Dear White Belt: Cutting Weight Isn’t Worth It

The topic of weight-cutting in jiu-jitsu can be a spicy one. It’s definitely not abnormal to see MMA fighters or BJJ upper belts cutting weight, especially at the highest level of competition. But if you’re a white belt wondering if you should cut the last few pounds to squeeze into a lower weight class for a jiu-jitsu tournament, my default advice will almost always be the same: Don’t do it.

Even if you’re a “good” white belt in jiu-jitsu, even if you have previous competitive experience in other sports, you’re going to have enough to deal with in competition. There’s no need to feel malnourished or dehydrated or overly exhausted for a tournament or match whose only purpose is to build up your competitive experience (and make the tournament organizers some cash). As a newcomer in BJJ, your goal in competition should be to test yourself. And trust me, you’ll have plenty of obstacles thrown your way to ensure that you are tested.

In addition to the objective challenge of defeating another human who’s trying to defeat you in grappling, there’s also the mental strain that comes with competing. Some people love to compete right from the start, while others anxiously lie awake at night staring at the ceiling for weeks before it’s time to shine. It’s not just your own mental battle you have to compete with, either — sometimes, it’s your opponent who is so nervous that they crank an armbar too hard or don’t realize that you’ve tapped.

It’s… a lot.

Adding a weight cut to all of this might enable you to compete at the upper end of a lower weight bracket, but at what cost? When you’ve already got beginner-level technique (on both sides) combined with the stress of inexperience, is it really worth taxing your body even further?

It’s far better to be feeling your best before a competition, and yes, that can coexist with losing a few pounds before a competition. If you want to go down a weight class, try to drop the weight gradually in the weeks before a competition. Cut out the foods and drinks that you know aren’t helping you work toward your goal, and if you’re having trouble, consider working with an accredited dietitian to make sure you’re doing it right. Getting a better grasp on your nutritional needs will only help you in the long run, anyway.

Your competitions at white belt will be memorable, to be sure, but the experience will be your most valuable takeaway. Even at big-name competitions, your white belt record will be mostly insignificant; there’s no need to worry that future sponsors will pass you up because you lost in an upper weight division instead of winning in a lower weight division.

Instead, use this time to get accustomed to managing your adrenaline and getting in the right mindset before a tournament. Focus on implementing the gameplan you’ve worked on in class and making sure that you put on your best performance so you know what your “best performance” feels like. If you want to make it to a level of competition in which it would actually be worth it to cut weight, it’s best to build a solid foundation and good habits now.

There may come a time when it would benefit you to cut weight to drop to a lower weight class, and with the right coach who (and this is important) knows what they’re doing, this may turn out to be exactly what helps you win your first major medal at your first major competition. But for now, white belt, you have enough to worry about. Be kind to yourself. The path ahead is a long one, and developing a healthy body and mindset will help prepare you for the journey.


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