Ben Locken is a busy man. He teaches Muay Thai, helps out with Jiu Jitsu classes, does personal training, works with fighters and clients on nutritional needs, and fights professionally. To top it off, he’s married (his wife, Katie, is also a fighter) with his first child on the way. Ben recently spent a week in Vegas during UFC 226 undergoing the Lockart and Leith Nutritional Certification Program to specialize in athlete meal planning and prep, weight cutting, and rehydration. Ben shared with us his passion for athlete nutrition, his advice on cutting weight, and the most overlooked part of fight preparation.
When he signed the contract for his third MMA fight, dropping down from 155lbs to fight at 145lbs, Ben Locken knew he needed help. ‘I just new I wasn’t going to make that weight on my own.’ He reached out to George Lockhart, who was at the time just starting out in helping fighters with their nutrition. Lockhart put together a plan for Locken detailing his cut down to 145lbs that included one on one calls and frequent texts to check in and answer any questions. Locken made 145lbs, and his interest in fighter nutrition was piqued. ‘I found it very interesting, and saw a huge need for it in the sport.’
Locken maintained a good relationship with George Lockhart, who would go on, along with partner Dan Leith, to become among the foremost MMA weight management and performance nutritionists. ‘George has always been great about encouraging me and being available when I have any questions about my clients.’ In early July, Locken flew to Vegas to attend the official Lockhart and Leith certification program. The program coincided with UFC 226, with the participants assigned supervisors within the program and then UFC fighters to work with on the days leading up to the fights. Locken arrived on Monday and spent nine hours in the classroom for several days, learning the fine details of nutrition, including the technical aspects of preparing and plating food. The latter half of the week was devoting to working with their assigned fighter, prepping their food, guiding them through the weight cutting process, and handling their rehydration once they stepped off the scales. Locken ended up with a special vantage point. ‘I had the only bathtub in the hotel for cutting, so I saw a lot more, which was pretty cool.’ He was reticent on the specifics of the fighters they worked with, but laughed and admitted that ‘Paul Felder is an awesome dude who was hilarious and really just embraced the suck factor of the cut’.
Weight cutting is an especially hot topic these days, and a process Locken has spent years refining for the athletes he works with. ‘I literally have a notebook full of notes, formulas, and algorithms that I use to custom tailor the weight cutting and rehydration process to the athlete. No athlete is the same, and it depends completely on their weight, body fat, amount of muscle, and how much they’re cutting.’ He’s not a fan of weight cutting, but because it’s an ingrained part of the sport, Locken believes both fighters and coaches have to educate themselves on it as much as possible. ‘You need to do it safely, because a lot of guys don’t.’ Locken focuses on getting his fighters to their ideal weight – the weight they will step in the cage – five days before they start cutting. For example, a welterweight who plans to step in the cage at 185lbs would make that weight three to five days before weigh ins, and spend the next few days cutting to 170lbs. There is a difference, he notes, between dieting down, and cutting weight. ‘This isn’t old school wrestling, where you’re cutting 20lbs in a few hours in the sauna. You need to diet down to a manageable weight, and that’s the part that takes most of fight camp. The actual ‘weight cutting’ is in the two days before weigh-ins, and that should be water weight.’
Locken always wants his fighters to make weight, but safety is always on his mind. ‘I’m not afraid to stop a fighter from continuing to cut. The focus needs to be on their longevity, not this individual fight.’ When it comes to stopping the cut, Locken says there are several signs he looks for, including: numbness/loss of feeling in fingers or limbs; tunnel vision; balance; eyes rolling back; mental confusion; and fainting. ‘At that point we’re done.’ He has a few golden (and simple) rules of safe weight cutting for fighters. ‘Never cut alone, never be alone during the cut (pair males with males and females with females so in the locker room you’re always with someone), and always tell someone where you’re going and when you start and finish.’
A challenge Locken is still work on is cutting weight with female fighters. ‘Women’s bodies are much different when it comes to cutting weight.’ As more and more women enter combat gyms, the subject of how to adapt weight cutting methods to fit them has started to gain attention. ‘Hormones are very tricky. With women, you absolutely need to know where they are in their cycle, and adjust the process to accommodate that. I’m not shy about asking my female athletes where they’re at. I do it respectfully, of course, but it’s an absolutely necessary piece of information.’ It’s a work in progress, though. ‘I’m still educating myself on female weight cuts.’
It’s not just making weight that’s important. ‘The most ignored piece is what to do from weigh in to fight time,’ Locken noted. ‘Rehydrating is hugely important. My guys don’t eat until at least an hour and half after weigh-in, and nothing big until two and a half hours later. The first four hours need to be slow.’ Don’t overload right away, he advises. The brain runs of sugars, so quick sugars help get the mind up and functioning again. ‘You want easy, digestible stuff. Baby food and fruit are good ones. I love sugar snap peas for my athletes – it allows them to feel like they’re eating for a while instead of finishing the snack in a quick bite or two, and they’re not high in calories.’ For fluid, Locken makes shakes for his athletes to focus on refueling the body of the water it was depleted of. ‘You need to focus on refueling the body of its depleted sources and rehydrate properly and slowly so you don’t overfill the body and have a bloated or swollen fighter.’
He recently helped The Cellar fighter Nate Richardson cut down to 143lbs for Glory 55 in Madison Square Garden. “It had been a year and a half since he weighed in at 145lbs, and now he was going 2lbs lower with no allowance. I walked him through what to do, and with Chris Chicon’s help we got him on weight (a pound lighter, actually), and then refueled and back to the exact weight he was just five days prior to weigh-ins.’ Locken plans to continue his journey to support athletes both nutritionally and physically. ‘I’d love to be a one stop shop – I can teach striking, grappling, work with athletes on nutrition and conditioning. I love working with everyone, regardless of gym affiliation. This really is my passion.’
Contact Ben Locken with questions or interest in nutrition or training services via email or his website.
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