How to drop to a lower weight division in BJJ

Within the first few years of training BJJ, many athletes tend to move up in weight divisions, as their muscle mass increases. What to do if you’d like to compete in a lower division instead?

If you’re already a slim athlete, it can be difficult to decrease your weight. 3 kg are just 3.5% of body mass of a 85kg person, but for a 50kg person that’s 6 %. The difference is significant. Their body fat percentages are likely to differ too, with the latter carrying less total body fat around.

If you are healthy and happy, there is no reason for you to try to lose weight. I decided to drop down a weight class for a very simple reason. With my regular bodyweight varying from 50-52 kgs, I was significantly smaller than other girls in my UAEJJF’s 55 kg division. The next one down was -49 kg, which after the change of weigh-in rules, made much more sense.

Some people say that if you want a challenge you should go up a weight division, or that if your jiu jitsu is great then you don’t need to play around with your weight. That may as well be true, but this is a competitive sport and I’d rather maximise my chances by being the tall monster in a tiny girl division.

Should I cut weight then? Hell no. Or at least not in the traditional meaning of the term. To see how much fun it is check out this article.

Should I decrease my bodyweight set point to be able to compete at the lower weight multiple times without the need to starve myself? Hell yes. This means you’re decreasing your body weight for longer term, not just for the comp.

If you want to avoid the horrors of cutting weight by going on a crash diet or following a fad, unsustainable eating plan there are a few effective strategies that can be incorporated into a healthy lifestyle. This is an account of how I went about it, but it NOT professional advice.

Timing & Portion Size

Starting intermittent fasting, as described before (here and here) lead to a small weight loss, but in order to lose enough I had to adjust my nutrition plan properly.

Usually my meals would range from 200 kcal (snacks) to 300-600 kcal (mains). I calculated my calorie needs adjusting for the intensity of training.

Depending of how much you’ll have to lose and how much you weigh now, you may to start anywhere from 2-3 months before the competition. If this sounds like a long time, consider that it is low price to pay when compared to starvation/dehydration combo in the ‘traditional’ model.

I can never strictly stick to a diet, so I made sure to make a time adjustment for that. I reduced breakfast and lunch, leaving the snacks the same and the spacing between the meals at 3 h. The largest meal now was supper at 6 pm. Since this was the time when the intermittent fast began, I wanted this meal to be the biggest in order to avoid getting extremely hungry in the evenings. If I did need a snack, I’d try to have apples or boiled eggs.

Why is it so important not to get very hungry

Withstanding extreme hunger is related to will power rather than building healthy habits and patterns. It is dangerous to attempt doing it too. Over time it may lead to binge eating and jeopardise your efforts. If you feel hungry all the time, it’s a sign that you have to tweak your eating plan rather than try to stick to it.

Volume Matters

A meal planned for 500 kcal could be a big or a tiny portion depending on the ingredients. Even though a piece of cake can easily supply that amount, it won’t keep you satiated for long.

Opting for low caloric density food allows you to consume big portions and keeps you fuller for longer. This means shifting your focus to vegetables and unprocessed products. Low fat natural yoghurts and lean protein will be great for this purpose too.

This doesn’t mean that you should be trying to live on salads. There are lots of recipes for decent, low-calorie meals (BBC Good Food is one great source). Personally, I find warm food more satisfying, especially when dieting.

Whenever I didn’t have time to cook, I bought ready meals – frozen or fresh, which may not be ideal, but there are lots of options in terms of calories and healthy choices.

Low GI

“The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It shows how quickly each food affects your blood sugar (glucose) level when that food is eaten on its own.” Source

This means that including healthy low GI foods in your eating plan will keep you fuller for longer. It is a useful tool for weight loss and an extensive GI index table can be found here.

Have you ever tried to go down a division? How did it go?

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