Alright, I'll be totally honest, I’m not a nutritionist or a personal trainer. But I have been doing martial arts for over 20 years and have competed in countless tournaments over the last two decades in various parts of the world. Making proper weight has been as natural to me as going to the dentist for a check up every six months (not a very pleasurable habit but thankfully my teeth are still healthy, white and intact).
But for people who have recently embraced sports that include weight cutting, I will share with you the trick that has worked for me over and over again. Actually, it’s not even a trick, it just involves discipline and a little hard work. Then again, so does anything else that’s worth doing.
I will give you a routine that has helped me lose 15 pounds in 3 weeks. I will leave out all the scientific details in order to keep this as simple as possible, especially since, as I said earlier, I am not a nutritionist and nor a personal trainer, but I have seen this routine work for myself and others without fail.
You can use this program three weeks before a tournament or, if you like how it fits into your lifestyle, you can do it all the time and slightly adjust it.
TRAINING: Let’s assume that you are planning on competing in a tournament and it's only three weeks away but your weight is hovering around 170 lbs. You are just dying to make that 155 lbs. category to go against the lighter guys. You have a little extra chub on your stomach and you know that in a lighter weight class you would totally dominate your competitors.
Firstly, I hope that if you are seriously planning on competing, you have a rather steady training regimen. Stick to that and don’t change the amount, or at least not until the last week where you can lower your training level to give your mind and body a rest.
However, in addition to your training, a short treadmill run everyday will help speed up your metabolism and burn the extra fat. A good example could be a 20-minute run whenever you can find time during the day, but make sure to find the time. A tournament is a commitment and everyone wants to do the best they can, so try to prioritize it. Wake up earlier in the morning if you have to and get that run in.
For the first ten minutes, run at a steady pace, from speed six or seven, depending on your fitness level. Just remember that you don’t want to kill yourself, it’s just a light daily fat-burn.
For the next 5 minutes, take it up a notch and raise the speed by one level. It’s always good to listen to some music while you run to keep yourself motivated. In the last five minutes, depending on how good you feel, you can either continue at your current speed or go up another level.
Again, you don’t want to kill yourself, it’s just a steady daily jog and you would want to save energy to go harder in your training sessions. In the last minute of your run you should try to do a 30 second sprint to give your heart one last jolt. After your 20 minutes, drop down to a walking pace and go until your heart stops jumping out of your chest. This will allow your body to cool down.
Once you are done, get off and go do whatever else it is you do. Three weeks of this and you will be surprised at what 20 minutes can do on its own, not to mention the dietary suggestions that will be discussed next.
MEALS: This is the toughest part for most people but it's the professionals that are able to succeed here the most since they are receiving pay - a powerful incentive. However, for the average recreationalist, who clings to his french fries and burger, it's not so easy to just accept a new diet. My hope is that this list will be able to substitute those fantastic burger flavors as effectively as possible, and yield the results you desire.
The composition of this diet consists of five to six meals, which includes specific snacks. So you have, breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack between every meal and after dinner. For breakfast, it’s important to eat as much as you can. Use this opportunity to load up on carbohydrates and sugars so you have energy for the day, especially for that 20-minute run and your regular training session. A good example would be eating egg whites (as many as you like, depending on how much you can actually eat), oatmeal and fruits. What I personally like to do, and I do this on a daily basis, is to blend a nice morning shake (see figure 1 on page 18.)
Blend this all together and you will have a tasty and filling breakfast. Combine this with whatever else you like, brown toast or scrambled eggs, depending on how full you are from the shake. Personally, on most mornings I am satisfied from the shakes, but there are those odd days where I just feel I need more. Either way, this fantastic breakfast will keep your energy high for most of the morning and afternoon.
Lunch is probably the most enjoyable meal of the day. You are not so sleepy anymore, and you are not so tired from work since only half the day has elapsed. So try to enjoy your lunch. What I suggest is to prepare some chicken breast with a salad, nice and simple. Just make sure that the chicken is white, not dark, and has little to no sauce. If you are really pressed to cut the weight, cut the sauce. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The same applies for the salad, the less dressing, the better. And lastly, make sure that the salad is as green as possible. A nice example would be a mix of broccoli, lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, cucumbers and some lime or lemon sprinkled over it. This combination makes for the perfect lean lunch.
Lastly, you have dinner. For this meal you have to remember that you will be going to sleep soon so you cannot over-eat, especially carbs or sugars. Fish is your best option in this case. You can switch between fish and chicken for lunch and dinner depending on what you prefer. Either way, the same rule applies to the fish as the chicken; no fatty sauce and accompany it with some vegetables or a salad. The dinner will always be similar to your lunch, so you can combine different salads with different chicken and fish.
SNACKS: Breakfast, lunch and dinner are the three main meals of the day. However, to keep your metabolism burning you will need to have those small snacks in between meals. Assuming that you do not over eat and train regularly, you should be getting hungry much more often. These snacks will keep you from starving until your next meal while keeping your metabolic flame burning. Between breakfast and lunch, I always like to have a banana and an oatmeal bar. The banana is great for energy and avoiding muscle cramps, while the oatmeal bar will help in the energy department. And if you work fulltime, a little extra energy to help with your work day never hurts.
Between lunch and dinner, some humus with whole wheat crackers is fantastic. Humus is delicious and nutritious. Have as much as you need just to be satisfied but not full. You want to wait for your delicious fish dinner. Alternatively, a protein bar would be just as satisfying while giving you the protein you need. When you train hard, especially with the jog and your regular training sessions, loads of protein is essential. You are already getting protein from the morning shake, chicken and fish, but the additional protein from a bar will give you what you need for extra muscle building and faster recovery.
Lastly, you know those nightly snack-cravings people usually get before bed? When you crave something salty or sweet? Maybe it’s just my friends and I, but you can forget about suppressing that. Just drink water and suck it up. Actually, I’m kidding, there is a great solution for this craving.
Look, we don’t want to suffer. Sure, this diet is probably not what you are used to, but let’s still try to enjoy our lives. Sean Sherk doesn’t care what he eats before a fight as long as it gets the job done, but on the other hand, Georges St. Pierre likes to have a glass of wine every night before a match. Well, here is my neutral solution; have some clean popcorn. “Clean” meaning no salt, no butter and no other dangerous toppings. Try some chili powder for flavour.
Imagine you are on your diet and your kids, spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend are dying to watch a movie with you. But you are not likely to sit and just watch the movie. You need a snack or you will be damned if your company is stuffing their face with M&Ms while you are starving because you are on some “weird” diet (be careful folks, some spouses just won’t understand what you are doing, sorry, just be patient with their ignorance). The popcorn is light, tasty and easy to make. You can even grab some carrots to help out with the snack craving. All of these options are great and you don’t have to sit through the movie and then go to bed with an empty stomach, semi- depressed. Just make sure that it’s clean popcorn, no butter, no barbeque flavours, etc. Depending on how close you are to your competition weight, you can sprinkle a tiny bit of salt, but that’s about it. Remember, its night time, you will be going to sleep soon and will have that delicious breakfast smoothie in the morning.
To finalize this weight loss strategy, I would like to discuss hydration and sleep. Both, although seemingly insignificant at first, are absolutely essential. In relation to hydration, you just have to consume as much water as possible. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and just sip and chug as much as you can. Chances are, you probably do not drink as much as you should already (most people do not) and with the new 20 minute runs in your life, you need to drink even more since you will be sweating a lot.
Completely forget about pop, alcohol, juices from concentrate and everything else related. I know I said that we will try to make this diet as delicious as possible, but it’s time to become an H2O connoisseur. Enjoy the water, try different brands if it will keep you sane, but for those 3 weeks you are on a water-only basis, except for the glass of juice (preferably freshly squeezed) and soya milk (in your shake) that you are permitted every morning.
Now imagine this; you are successfully following all these rules and you are noticing that you are becoming more toned, since you probably burned all that excess fat. But, on some nights you go to bed at 3 am, others at midnight and your sleeping pattern is totally in shambles. Don’t worry, you will still lose the weight, but what I can guarantee you is that on the day of your tournament you will not perform to your full potential.
When you follow a strict and healthy diet, your capabilities will sky rocket. Your cardio, strength and speed will be accentuated. However, with a lousy sleeping schedule you will nullify all these benefits. I won’t get into the details of sleeping in this article, but please, don’t let all your efforts go to waste. Try to get 8-9 hours of sleep every night and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. It sounds like overkill, but come tournament day, you won’t be disappointed.
Words by Matthew Soroka
Photos by Reginald Ventura and Wellington Borges
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