our take on exercising for boxing, see here (forthcoming).
How to Cut Weight (Short-Term Weight Loss)
Cutting weight involves short-term weight loss through dehydration, glycogen depletion, and flushing food waste. These measures can amount to more than ten pounds of weight loss within a day or two, but their use puts the athlete at risk for unsafe health conditions and depleted energy levels.
You can dehydrate primarily by (1) drinking less water, (2) sweating (e.g. sauna suit), and (3) restricting salt intake. Max dehydration requires using all of these means within a couple of days of making weight, although some methods require nearly two weeks. For example, some athletes drink an excess of two gallons for 3-5 days, and after that third/fifth day, they half their intake every day afterwards (e.g. one, half, a quarter, zero), reaching zero water intake on the day before weigh-ins. On that last day or two, they will eat very little and sweat out the weight using heat.
Understand, severe dehydration puts the athlete at greater risk of concussion and poor performance due to a lack of time to fully rehydrate. Although hydration drinks like Pedialyte will optimize hydration, a boxer should always prefer moderate dehydration to minimize unnecessary risk of very serious harm.
Glycogen is the term for carbs stored in your body–muscles, liver, fat cells. It’s the source of quick energy, and every gram of glycogen requires 3-4 grams of stored water. Thus, decreasing your carb intake and increasing your training will help you lose several pounds of water weight while also reducing your muscle size (due to glycogen depletion and resultant water loss). In practice, this can be a loss of 5 to 10 pounds of weight loss in a couple of days. For more reading, see this paper and this easy-reading article.
Flushing Food Waste
On average, your bowl movement might make you a pound lighter. Drinking water and eating fiber, among other natural triggers, will help produce bowl movements. However, because bowl movement requires water and fiber intake, it’s better to eliminate food waste before seriously dehydrating for competition. An extreme measure would be laxatives, as they help flush food waste while also dehydrating the body. However, we strongly advise against them because their effects can be difficult to predict and control.
Short-term measures should be used in moderation. Your long-term weight loss should get you within 5-15 pounds of your fighting weight (depending on your weight class). Then, you should rely on dehydration, glycogen depletion, and bowl movement to lose that temporary weight for weigh-ins.