Looking to switch up your weight class? While I am not a big proponent of such changes, sometimes they are actually the smart thing to do and might even be necessary. Getting to a higher or lower weight class should only be done in a healthy and sustainable way. A smart BJJ weight loss or gain plan is what you will need, along with an abundance of patience. In the end, though, I promise it will be worth your while!
Reasons to Change Jiu Jitsu Weight Classes
Like most other combat sports, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a competitive sport that revolves around weight classes. Many things help determine the best division to compete in, such as sex, age, and belt level, but the competitor’s focus is usually on their weight.
There is a simple explanation for this. Belt level is something that is out of your control (at least in the short term). Let’s be politically agnostic in terms of correctness and claim that you can’t affect sex as well.
That leaves age and weight. While you can’t affect age, you might choose to compete in adult divisions (18-29-year-old athletes) even if you are a master competitor by definition (30 years old or more).
This leaves weight as the one thing you can fairly easily manipulate on a competition-to-competition basis.
The premise is that if you are near the upper border of your weight class, you’ll have the weight advantage over those that are near the lower border. This is the reason many people turn towards weight cutting and damage their health in the process.
The fact of the matter is that Jiu Jitsu weight classes are so many that it doesn’t really matter if you weigh a few pounds more or less. What matters is how healthy you are to perform to the best of your abilities.
That said, in certain situations, changing a weight class up or down is not a bad idea, due to a host of different reasons. In those cases, the smart approach beats the quick one, regardless if you’re heading up or down.
The “Simple” Math of Losing or Gaining Weight
How do you gain or lose weight? Through food. You need to focus on nutrition when trying to change your Jiu Jitsu weight class. The math in question is fairly simple, at least from a big-picture perspective.
If you are looking for BJJ weight loss, eat less food. How much less? Less than what your body needs to operate on a daily level.
You want to buff up and go up a weight class up? Do the opposite, provide your body with more energy through food than it needs to complete its daily tasks, including training.
The measurement unit used here is a calorie, which is how we measure our bodies’ energy input and expenditure.
BJJ Weight Loss
Firstly, a disclaimer. There is a huge difference between BJJ weight cuts and BJJ weight loss.
A weight cut means trying to get your weight down in a very short period (a week or so), mostly by manipulating water weight. The result is a weight loss that will disappear and return to your starting point when you eat a large meal and rehydrate.
Weight loss, on the other hand, will help you lose fat rather than water weight, it will help you retain your muscle tissue, and you won’t balloon back up to your starting weight the moment you overindulge in anything. The catch is, that it takes considerably more time than weight cuts.
Dropping weight using the mathematical approach outlined above is a proven way of helping you lean out and stray leaner. You will simply need to calculate how many calories you are spending each day and provide your body with slightly less than that number for a sustained period of time.
The question people have is how to figure out exactly how many calories they need to ingest in order to ensure they’re on a BJJ weight loss meal plan.
There are three things to consider when calculating how many calories a day you need.
First, you have your basal metabolism – the calories your body needs from food to keep you alive. In other words, if you stay in bed the entire day, you’ll still need this amount of calories to stay alive.
Second, the calories you need for your basic daily functions. This differs a lot from person to person. Someone doing a labor job will have much higher calorie requirements than someone sitting at a desk for the same amount of hours in a day.
Third, there is physical training, which in terms of BJJ competitors, usually means both grappling and some kind of strength and conditioning.
Your goal is to figure out exactly how many calories your basal metabolism requires, how many calories you need for basic daily function, and how much energy your training costs you. Adding up these calories will bring you to your maintenance level – staying there will ensure you keep your weight intact.
To drop weight, you’ll need to start slow. Remember, BJJ weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to ensure you have adequate energy for your daily needs and be in a slight deficit.
A good rule of thumb is to drop 10% of your daily needs and sustain it for at least three weeks. If you are unsatisfied with the results, you can drop 10%.
The catch here is that your body will adapt to your new weight quite quickly, so dropping a significant amount of weight will require you to recalculate your maintenance level calories every couple of months, as that number will decrease as you drop in weight.
Gaining Weight for Jiu Jitsu
Going in the opposite direction of BJJ weight loss will require you to do the opposite of what I outlined above.
Namely, you want more calories here than your maintenance level for a sustained period of time in order to gain weight.
Once again, 10% increments every three weeks are important to ensure you are “surprising” your body. Otherwise, it will adapt to the surplus of calories.
An important thing here is that if you are an athlete, you’re probably looking to gain weight in the form of muscle tissue rather than fat.
Gaining fat is easier, and you don’t really need a formula for that. Gaining muscle, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult and will require the correct weight training regiment in addition to your Jiu Jitsu, as well as a way more careful choice of nutrients if you are to reach your goals.
Another thing to remember when going up a weight class is that the body packs on muscle all around, not just in one area. 10 pounds of muscle tissue spread all over your body will not be visible so that the scale will be a much better friend than the mirror in this case.
How to Pick the Best BJJ Weight Class for You?
The best advice I can give you here is this – pick a weight that you can stay at for the next 8-12 months without sacrificing your lifestyle too much. A change in the diet here and there is ok, but if you have to give up going out on weekends or eating stuff you don’t like, you’re better off abandoning your quest for a weight class change.
The main thing to consider is your build. If you are stocky and heavy, expect to encounter taller opponents in your weight class. If you are lanky, expect most people to be heavier than you. If you are dead set on changing a weight class, these are a couple of great examples to try out the system I wrote about earlier.
You could also opt to change your tactics to accommodate for your opponent’s body shape, and not mess with your weight.
In any case, you need to enjoy your days leading up to competitions. If you’re torturing yourself to reach a lower or higher weight class, you’re better off staying at your current weight.
A BJJ weight loss or gain plan is not difficult to accomplish if you understand what you’re doing. The first thing to understand is that math is calculated in calories. More calories than you need means you gain weight, fewer means you drop it. Finally, I implore you to stop at one weight class up or down and not torture your body by trying to go further. It is just not worth it.
Ogi is a black belt that does Jiu Jitsu full time and is very passionate about anything grappling-related.
He is also the head coach of Enso Jiu Jitsu in Macedonia and an aspiring Globetrotter.