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Cutting Weight, Staying Strong: The Combat Athlete's Guide to Water Loading

Updated: Apr 25

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Consult a healthcare provider before undertaking any weight management or dietary changes.

Water loading, a popular technique among combat sports athletes and bodybuilders, involves consuming large amounts of water before significantly reducing intake just before a weigh-in. This strategy aims to quickly reduce water weight, enabling athletes to qualify for lower weight categories while preserving muscle mass.

How It Works:

The human body tries to maintain a stable internal environment. When you suddenly increase your water intake, your body responds by increasing urination. Once you reduce your water intake, it takes time for the body to adjust, leading to a temporary loss of water weight.

Guidelines for Safe Water Loading

Five-Day Water Loading Schedule:

  • Day 1: 2 gallons of water.

  • Day 2: 1 gallon of water.

  • Day 3: 1 gallon of water

  • Day 4: 64 oz of water.

  • Day 5: 32 oz of water.

  • Day of weigh-ins: No water until after the weigh-in.

Dietary Considerations:

  • Limit carbohydrate intake to under 50 grams per day to prevent water retention.

  • Avoid fruits, sugars, and starches.

  • Focus on high-protein, high-fat meals.

  • Eliminate salt to encourage water flushing.

Additional Techniques:

  • Consider natural diuretics like dandelion root in the last two days.

  • Use hot baths and sauna sessions to promote sweating.

Caution: Dehydration can impair cognitive functions, including decision-making and concentration, crucial in combat sports.

Pros and Cons


  • Effective for short-term weight loss.

  • Helps athletes meet weight categories without losing muscle mass.

  • Can be safe when done correctly and with professional guidance.


  • Risk of dehydration and hyponatremia.

  • Not a long-term weight loss solution.

  • Can strain the kidneys and disrupt electrolyte balance.

  • May impact physical performance if not managed properly.

Safety and Performance Concerns

  • Hyponatremia: Sudden fluid intake reduction can lead to dangerously low sodium levels.

  • Dehydration Risks: Extreme fluid restriction can cause dehydration, affecting physical and cognitive performance.

  • Performance Impact: Large weight cuts can impair repeat-effort performance, potentially outweighing the advantage of competing in a lighter category.

Post-Weigh-In Recovery Hydration

Immediate Hydration:

  • To ensure effective rehydration after weighing in, it's advisable to promptly drink 20-30 ounces of electrolyte-infused water within the first hour. This can be easily achieved by taking measured sips of 8 ounces at 15-minute intervals during that period.

  • Caution athletes not to overhydrate within the first 4-6 hours of the recovery period, as excessive fluid intake can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort and affect performance. Gradually sip around 6-8 ounces (approximately 180-240 mL) of fluids every 15-20 minutes during this initial recovery window. Adjust fluid intake to ensure athlete comfort while avoiding overhydration.

  • Ongoing Hydration: Aim to consume 125-150% of the estimated fluid deficit. Fluid intake recommendations based on weight (before water load cut) are:

    • 140 lbs: 53.7 oz - 64.4 oz

    • 150 lbs: 57.5 oz - 69.0 oz

    • 160 lbs: 61.4 oz - 73.6 oz

    • 170 lbs: 65.2 oz - 78.2 oz

    • 180 lbs: 69.0 oz - 82.8 oz

    • 190 lbs: 72.9 oz - 87.4 oz

  • Electrolyte Replacement: Include electrolytes, primarily focusing on sodium and chloride. This can be through sports drinks, oral rehydration solutions, or salty snacks.

Balanced Nutrition Post-Weigh-In

  • Within 2-4 hours, provide a balanced meal with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

  • Include carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, whole-grain pasta, and oats.

  • Carbohydrate replenishment is essential, especially for nonketogenic-adapted athletes in combat sports, where high-intensity efforts are repeated. Carbohydrate intake of 5–10 g/kg/day is recommended for recovery after weight-cutting to replenish glycogen stores and improve body mass recovery.

  • The type, timing, and amount of carbohydrates ingested are important for glucose absorption, but athlete comfort must also be considered.

  • The gastric emptying rate should be taken into account when choosing between liquid or solid carbohydrate sources for recovery, with liquid sources being more suitable for shorter recovery periods.

  • Opt for protein sources like lean meats, eggs, tofu, legumes, and Greek yogurt.

  • Incorporate healthy fats from avocado, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish.

  • Meal timing, space out your meals and fluids in a way that allows for gradual absorption and avoids stomach discomfort. Small, balanced meals every 2-3 hours

  • Avoid heavy or Greasy foods. Stay away from heavy, greasy, or high-fiber foods, as they can be harder to digest quickly.

  • Listen to your body, pay attention to your body's signals. If you feel hungry or thirsty, respond accordingly.

Simple Meal Ideas

Here are some examples of balanced, easily digestible meals:

  • Grilled chicken breast with quinoa and steamed broccoli.

  • Baked salmon with a side of sweet potatoes and a mixed greens salad.

  • Scrambled eggs with spinach, whole-grain toast, and sliced avocado.

  • Tofu stir-fry with mixed vegetables and a ginger-soy sauce served with brown rice.


Water loading can be an effective method for temporary weight loss in combat sports. However, it must be done with care and professional guidance to avoid health risks. Proper hydration post-weigh-in is as important as the loading phase itself. Always prioritize health and safety over short-term performance gains


  • "The Effect of Water Loading on Acute Weight Loss Following Fluid Restriction in Combat Sports Athletes," International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism​​.

  • "Unraveling the Mystery: Your Ultimate Guide to Water Loading Weight Cut," Tapered​​​​.

  • "Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance," PubMed​​.

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