If you have ever followed wrestling, powerlifting, mixed martial arts, boxing, or any other sport with weight classes, you may have heard about the brutal weight cuts that some of the competitors endure. They have all learned how to drop water weight safely in order to gain a competitive edge. So can you, even if you’re not competing, and you will never need to do it on a drastic timeline.
Why People Drop Water Weight
Using wrestling as an example, in theory, the bigger competitor will be stronger. All else being equal in terms of skill, the heavier wrestler will be able to produce more force and will have a better chance at controlling the lighter wrestler. The goal of competitors who cut water weight is usually to get into a lower weight class. After the weigh ins, they typically have 24 hours to replenish the water weight. It is not uncommon for a wrestler to compete 20 pounds heavier than the weight the scaled showed 24 hours before the match! This is the result of a process of extreme dehydration, and then intense rehydration.
How they do It
The UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) often run behind the scenes footage of two fighters in the run-up to a show. When they’re cutting weight, you’ll see them doing insane things like riding an exercise bike while wearing a suit made of garbage bags…all while in a sauna. There are many ways to manipulate water weight, but done haphazardly, it can be disastrous. A study in the 2016 International Journal of Sports Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism showed that weight cutting tactics—including skipped meals and extreme fasting among young judokas—greatly diminished their physical performance and impaired their growth.
To dig a little deeper, one of the most common methods fighters may use to drop weight in order to make it into a lower weight class is the use of diuretics. Diuretics are a class of substance that promote diuresis, which is the increased production of urine. The increased urination flushes the body of excess water. There are many natural, over the counter diuretics such as hawthorn, dandelion, green tea, and others. However, there are also a class of powerful diuretics of such potency that their use has been banned by the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency). These substances are indisputably effective, but can lead to higher blood pressure and kidney problems.
Losing Water Weight for Non-Competitors
If dropping into a lower weight class in order to compete is not in your future, you can still benefit from learning how to drop water weight. For instance, if you feel or look bloated, or you want to challenge yourself to see how lean you can get, cutting some water weight will be a big help. It will nearly always make you feel better and look better. Remember that, because you are not on a deadline, your approach will be much slower than the examples discussed previously. Here are three easy ways to start losing water weight.
Lower Your Sodium Intake
The most common culprit for a high-sodium diet is common table salt. Sodium can cause you to retain water, because sodium draws water molecules to it. Water retention is often responsible for the swollen feeling or appearance of an abdomen that is distended with gas or fluids. A diet that is too high in sodium will eventually lead to a bigger waistline and excess flab. There is no need to cut salt out entirely, but it should not exceed 2,000 mg per day. Read more about sodium daily allowance here.
This one might seem counterintuitive, since the goal is to shed water weight. However, because your body is mostly made of water, if it is not getting enough of it, it will resort to drastic measures to hold on to every last water molecule it can. It does this by retaining water. This results in an excess of internal water. If, on the other hand, you drink enough water—it is recommended that men consume a minimum of 3 liters per day, and women just over 2 liters per day—your body will let the excess water go through the flushing processes of urination and sweat, because it knows that there is enough water to sustain it.
Reduce Stress Levels
Experiencing stress is simply one of the costs of being alive. However, excessive and prolonged stress levels lead the body to release an inordinate amount of the hormone cortisol into its system. Cortisol causes your body to store extra fat, and with it, extra water. Cortisol (and therefore, stress) can be mitigated by hard physical exercise, meditation, pleasurable/distracting activities, and by reducing caffeine intake. As a bonus, the stress-relieving properties of exercise will also help you shed excess water weight.
Dropping water weight does not need to be an urgent task for anyone who is not on a deadline. It requires discipline, but not frantic desperation. Most people whose bodies are not retaining water will experience less bloating, be more agile, and feel/look better. Practicing proper nutrition and exercise, which hopefully you are already doing, are the foundations of minimal water retention.