Cutting Bodyweight for Weightlifting without Fatigue & Performance Loss
I said I would follow up on this topic a couple weeks ago, so I'm going to do it today before I forget and someone gets mad at me.
I think of the weight dropping issue as two different processes: losing weight and cutting weight. Losing weight is a long term process to permanently or semi-permanently lower your bodyweight. Cutting weight is a short-term process to temporarily reduce bodyweight in order to make weight for competition (really just for your weigh-in - with this method, the goal is to be overweight again by the time you're competing). Accordingly, the approach for each is different.
Obviously this is a huge topic and I'm not going to discuss it in great depth. I also don't feel like doing the quantity vs. quality debate (hint: you need to take care of both). Really this amounts to 1) Ensuring your diet is constructed on quality animal source protein, quality fats, and varied vegetable matter and then 2) Ensuring that you reduce your overall intake, with #1 considered, enough to cause a change in weight.
The first point is pretty simple. If you don't get it, I'm not sure what to tell you. Get that squared away, and on that foundation, build up the rest of what you need. Each of you will have to find the optimal macronutrient balance--be careful of restricting anything too severely relative to the other macros. If you've been living on Carl's Junior and Taco Bell, fixing the food quality will automatically reduce your caloric intake. However, if you've already been eating well, you'll have to actually pay attention to reducing caloric intake. Reductions should be as small as necessary to get the weight moving on schedule, and then reduced repeatedly in stair-step fashion every couple weeks as bodyweight lowers. Dramatic caloric reductions tend to simply make you feel terrible, train worse, lose less weight, and sometimes even gain weight; and what you do lose will not stay off as well.
Depending on your sport, you may be able to modify your training somewhat to assist in the weight loss. For power and strength athletes, I'm not a big fan of adding conditioning work for weight loss. Get it done with nutrition and keep your training appropriate for your performance. If you have a lot to lose, try rowing or walking--it will be the least detrimental to your performance.
If you're looking for a permanent weight change, you need to get down to your target weight and maintain it for a period of time to reset your body. The more slowly you drop, and the longer you consistently remain at your target bodyweight, the easier it will be to maintain. A serious consideration is how losing weight will affect your training. If you drop a lot of weight in a short period of time, your training will suffer without a doubt. This can be mitigated, again, by slowing the process as much as is allowed by your competition schedule. Plan ahead and get it done. Don't be the guy who emails me asking what the best way to lose 12kg by next Thursday is (but without any performance impact, of course), especially if you've known you had to do it for the last 6 months. This brings us to:
If you for whatever reason have to lose a good chunk of weight in a short period of time, you won't be able to simply rely on nutritional changes. In this case, you'll be relying on dropping water weight. In all cases, you need to reduce your sodium intake in the days leading into competition because sodium will make you retain more water.
The traditional method of losing water weight is of course sweating it out. Depending on how it's done, this can be extremely taxing or somewhat taxing. The less active the process, the better, i.e. relaxing in a sauna is better than running laps in a rubber suit. But even sitting in a sauna can be physically draining.
Better is tricking your body into dropping water without having to force it out with heat and dealing with the associated discomfort and fatigue. Through hyperhydration, we can encourage the body to flush water from itself so that with the right timing, we're dehydrated enough to be on weight right on time.
The basic hyperhydration protocol is to drink a lot more water than you do normally for a few days before competition, and then drink virtually none in the last day before your weigh-in. You can do this in two ways, both of which have worked well for my lifters: 2+ gallons/day (the bigger you are, the more water) for 2-4 days, then 12-24 hours out from your weigh in, stop drinking and only sip what you need to not completely lose your mind from discomfort. The second way is to use a taper in which you start with the 2+ gallons 5-6 days out and daily reduce by about a liter and then 12-24 hours out from your weigh-in, as little as possible. These protocols can easily drop 2-3kg (or more depending on starting bodyweight) without any real effort, and athletes will not feel so drained.
If you plan well (including being close enough to your competition weight at the right time), this will be all you need. Track your evening and morning (before drinking or eating and after using the bathroom) weights to see how much weight on average you lose overnight. Most people will lose 0.5 - 1kg at least. If you're already really close before competition, you don't need to go through hyperhydration - you can likely just quit drinking water the day before your weigh-in (it's a good idea to try this a few times to see how much weight you typically lose doing this).
If you're not quite at weight after hyperhydration, you can add some last-minute corrections:
Sauna/Boiling: Sit in that sauna and sweat it out. This isn't fun, and it's a hassle. If you don't have access to a sauna, hopefully you have a bathtub in your hotel room. Sit in the hottest bath you can stand with your head covered for 8-10 minutes at a time. Get out and bundle up in warm clothes to keep your body temperature up and sweat some more out.
Spitting: This is easier and you really don't need anything, although a vessle to receive spit (bottle, cup) will be appreciated by those around you, and some kind of sour candy or gum will help produce more spit faster, which you'll especially want if you're already dehydrated. One liter of spit weighs 1kg, so it's pretty easy math to get where you need to be. If you're 0.3 kg over, you need to spit out 0.3 L or 300 mL. If you have a graduated bottle, this is nice and easy. If you have a food scale, you can weigh your collected spit (make sure to weigh the empty bottle first so you can subtract its weight).
If you're panicking and considering cutting off your hair to make weight, you messed this up really badly and you need to reconsider your approach next time.
The key to any dehydration weight cutting is that you MUST rehydrate well before competition! The best time to start is the moment you get off the scale: the sooner the better. You're going to find yourself making a lot of trips to the restroom during this time even though you're dehydrated, so plan on drinking more water than you actually need. One liter or 35 ounces (liquid) of water weighs a kilogram, so plan on replacing 1 liter of water for every kilo you've lost, plus extra you'll flush (literally).
Also replace electrolytes with your water. The classic way is to drink Gatorade or Pedialyte. Another way is to add a half-teaspoon of salt and a half-teaspoon of potassium chloride (salt substitute) to every liter of water you drink. This will take care of any lost electrolytes, and also make an isotonic solution that will be absorbed better. You may have cut carbs leading into the meet as well, so these pre-mixed drinks that contain sugar will be helpful to top you off. Make sure you eat too, and get some salty foods in there to help better retain the water you're replacing.