Nutrition

Complete Guide to Cutting Weight Without Sacrificing Strength


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Anyone can cut weight fast.

It’s really not that hard.

But rapidly cutting a lot of weight while maintaining (and even gaining) strength requires strategy.

So I’m going to give you mine.

In this article, you’re going to learn both the theory and practical application behind the approach I’ve developed over the past 5 years to cut weight fast  prior to a 24-hour weigh-in without sacrificing strength.

Why listen to me?

An IPA world-record holder with a 4x bodyweight raw deadlift under my belt (for which I had to cut nearly 8% of my bodyweight in about 24-hours), I’ve had years of experience cutting weight while performing at a high level.

Follow my instructions and you’ll learn how to lose weight rapidly without sacrificing your strength.

But first…

Do You Need to Cut Weight?

Before we discuss “how,” we need to discuss whether or not you really need to cut.

Plain and simple, unless you have a serious shot at winning your weight class and/or setting records, you have no business cutting for a powerlifting meet.

If you want to drop some pounds to look and feel better, improve your health, or increase relative strength, that’s totally fine, but you should not be doing a drastic cut like the one outlined below.

Instead, you should be focused on healthy, progressive weight loss through organized habit change.

Why?

  1. Hitting personal records is your primary goal. And while cutting weight isn’t inherently bad, it can take your focus away from performance and put it on an arbitrary weight class. So rather than focus on cutting weight, focus solely on your strength and make sure you hit personal records.
  2. The type of weight cut outlined below is not a long-term solution. It’s not a sustainable way to eat and, in the long-term, can have negative effects on both health and performance.

Assuming you want to lose and maintain your weight loss in the long-term (not just for a single powerlifting meet), you need to adopt a mindset and approach that will allow you to succeed.

On the other hand, if you’re a high-level lifter with a legitimate shot at setting records, drastic weight cuts can be a necessary evil.

So if you’re a high-level lifter and need to optimize your weight cut, the approach outlined below is for you.

How Do You Want to Cut?

The way I see it, you have three options.

Option 1: Slow and Steady

Slow and steady is a progressive weight cut for about 12-16 weeks leading up to weigh-ins. This is ideal for lifters who hate rapid fat loss and would prefer to progressively lose weight over time. The major drawback of this approach is that it increases your time spent in a caloric deficit, which is never a fun experience and may impact your training cycle.

I’d note, this  approach is truly sustainable and is my preferred method for lifters of all levels when long-term fat loss (not rapid weight loss) is the goal.

Option 2: Fast and Drastic

This is a more rapid approach. Starting roughly 1-2 weeks prior to weigh-ins, you will introduce a significant caloric deficit to initiate rapid weight loss. Depending on how much you need to lose and how much water you’re comfortable cutting the night before weigh-ins, you’ll progressively implement several strategies to help you lose weight rapidly without sacrificing strength. The major drawback of this approach is that the entire time spent in this phase is pretty miserable. That being said, some people (myself included) prefer this over 12 weeks in a deficit.

Option 3: A Combo of the Two

Exactly what it sounds like, this option combines slow and steady, and fast and drastic to get the best of both worlds. To illustrate, rather than start slow and steady 12 weeks out, you could start it 6-8 weeks out then initiate fast and drastic five days out. This way, you reduce the time spent in each phase and ideally get the best result.

In the remainder of this article, I’m going to focus on fast and drastic as well as the water cut. For more information on slow and steady, you can read this article.

How to Cut Weight Fast While Gaining Strength

Step 1: Set Your Time Frame

Let’s work backward.

Before you establish your protein intake, calorie intake, and other details, you need to know how far in advance (two days to two weeks) you plan to start the fast and drastic phase.

To make an educated decision, you first need to understand how much weight you can expect to lose.

How Much Can You Lose?

Weight loss is highly variable from person to person, but, generally speaking, it’s not uncommon to lose 7-10lbs in one week of fast and drastic dieting.

Three days after starting my most recent fast and drastic phase, I dropped 5lbs.
Three days after starting my most recent fast and drastic phase, I dropped 5lbs.

Tack another week of fast and drastic dieting onto the schedule and a net weight loss of 10-15lbs (sometimes even 20lbs) is feasible in two weeks.

Do you want to lose that much weight prior to the meet?

It depends.

If you don’t want to cut a lot of (or any) water the night before weigh-ins, this rapid approach will be right up your alley.

If you do plan on cutting water, you may not want such a drastic approach for a full 1-2 weeks. However, you could use fast and drastic for 2-3 days in order to drop a few extra pounds and make the water cut less stressful.

Simple enough, right?

Now you need to answer a very important question.

Do you want to cut water the night before?

If your answer is “no,” then you need to get within .5lb–1lb of your weight class the night before weigh-ins. Some lifters might able to swing 1.5lbs–2lbs, but most people drop anywhere between .5lb–1lb overnight assuming they don’t eat or drink. That being the case, see how much weight you need to lose and plan for anywhere between two days to two weeks of fast and drastic dieting prior to weigh-ins.

If your answer is “yes,” then you have a bit more leeway with how much weight you need to lose prior to the water cut. Taking that into consideration, you likely won’t need to spend as much time in the fast and drastic phase (3-7 days is usually sufficient) as you’ll be cutting water the night before.

Later on, I’ll discuss how to cut water effectively.

Now it’s time to set your time frame

Below, I’ve provided four separate options based on how much weight you need to lose prior to weighing in OR prior to initiating the water cut. Use the option that most closely coincides with your individual needs.

If you need to lose 2-4lbs, initiate fast and drastic 2-4 days in advance.

If you need to lose 4-8lbs, initiate fast and drastic 4-6 days in advance.

If you need to lose 8-12lbs, initiate fast and drastic 6-10 days in advance.

If you need to lose 12+lbs, initiate fast and drastic 10-14 days in advance.

Step 2: Set Your Protein Intake

How much protein should you consume during a drastic weight cut?

Personally, I recommend anywhere between 1.3g – 2g per pound of bodyweight.

Realistically, you’ll be fine anywhere within this range but, generally speaking, the leaner you are, the higher your protein:bodyweight ratio should be.

Do you need 2x your bodyweight in protein to maintain muscle and strength?

No.

But a higher ratio will keep you satiated (full) for longer periods of time. Plus, considering protein has a higher thermic effect than all other macronutrients, an emphasis on protein may actually increase your net caloric deficit resulting in even more rapid weight loss.

Practical Application: To set your protein intake, multiply your current bodyweight by anywhere between 1.3-2.0. To illustrate, if you weigh 175lbs and choose a protein intake of 1.5 x bodyweight, your daily protein intake will be about 263g (175 x 1.5 = 262.5).

Step 3: Set Your Caloric Deficit

This is the not-so-fun part.

While the fast and drastic method is extremely effective and allows you to lose a lot of weight very quickly, it also sucks.

And it sucks because the deficit so big.

Also known as a Protein-Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF), your caloric deficit for the fast and drastic method can be calculated by multiplying your bodyweight (in pounds) by 6, 7, or 8.

Needless to say, 6 calories per pound is a much greater deficit than 8 calories per pound, which will lead to a more rapid rate of weight loss.

I recommend starting at 7 calories per pound and adjusting as you see fit.

Need a faster rate of weight loss? Go to 6 cals per pound.

Dropping weight too quickly? Bump it up to 8 cals per pound.

Practical Application: To set your caloric deficit, multiply your current bodyweight by 6-8 calories per pound. To illustrate, if you weigh 175lbs and follow my recommendations, your caloric intake will be 1,225kcal/day (175 x 7 = 1225).

Step 4: Prepare For the Suck

I’m not going to sugar coat anything.

This is going to suck.

You’re in a serious caloric deficit and nearly all of your calories are coming from protein.

Prepare for extreme irritability.

The first few days aren’t that bad, but by the time days 4 and 5 roll around, you’ll probably find yourself in a pretty crappy mood.

This is normal.

Extreme dieting is never a fun experience and feeling tired, irritable, and hungry are all standard reactions. It’s your body’s way of trying to convince you to eat more.

Knowing this, it’s important to prepare ahead of time to make the process as simple and easy as possible.

Here are some of my go-to recommendations:

  • Pre-plan and cook meals ahead of time so you don’t come home completely ravenous with nothing ready to eat.
  • Get any/all trigger foods out of your home. There’s nothing worse than staring at a box of your favorite cereal in the middle of a PSMF.
  • Reduce your training volume. This should go without saying since you’re a maximum of two weeks out from the meet, but reducing your training volume to the bare minimum is essential on such a low calorie diet.
  • Boredom is the enemy of hunger. Get out of the house and stay out as long as possible. The more you find yourself bored at home, the hungrier and more irritable you’re going to become. Nowhere to go? Head to the nearest coffee shop, grab a large black iced coffee and do work on your computer.
  • Make sure you get a minimum of 6-8 hours of sleep every night.
  • When in doubt, lean meats, green leafy veggies, and seltzer will fill you up for very few calories and lots of protein.

Step 5: The Water Cut

I should start by saying cutting water is not a healthy, fun, or even particularly safe process.

It is an extreme tactic used by high-level athletes in weight-controlled sports to acutely reduce their body weight in order to make their desired weight class.

Again, it is neither healthy nor safe.

Taking this into consideration, if you’re willing to take the associated risks, below I’ve provided the method that I use to cut water leading up to weigh-ins.

How Much Water Can You Lose?

The absolute maximum amount of water I would say an individual can attempt to lose is roughly 8% of their total bodyweight.

Some sources say it’s safe to lose closer to 10% of your bodyweight in water, but I would never recommend going that high.

Why?

Because it’s extremely dangerous and an exceptionally awful experience.

And aside from the increased health risks, a larger water cut is more likely to negatively impact your performance on the platform.

Practical Application: Plan to cut an absolute maximum of 8% of your total bodyweight prior to beginning the PSMF. To illustrate, if you want to water cut to the 181 lb weight class, you should weigh no more than 196lbs. Similarly, if you want to cut water to the 132lb weight class, you should weigh no more than 143lbs.

When Should You Initiate the Water Cut?

You want to spend as little time dehydrated as possible.

That being the case, I don’t start cutting water until about 12-16hrs before weigh-in.

Granted, some people prefer a slower water cut in which they start 20 hours beforehand whereas others favor a faster water cut in which they start 5-10hrs before weigh-in.

To find what works best for you, you’ll just have to go through a process of guess and check until you figure out what produces the best results.

How Do You Complete the Water Cut?

Sweat.

A lot.

If you’ve never done it before, it probably sounds strange or even impossible, but sweating out pounds of water is one of the most efficient methods of cutting weight.

There are a variety of ways to sweat water out including sitting in a hot sauna, hot tub, or bath tub.

While they’re all effective, in this article, I’m going to describe how to do it using a bath tub (seeing as saunas and hot tubs aren’t always available).

Step 1: Make sure you have a friend with you at all times. Trying to cut water by yourself is one of the most dangerous and stupid mistakes you could ever make.

Step 2: Fill the bathtub with hot water. Really hot water. It obviously shouldn’t be boiling but when you step inside, it should be significantly hotter than you’d ever consider bathing in.

Step 3: Slowly immerse as much of your body as possible in the water. I emphasize slowly because when the water is extremely hot, it will burn if you go in too quickly.

Step 4: Soon, you’ll start to sweat. Stay in the bathtub for 10-20min then slowly get out for a break. I emphasize slowly because if you try to stand up too quickly, you may get lightheaded.

Step 5: Dry yourself off and check your weight to see how much you lost in your first round. This will be a good gauge moving forward for the rest of the cut.

Step 6: Take 5-10min out of the bathtub to lie down and relax. Once you feel up for it, head back into the bathtub for round two.

Step 7: Repeat this process over and over again until you’re roughly .5lb – 1lb above what you need to weigh the next morning, then go to bed. This process could take anywhere from 1-10+hrs depending on how much weight you’re trying to cut.

Important Considerations and Tricks

  1. Make sure your bathtub doesn’t have a limited supply of hot water because odds are, you’re going to need to refill it several times. Hotel bathtubs tend to be fine, but some older homes and apartments don’t have enough hot water to support a longer cut.
  2. Have music playing the entire time you’re in the bathtub and try to maintain a conversation with whoever’s watching you. It may seem arbitrary, but keeping your mind off of the hot water and overall cutting process is priceless.
  3. Keep as much of your body as possible (aside from your head) under water. If your arms and legs are hangin’ out above water, it’ll take longer for your body to heat up and sweat.
  4. Do NOT eat salty foods (even seemingly harmless ones like peanuts) during the cutting process. The salt will make you significantly thirstier and make it drastically more difficult to complete the cut.
  5. You’re going to be thirsty. Really thirsty. More thirsty than you’ve ever been. Keep a tray of ice in your freezer so you can suck on a few ice cubes before you go to bed. This’ll help to quench your thirst without regaining much water weight.
  6. Keep gum nearby. A lot of it. It helps you salivate, which will stave off cottonmouth and subsequent thirst.
  7. If you’re driving to weigh-ins the next day, make sure someone else can drive you. You should absolutely not be driving in a severely dehydrated state.
  8. Don’t take it too far. Remember, it’s just a powerlifting meet. If you need to call it off and rehydrate in order to stay safe and compete well – call it off. It’s not worth getting hurt or dying for. Not at all.

My Rapid Fat Loss Backup Plan

You always need a backup plan.

Always.

After years of cutting upwards of 10 lbs mere hours before weigh-ins, I finally came up with my own backup plan to help me cut an extra couple of pounds in the days leading up to weigh-ins.

What’s the plan?

Fluids.

Lots of fluids.

Actually, only fluids.

If you’re significantly heavier than you need to be in the days leading up to the meet, switching to a liquid-only diet is a quick and simple (not easy) way to drop a lot of weight very quickly.

How Do You Switch to a Liquid-Only Diet?

Water, coffee, tea, diet soda, zero-calorie beverages and, most importantly, protein shakes.

Protein shakes will allow you to meet your calorie and protein guidelines without adding much stomach content in the days leading up to the meet.

Less stomach content = less weight (not fat) inside of you = less weight needed to cut

The ingredients and number of protein shakes you drink per day is honestly irrelevant so long as you continue to stick to the calorie and protein guidelines previously established.

However, there are ways to make protein shakes thicker and more filling, which will keep you a bit more comfortable in a very uncomfortable situation.

Below is my basic guide to creating a thick, filling, low-calorie protein shake:

  1. Use casein or a mix of whey and casein as that will make a thicker and more filling shake than any other type of protein.
  2. Grab at least one handful of ice and throw it in the blender. More ice = more texture and thickness.
  3. Mix with water or low-cal almond milk. I prefer almond milk because it makes a much thicker shake, but if you really need to watch your calories, then water is totally fine.
  4. Feel free to include any extras so long as your daily calorie and protein totals are in-line with the numbers you already established. Sometimes I’ll throw in Arctic Zero and/or sugar-free chocolate syrup so I don’t completely hate my life.
  5. Blend on high for several minutes. The longer you blend it, the more airy and thick the shake will become.

When Do You Stop Drinking Fluids?

16 hours prior to weigh-ins, cease all fluid intake.

From that point on, you will completely fast (no food, no water) until you’ve successfully made weight.

I’d note, keeping a pack (or five) of sugar-free gum in your pocket throughout these final hours can be a life saver. When you start to get thirsty or hungry and need some form of relief, sugar-free gum works wonders.

What About After Weigh-Ins?

Drink.

Immediately.

I bring two Pedialyte’s to the weigh-ins so as soon as I step off the scale, I can begin to rehydrate.

Important to note, it is NOT a good idea to chug a lot of fluid as quickly as possible; after being dehydrated, it’s easy to drink too much to the point of puking.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

To avoid stomach upset and possibly more dehydration, slowly sip on a Pedialyte or something similar (like diluted Gatorade) over the first 30 minutes after weigh-ins while snacking on simple, easy-to-digest foods.

After 30 minutes, you’ll begin to feel like yourself again, at which point, you can start to eat and drink to your heart’s content.

Keep in mind, the last thing you want to do is puke, so I strongly urge you to take it slow and not overdo it. Refrain from eating a bunch of junk and stick to foods you eat on a regular basis. Take it from someone who has been there … you really don’t want to find out a food doesn’t “sit well” in your stomach during your first squat attempt.

Good Luck

Everything outlined above is the exact protocol my clients and I have used to cut a lot of weight extremely fast without sacrificing strength.

I hope you found the information useful and that going forward, it helps you prepare and perform your best.

Never Minimal. Never Maximal. Always Optimal.

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Jordan Syatt is an IPA World Record Powerlifter, 4x BW Deadlifter, and the author of “Raw Strength: The Only 90-Day Peaking Program for Raw Powerlifers,” which is available on his website, www.syattfitness.com

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