Rapid weight loss. Sounds great on the face of it, as we’re all after a quick and easy solution …for anything! A quick fix. A magic pill.
But if you’re in combat sports, like boxing or MMA, you’ll no doubt have experience of, or at least know about, rapidly trying to lose weight before a fight. But what impact is that having on you? And is it possible to do it safely?
Just in case you’re not a fighter, or new to it, and you’re wondering…
What Is Cutting Weight?
Fighters aim to fight at the lightest weight possible in an attempt to gain a competitive edge, because they’ll be fighting against smaller opponents. So they’ll try to lose weight in the hours or days leading up to the fight(1).
Why Cut Weight?
In combat sports, you’re classified according to your body weight (and gender), to make it more of a fair match(2). But then fighters want that edge, that advantage, so they’ll drop weight to get into a lower weight category; “cut weight”, and then after weigh-in, reverse this by rapidly trying to put it back on again(3). Making weight.
Many fighters also cut weight because it is an ingrained tradition within their sport. And their peers, trainers and coaches can influence their practices, as well as their own passion and drive to win – believing cutting weight is a necessity for success.
If coaches, trainers, and the fighter as an individual, lack appropriate nutrition knowledge and experience, then they’re more likely to use more drastic methods of rapid weight loss(11).
Prevalence of rapid weight loss is high in combat sports, despite the potential harm to health(4) and performance(2). Weight cycling practices can be done over the longer-term and/or short-term, and it can be a major issue in adolescents, who are still growing and developing(2,10).
So making weight needs to be done carefully to make sure your body is getting everything it needs to function properly and to effectively support your training and recovery.
Not that I’m suggesting these methods are right or beneficial, but research (and experience) has shown these methods are commonly used:
- Energy intake/output manipulation
- Increased exercise
- Energy (calorie) restriction (or total food restriction)
- Diet pills and supplements
- Reduced carb, fibre and/or fat intake
- Dehydration (“drying out”)
- Wearing sweat suits
- Wearing bin liners (- a cheap alternative to sweat suits – I’ve seen so many soldiers doing this; it’s not good); wearing them throughout the day and especially during exercise
- Frequently using saunas
- Restricting fluid intake
- Completing more heavy exercise sessions
- Exercising in heated rooms
- Diuretic medications to make you pee more (- just as a point to note; WADA (World Anti-doping Agency), have banned use of diuretics)
- Salt baths
- Which would make you pooh, but also lose fluids
- So again, you’d be losing fluids
It appears that MMA is the worst for the types and number of methods used for rapid weight loss, and the actual amount lost(1,2,8), compared to other combat sports. MMA also has a greater prevalence of cutting weight (>95% of athletes)(8).
It is possible to lose weight safely, and the recovery strategy depends on the individual, their need and what method was used and the amount of weight loss achieved in the first place(13).
8 Things You Need To Know About Rapid Weight Loss…
- It can be fatal (in extreme cases)
- Just search the internet to see how many combat sport athletes and amateurs have died as a consequence
- There’s research authors that have called for more action to be taken to protect athletes(1,7)..and rightfully so – more does need to be done
- It can compromise your exercise performance (and health)(4,6,7,9,14)
- It can increase your risk of illness, infection and injuries(8,10)
- It can affect your mental performance and mood
- Leading to things such as poor concentration, coordination, decreased short-term memory, irritability, anger, depression, mental fatigue, and confusion(2,4,5)
- Be realistic with your weight target
- Amounts of weight loss in the week before weigh-in can be ~2-10% or more(5,6,8)
- Being constantly focused on your weight and diet, especially if you’re feeling low or depressed could increase your risk of eating disorders(2)
- Don’t stray too far away from your competition fighting weight, throughout the season
- Have a well planned and practiced weight making and recovery strategy
- Get professional support from a sports Dietitian to help you make weight safely – your coach may be very experienced, but that doesn’t mean they know or use safe, practical and evidence-based strategies
I hope you’ve found this helpful and you’ll avoid using unsafe practices.
Don’t compromise your health, or your life, for the sake of your sport.
Get a qualified sports Dietitian to support you, rather than trying to do it yourself, or from a coach or trainer that maybe means well, but ultimately isn’t qualified to give you nutritional advice.
More education and training is required for coaches, trainers, athletes and amateurs so the potential harm, or even fatalities, can be avoided.
And maybe more needs to be done within these combat sports to protect athletes (and amateurs), such as rules for maximum amounts of weight that can be lost in a specific time frame to preserve health and strict guidelines around making weight…or even ban rapid weight loss in combat sports.
Please tell me your thoughts and do share any experiences in the comments below.
It is crucial to get your food and fluid intake right if you want to control your IBS symptoms and if you want train harder, go faster and recover quicker from training sessions and competitions. Dietary requirements are highly individualised and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Working with an Accredited Sports Dietitian to develop a bespoke plan based on your unique requirements will help to ensure the most appropriate strategy and best results are achieved.
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- Barley, O. R., Chapman, D. W., & Abbiss, C. R. (2019). The current state of weight-cutting in combat sports. Sports, 7(5), 123
- Franchini, E., Brito, C.J. & Artioli, G.G. Weight loss in combat sports: Physiological, psychological and performance effects. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 9, 52 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-5
- Matthews, J. J., Stanhope, E. N., Godwin, M. S., Holmes, M. E., & Artioli, G. G. (2019). The magnitude of rapid weight loss and rapid weight gain in combat sport athletes preparing for competition: A systematic review. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 29(4), 441-452.
- Crighton, B., Close, G. L., & Morton, J. P. (2016). Alarming weight cutting behaviours in mixed martial arts: a cause for concern and a call for action.
- Park, S., Alencar, M., Sassone, J. et al. Self-reported methods of weight cutting in professional mixed-martial artists: how much are they losing and who is advising them?. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 16, 52 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-019-0320-9
- Artioli, G.G., Saunders, B., Iglesias, R.T. et al. Is it time to ban rapid weight from combat sports? Sports Med (2016) 46: 1579. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0541-x
- Kasper, A. M., Crighton, B., Langan-Evans, C., Riley, P., Sharma, A., Close, G. L., & Morton, J. P. (2019). Case Study: Extreme Weight Making Causes Relative Energy Deficiency, Dehydration, and Acute Kidney Injury in a Male Mixed Martial Arts Athlete, International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 29(3), 331-338.
- Connor, J.; Egan, B. Prevalence, Magnitude and Methods of Rapid Weight Loss Reported by Male Mixed Martial Arts Athletes in Ireland. Sports 2019, 7, 206.
- Murugappan, K. R., Cocchi, M. N., Bose, S., Neves, S. E., Cook, C. H., Sarge, T., … & Leibowitz, A. (2019). Case study: fatal exertional rhabdomyolysis possibly related to drastic weight cutting. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 29(1), 68-71.
- Berkovich, B. E., Stark, A. H., Eliakim, A., Nemet, D., & Sinai, T. (2019). Rapid weight loss in competitive judo and taekwondo athletes: Attitudes and practices of coaches and trainers. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 29(5), 532-538.
- Reale, R., Slater, G., & Burke, L. M. (2017). Acute-weight-loss strategies for combat sports and applications to Olympic success. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12(2), 142-151
- Dunican, I. C., Eastwood, P. R., Murray, K., Caldwell, J. A., Reale, R., & Australia, W. (2019). The Effect of Water Loading for Acute Weight Loss Following Fluid Restriction on Sleep Quality and Quantity in Combat Sports Athletes. Journal of Exercise and Nutrition ISSN, 2640, 2572
- Reale, R., Slater, G., & Burke, L. M. (2018). Weight management practices of Australian Olympic combat sport athletes. International journal of sports physiology and performance, 13(4), 459-466
- Xiong, N. Q., Xian, C. Y., Karppaya, H., Jin, C. W., & Ramadas, A. (2017). Rapid Weight Loss Practices among Elite Combat Sports Athletes in Malaysia. Malaysian Journal of Nutrition, 23(2).
- Artioli, G. G., Solis, M. Y., Tritto, A. C., & Franchini, E. (2019). Nutrition in combat sports. In Nutrition and enhanced sports performance (pp. 109-122). Academic Press.