Weight cutting – my past experiences and part 1 of the current cut on a plant based diet

Elite athletes are always in amazing shape for their sport. But for combat athletes as well as getting fit, strong and skilled enough, you also have the joys of weight categories to deal with.

For Taekwondo each division is 6kg (13.2lbs or almost a stone) apart. So there is quite a big difference between each one. When I first started competing I just entered the division I normally walked around at and didn’t really worry about it. I happily sat at around 61kg and so was in the 57-63kg category. However the more experience I got, I found out that 3kg can be quite a lot of extra strength and/or reach to deal with. So naturally I thought I should try to drop down under 57kg. At the time I didn’t have any idea how to weight cut and my coach got me having a bowl of porridge made with water each morning and then just a plate of salad leaves for lunch and dinner. This was while also doing two intense training sessions per day. I managed to get down to just under 59kg ok, but once I started to get closer to 58kg it all started to go very wrong and I was passing out in training sessions, as well as just being a grumpy hangry mess! It was also around this time that I started to get really bad irritable bowel symptoms (IBS) which showed how much I was damaging my digestive system! So we decided to scrap that plan and just concentrate on trying to get good enough for the 57-63kg division. This plan worked ok at Nationals but at Internationals I wasn’t getting through to the finals.

Whizzy forward quite a few years to when I started competing in MMA, the divisions were slightly smaller with 4kg gaps and again I naturally sat in the bantamweight division (under 135lbs/61.2kg). However, the MMA athletes took weight cutting very seriously. Most MMA shows have competitors weigh in the day before the show, so you get just over 24hours to re-hydrate and re-fuel. So as well as dieting down they cut water weight (lots of “fun” in a hot salty bath or sauna) to get into their divisions and then walk into the cage to compete a fair bit heavier than they weighed in. So of course if your competition is doing this and you are not, you’re giving yourself a very big disadvantage. For most MMA fighters I think they would say weight cutting is as much a part of the competition as the fight is.

So when my coach said I should compete in the flyweight division (under 125lbs/56.7kg), I did get a few flashbacks to the awful experience that involved last time. At this time I was on a mostly gluten free (as my IBS had never fully gone away and it seemed to help) paleo diet. So my nutritional plan consisted of smoothies, bit of meat (as I was often too lazy to cook it!), veg and sweet potato. With portion control and no “naughty” treats I got down to just under 60kg. The final week was a bit of a blur and I had to take the whole week off work as I would have been not far from totally useless trying to concentrate in meetings, let alone then be productive! I remember living off smoothies, Greek yoghurt, fresh air and a whole load of thermos fat burning tablets which got me down to under 59kg. I was also water loading over the last 5 days, which means drinking lots of water (started at 7 litres) and then slowly reducing it over the week so that your body keeps letting go of water even when you get to being very dehydrated. The last 24 hours before weigh in involved “nil by mouth”, a hot sweaty 20 min salt bath, followed by 20mins of being wrapped in towels sweating some more. A hot wrapped up uncomfortable night’s sleep where all I dreamt about was water and then a morning trip to the sauna to do 3 x 5mins rounds in a sauna suit (of which you can see the burn marks on my shoulder from the heat!). Finally followed by an hour’s car journey again wrapped up with all the heaters on full heat. To finally stand on the scales just under 125lbs. Thanks to the great help of my team I had done it, but I did look a bit ill, as my team mates were very happy to point out!

_DSC9187 copy

After drinking lots of water and then smoothies and finally a meal of veg, sweet potato and chicken, the next day I fought my heart out. But I do recognise there is a lot adrenaline can make you capable of and like before there were side effects. The biggest one being that I lost my period for over a year. So clearly as before my body was again not happy with me!

But it did mean I now knew I could do it. So when I returned to TKD, I knew that for international competitions when you also weigh in the day before that I would be going into the under 57kg category. However unlike MMA where you have one fight, a TKD comp involves as many fights as it takes to get through the tournament to reach the final. Also an MMA comp only last one evening so I could afford to take the week off work before. However an International TKD comp lasts all week so I couldn’t be taking off two weeks from work. So it gave me a fair bit to consider. Another big difference from before is I was now on a vegan gluten free diet. This alone had reduced my body fat %, but thanks to the great PT sessions from Marty at Nuffield Health, I had also put on a lot of muscle and my normal walking around weight was up to 62kg. You can see the differences in these pictures – the one on the left being from Shock n Awe where I weighted it at 56.7kg and then was probably back up to around 60kg when I walked into the cage and the ones on the right (about 6 months into being vegan) where I weighed in on the day at 60kg:

gained muscle

To ensure I could continue to train as hard as possible and learn as much as possible, having only been back to TKD since Jan, my “cutting” training phase only began 3 weeks before the Euros. This meant several changes, which I was all guided on by my amazing wholistic therapist Sylvia Sobota at Nurture Your Body. With her experience, extensive research and dietetics degree I had full faith in the plan!

NYB

  • Exercise – was reduced to only include the essential sessions I needed (so just one intense session at day) and my PT sessions with Marty changed from being strength focused to circuit focused. All sessions with him are total beastings, which is just what I want and need! He continued to involved strength exercises, but higher reps and more full body functional exercises along with speed and agility work. However my strength continued to improve as I was chucking about heavier kettlebells than before and my power was still strong for the pad work!
  • Sleep – I tried to ensure I got lots of it! So if a late night happened it meant a lie-in in the morning.
  • Water – no water loading, just ensuring I was getting plenty (as I was still sweating buckets in each training session) which meant 4 litres per day.
  • Food – diet modified slightly to include more raw vegetables and portion sizes were slightly reduced e.g. my morning smoothie now had half a banana rather than a whole one. But I was still eating something every 3 hours, so no starving involved! The hardest bit was maybe being limited to only having two medjool dates rather than my quite often occurrence of eating the whole box! I really do love dates!

If you’re interested in the details here they are for 3 and 2 weeks to go:

Training plan:

Day Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat Sun
AM Easy run Kettlebells & kicks Grit/TKD patterns Rest Rest Rest day Squads
PM TKD technical TKD fitness TKD technical TKD sparring PT session Rest day Rest

Diet plan:

  • 1st thing – water and a juice if having a morning training session (if no morning session just juice for breakfast)
  • AM Post training– smoothie (greens, half a banana)
  • Mid-morning snack – fruit (apples, grapes, plums, oranges, grapefruit or berries was best)
  • Lunch – raw veg (mix of carrot, celery, cucumber, cauliflower, broccoli) & ½ cup of quinoa
  • Mid afternoon snack – 2 brazil nuts/4 walnuts
  • Pre-training – if it was a less intense session I had chia seed pudding (basically a fruit smoothie made with non-diary milk with chia seeds added to thicken it). For more intense sessions so sparring and PT, I had gluten free oatmeal with a handful of seeds and goji berries.
  • Post-training:
    • I avocado (2 times a week)
    • 2 dates (2-3 times a week)
    • Or glass of juice (2-3 times per week) mainly veg some fruit

Other:

  • 4 litres of water a day & 1 electrolyte tab/quarter tsp of unrefined sea salt
  • 2 teabags of green tea per day (before 3pm)
  • Lots of vitamin C

Juice ingredients:

raw veg for juice

A raw veg lunch and cucumber in my water:

raw veg lunch

A chia seed pudding:

chia seed pudding

Good thing about the toughest sessions of the week means I get porridge:

porridge

And of course lots of water:

water

Now for the bit you probably wanted to know right at the beginning, what do the scales say? To keep consistency this is my weight first thing each morning before I eat or drink anything:

Day 3 weeks to go 2 weeks to go
Mon 61.8kg 60.0kg
Wed 61.6kg 59.6kg
Fri 60.2kg 58.8kg
Sun 60.2kg 59.1kg

So I can happily report I am fully on target to reach 57kg in just over a week’s time and might not even have to cut as much water weight as I did before. Also good news is my body is still happy as my period started as due this morning. So with the water retention that normally causes, I’m not surprised I went up a bit this morning and it’s all timing well for next week!

So overall I’m finding cutting on a plant based diet SO much easier and healthier. I’m sure no-one would ever call cutting “fun.” Especially when you’ve got as sweet a tooth as I have  and having recently learnt how to make a whole load of date and nut based treats! But this has by far been the best experience I’ve had of doing it so far!

Final weigh in are on Tues 28th and there might be an update before then with any changes I make over the last week. But if not I shall be sure to update you with the final scale results!

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