I’ve written previously about using the “water loading” method of drinking a great deal of water for three days, then tapering off and drinking no water in order to do a weight cut. This method is very common, if not standard, in the west and comes from wrestling and body building. I’ve always been successful with this method and the idea behind it is that one can continue eating during the final week of training, so you don’t lose power from starving, and also to make your window of dehydration as short as possible. Pretty much hitting your weight just hours before stepping on the scale and then being able to rehydrate back to a more normal weight. The idea behind cutting a lot of weight is, obviously, to be able to have an advantage on the other end of it. In theory, whoever is “better” at cutting weight has a greater advantage after rehydrating: being heavier than their opponent and/or less depleted. This method, coming from wrestling, is capable of cutting a great deal of water weight out of your body. Those who use this method to cut the most weight are pulling water out of their internal organs, muscles, and skin. It can be intense.
For me, I’ve never had to cut much weight at all. I walk around about 2-3 kg heavier than what I ever have to stand on the scale at, which is only 4.4-6.6 lbs – and almost 80% of the time I fight opponents heavier than I am, where there is no weigh-in. When I do get the opportunity to weigh in and fight someone my size the water loading method (combined with sauna or the Alboline tub), used to get “the last 10-20 lbs” of water out of fighters who are potentially cutting even more than that, can be a bit like using a sledge hammer on a nail for me. As a sidenote, I’ve never seen Alboline here in Thailand. There is, alternatively, the “Thai Method” of cutting weight.
From a western perspective, where we all think we’re sport scientists because we have Google, watching fighters starve themselves and run in the sun wearing plastic sauna suits before and often during training looks ridiculous. It seems impractical and outdated, and quite frankly looks like an avoidable horror. Some of these guys are cutting a lot of weight, but most aren’t. The teens at my gym average about 2-4 kg drops (4.4-8.8 lbs) from their walking weights for Lumpinee or other big Thai stadia, the biggest drop being 6 kg (13 lbs) from our 70 kg fighter. Keep in mind the higher cut is relative to his bigger size. There are some Thais cutting 9 kg (20 lbs) or more but it’s not the norm from anything I’ve seen/heard. In Thailand most weigh ins are same-day as the fight, meaning you stand on the scale at 6 AM and fight in the evening or night. You don’t have 24 hours to rehydrate and recover the way western fighters who weigh in the night before do. That doesn’t mean Thais for big matches aren’t also using similar medical aids like I.V. drips and injections to help them recover but again it’s not universal – and quite frankly most of the amateur fighters in the west who are cutting a lot of weight for local shows aren’t taking those medical aids either. So, in short, Thais walk around fairly close to their fighting weight. If we fought more often in the west, we might also. But the months between fights in the west that most fighters experience allows for this cycling up and down – the deprivation and then reward roller coaster that the body rides in “fight camp” and post fight binges. Instead, the Thai approach is much more of an acclimation process, using heat and sweat over time.
So, for me, the “Thai Method” works really well because I’m cutting just a little weight and only have to weigh in very infrequently, as most of my fights don’t require it. I’ve come to prefer the Thai method and here’s why: it takes me about the same number of days to do either the water loading or the sweat jacket; the water loading allows me to eat normally but drinking 2 gallons of water per day is incredibly uncomfortable, even if I’m not hungry. Because the water load method only pulls the water out in the last day, you can spend five days not knowing for sure where you’re going to land and therefore spend a lot of mental effort fretting over this last little window, something of a mental hurdle. With the gradual wring-out method with the sweat jacket, you see your weight drop every day and know where you’re at all the time. Here’s how I’ve done the “Thai Method”: About a week out I start wearing a waterproof rain jacket during my bagwork in morning sessions. I don’t have a plastic sauna suit and they don’t actually make them in my size – Thai kids just wear the adult versions and they seem to work fine, so this is simply a matter of me owning a piece of clothing that works like a sauna suit. Starting a week out is simply getting my body acclimated to the intensity of working out in this article of clothing that makes you very hot and sweat like crazy. It can drain you pretty fast if you’re not used to it. But I drink as much water as I like and don’t try to hold on to any weight loss I see after training sessions. I’m just seeing how much is coming off after each session.
As a sidenote, the Thai training in heat “wring-out method may have additional Hyperthermic Conditioning benefits, you can read about those here.
Five days out I start wearing the jacket in both training sessions, mostly just on the bag and shadowboxing (never on pads, clinch or sparring). Four days out I stop eating any salt/sodium. That doesn’t simply mean not adding table salt to food, but actually avoiding any sodium – so no bread, noting that broccoli and spinach are higher in sodium than, say a bellpepper, and mixing food accordingly. I eat vegetables and eggs, mostly hard-boiled. It’s a blandish eating experience and because I’m limited in the foods I can choose I do end up feeling hungry, but not overly so. I’m never feeling weak in training. That said, I always only eat two meals per day, whether cutting weight or no. I eat after morning training and then dinner after evening training. I sleep in the middle of the day, so this is just how my pattern is. I don’t eat fewer meals to cut weight, but I do reckon because it’s all just watery vegetables and hardboiled eggs it’s likely fewer calories overall. I don’t know because I don’t check, but that’s my guess. Cutting out the salt is what really pulls the weight off for me though. Within the last three days I’m usually about 1 kg away from my goal. The last 3 days is when the weight is all on fine-tune.
Many Thais will take their training way down and just focus on cutting weight in the final 2 training sessions before weigh in. Bank, Pi Nu’s 15 year old son, just runs outside in his plastics, skips rope and then sits in the sauna if he has to to hit his mark 2 days before weigh in. Then a much more relaxed attempt the night before. I don’t think Thais ever hit their actual weigh-in weight prior to the weight check – they seem to see 3-5 oz above weight to be “on weight” the night before, kind of assuming the ounces will come off from normal bathroom use and time. I don’t do this. I hit my weight and go a bit under the night before weigh in. Boys weigh in at Lumpinee naked – always. I don’t fight at Lumpinee and wear clothing, so I have to check my weight with my weigh-in outfit on. If you are in Thailand it’s not always easy to get an accurate scale – our gym scale is whack. I have a personal store bought digital at home that I always re-calibrate to a nearby 7-11 scale I’ve come to trust. 7-11 scales tend to be pretty accurate it seems.
The way that the Thai’s I know cut weight, and the way that I recently have attempted it differ to some degree. While they are in their sauna suits doing light workouts they restrict water for 2 days but it’s pretty hardcore. You only drink in sips to wet your throat, really. After the final sweat out the night before weigh in you swish, gargle and spit the water. That’s about 12 hours of that between sweat jacket finale and weigh in. But the final 2 days you’re not training. Just some moderate runs in the sweat jacket the last two days of training and only that final weigh cut (plus a morning jog) on the day before weigh in. So no big training exertions with water restrictions. They’re separate.
Pi Nu also told me that when he helps his fighters cut weight it’s all about small food portions: two boiled eggs (whites only) in the morning with a salad for breakfast; boiled chicken and very little rice for lunch, and a similar but smaller dinner after training. He described a sauce that’s put on the boiled chicken and I was stunned to hear it’s got fish-sauce in it, so watching sodium isn’t something he does (I’m not sure how common even the nutritional concept of component “sodium” is in Thailand gyms). So while Pi Nu would have his fighters start to avoid water and taper down in workouts (two days out), I instead have decided to keep the water going, and instead avoid sodium (three days out). If you’re cutting a lot of weight or if you’re still training hard during weight cut, I do caution you to proceed with care when cutting out sodium too early. You need it in your body when you’re sweating a lot, so you might feel the effects at times if you cut it out too early. Learn your body. I cut it out 3 days out. I also don’t “sodium load”, before a sodium cut, which is something that some people do in parallel with water loading. So the Thais I’ve seen tend watch fluid intake, but not sodium, and while I’m using low-sodium to manipulate my water loss, I’m not reducing my fluids as much Thais tend to on the final 2 days – I drink when I’m thirsty, but not a lot. Aside from lowering fluid intake, Pi Nu is the one who introduced me to the fact that when you’re dehydrated your skin will soak up water from a shower. So, when his boys have made weight they can have a little hot-wet-towel wipe down but then it’s just using talcum powder instead of a shower for the last night and morning before driving to Bangkok – in consumption and in association they are drying their bodies out. I tested this bit about the shower myself and was very surprised to see that I would in fact hold on to about a little water after a shower, even after toweling off and taking most of the water out of my hair. So – note that if you’re down to the wire.
In Thailand the day before a fight is generally taken off, other than an oil massage or some light shadowboxing. I go in to the gym in the afternoon of this day and wear a wetsuit in place of a plastic sauna suit (I bought it at Big C here in Pattaya – about $50 on sale). On the last day I spend about 15 minutes jogging lightly up and down the street to work up a sweat in my wetsuit, which I wear through the whole workout. Then I go inside and shodowbox lightly, taking many breaks and stretching a bit between, just to keep sweating. Then I sit and sweat, watching others train or chatting with Pi Nu, his uncles, fighters, etc. It’s very relaxed. When I get home I rinse of and weigh myself, generally having hit my target already. This last cut I only had one more kilo to cut the day before the fight, as sweating in the jacket throughout the week and cutting out salt had me walking around at 47 very consistently. So, why cut the weight this far beforehand? I can drink some water and eat dinner, which keeps me from feeling drained. I gain about 1.2 kg from drinking a little water and eating a boiled egg and vegetable dinner (no rice). Later in the night I’ll cut that back out and it’s harder than it was at the gym, but because it’s using methods that will just suck the water out of my skin, not from my muscles or organs.
The Night Before Weigh-In
At around midnight for a 7 AM weigh in, I boil water in a cooker and put 5,000 grams of Epsom Salts in a tub that’s filling with as hot of water as my tap can do. That’s not super hot here in Thailand, which is why the boiling water is added also. I dump some rubbing alcohol over my body before getting in the tub, which opens the pores. Then I sit in the tub, sweating and feeling hot, watching whatever I can to distract me on the computer for about 20-30 minutes. I get out about 2 times to take little breaks if I feel dizzy or anything, standing in the cooler air to let steam evaporate off of me and then back in the tub. I lose just under 1 kg in that amount of time. While I’m still very hot from the tub I come out and lie on the floor with towels and a blanket covering me up to my neck. Kevin and I watched a show on the computer for about 40 minutes while I lay like this, just sweating under the towels and blankets from the trapped heat. I lost another 5 oz this way, so I was under my mark by about 2 oz by this point. That’s naked though, so I try on my weigh in outfit and was right on the mark. I got back under the blankets to sweat another oz or 2 out, take a small sip of water (small enough that it doesn’t add weight), cut open a lime and touch that to my tongue periodically to get my saliva going, and otherwise just rinse my mouth out with water here and there when I feel very thirsty. I only feel terribly thirsty right after hitting my mark, because I’ve been in the hot tub, I feel. After this I go to bed as soon as possible and usually over the next 5 hours or so I’ll lose a bit more weight. Sometimes I pee when I wake up and sometimes I’ll sweat a bit in the night. It’s not a lot, but it can be 3 oz or so.
This last time I wore my rain jacket when I woke up to walk the dog before weigh in and didn’t sweat a single drop, so I reckon trying to get a sweat going if I’d needed to would have been difficult. I brought running shoes and my jacket to the weigh-in just in case I had to shed any ounces, in case my scale wasn’t the same as the stadium or anything. I was even able to take a few swigs of water – some people suck on ice chips or chew gum for the dry-mouth you’ll have in the morning. It’s not terrible, just kind of sticky. I was an ounce under my mark at the stadium, wearing my weigh in outfit which included a tanktop that I could have slipped off if I was over. In Thailand it’s not very appropriate for women to weigh in wearing as little as is acceptable in the west, so that needs to be considered for women making weight out here. I’ve seen Thai women in spandex undershorts (like boyshorts but a bit longer) and a sports bra, but that’s as little as I’ve ever seen. No bikinis, generally shirts or shorts are kept on. I know western women who have stripped down to hit the number and you won’t get hurt doing this, but you will make a bit of a scene and it’s up to you how comfortable you are with that. Men, you might not get someone holding a towel for you if you have to weigh in naked. You’ll just be hanging out and it’s up to you how comfortable you are with that, but generally speaking it won’t make a scene. After weighing in I eat some bananas, get some salt in me and drink water. Nothing fancy at all. Then I just keep drinking water throughout the day as best I can remember to do. Generally speaking, I only go up about 1 or 1.5 kg from weigh in to fight on the same day. But weight is not my advantage in my fights, so for me I don’t really care. That’s the method I’ve been using lately and it’s been quite easy, successful and I feel good in my fights.