The Delicate Balance of Hydration Before a Body Fat Assessment

I have a long history of weight loss. I topped out in high school at over 300lbs before losing a good chunk of my mass through haphazard dieting and cutting out certain foods. My new maintenance weight was down to 240lbs when I was trying to enlist in the Army, but a puny neck and flabby gut kept me over the entrance BMI up until right before my expected MEPS date. Now, I usually have a lot of grievances to air out with regards to my recruiter, and my first experience with the Army Body Composition Program came from his MEPS “care” package – a bottle of preparation H, some saran wrap, and a bottle of magnesium citrate.

For the uninitiated, those three items make up the unholy trinity of unhealthy, immediate weight-loss and gut-control often used by soldiers in a desperate attempt to pass weight standards that they would otherwise fail. I can’t judge; I fully admit that my first year in the Army relied on that strategy to stay in standard. While fitness eventually became an important part of my daily routine, I learned a lot on how shedding water weight in a panic can be dangerous to your health, leaving you dangerously dehydrated and diminishing your performance capability.

If this has been your strategy, you need to change it – now. There are better ways to quickly reduce your water weight without damaging your body.

How to Keep Yourself Hydrated (and Still Lose Weight Safely) Before Weigh-In

In the weeks leading up to a weigh-in, make sure to carry water with you at all times and constantly sip from it, being careful not to drink so much that you feel sick. Withholding water will actually lead to bloating. But don’t overdo it, either. Contrary to what drill sergeants might have led you to believe, over-hydration is a real thing, and drinking too much water can dangerously skew the electrolyte balance in your body – especially if you’ve been cutting your sodium intake in the hopes of staving off water retention. Instead of trying to gulp down your daily fluid intake with breakfast, spread it out evenly throughout the entire day. If you’re trying to cut enough water weight for a weigh-in, you only need to start limiting your intake a few days in advance of the weigh-in, and only drastically on the day before. By keeping your body well hydrated the entire period leading up to a weigh-in, you decrease water retention while still being able to stand up to the summer heat.

The most important part of being safe while trying to cut weight is understanding the body’s limitations so you don’t cause serious internal damage. From my experience, a good rule of thumb is that you can drop 5% of your weight fairly easily and safely, potentially pushing that to 10%, by cutting back your water intake if you’re already in decent shape. To make some easy numbers, someone who weighs 200lbs can easily drop down to 190 or even 180 within five days of drinking less water (Note that I did not say drinking NO water. You still need H2O!). But if you need to lose more than that in a short period, I have bad news for you: fat doesn’t hold much water compared to muscle, and you’re going to wind up hurting or killing yourself if you overdo it with laxatives and the sauna. It’s better to face the music and accept being overweight for the weigh-in rather than potentially causing permanent damage to your kidneys, liver, or other internal organs.

Never resort to the quick and dirty methods of quick weight loss. Dehydration from low water and sodium intake, combined with laxatives or a sweat suit, can quickly transform into life-threatening organ failure or damage that you won’t see until years later. No matter what your current standing is with the military, remember that your health and medical readiness is an important part of keeping the gears of the military well-oiled. It is never worth your health to try and cheat a standard.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Garrett Ferrara

Garrett is a writer, perpetual student, and seven-year Army veteran. Currently studying Anthropology and Writing & Rhetoric at the University of Central Florida, he's hoping to stretch the G.I. Bill all the way to a PhD. Bilbo Baggins is his favorite literary character; a character that traveled, fought battles, and finally settled into a simple life. He's looking forward to squaring away that last phase.
Garrett Ferrara

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