The sight is well-known to all followers of blended martial arts (MMA). A fighter walks onto a stage on a Friday night, waving to the cheering crowd earlier than stepping onto a scale. The fighter waits nervously for a number of moments as an official checks their weight to see in the event that they’ve certified for his or her chosen weight division.
Weigh-ins occur the day earlier than each MMA battle. They’re designed to make sure each rivals are the identical measurement, theoretically making a good contest. Importantly, that is the one time a fighter’s weight is checked by organisers – that means they solely must be “on weight” for these few seconds. However so as to be sure that they qualify for the load division they’re competing in, MMA rivals will spend weeks drastically decreasing their physique weight in a course of known as “weight chopping”.
Weight chopping typically occurs in two stages: power weight reduction (consuming much less and coaching extra typically for a number of weeks earlier than the weigh-in), and fast weight reduction (taking excessive measures to lose much more weight within the days earlier than weigh-in – reminiscent of by way of consuming much less or fasting and thru dehydration.
After the weigh-in the race is on to regain as a lot misplaced weight as doable within the 24 hours earlier than the battle, because it’s believed being bigger than your opponent will help you win. That is often executed by eating energy dense foods excessive in simply digestible carbohydrates and by consuming elevated fluids to aim fast rehydration.
Although weight chopping is widespread in all fight sports activities, in addition to in horse-racing, MMA fighters minimize extra weight than different fight sport athletes, and cut more within the 24 hours earlier than weigh-in utilizing excessive strategies. The majority of MMA fighters report utilizing saunas or sweat fits to dehydrate themselves to reduce weight. Most additionally miss as much as two meals a day (typically even fasting all day) throughout weight chopping – and typically even consuming as little as 300-750 calories a day.
Such vitality and fluid restriction can scale back brain and nervous system function and a muscle’s speed and capacity to work when required, that means more effort is needed to finish athletic actions. There are additionally vital detriments to well being to think about alongside these adverse results on efficiency.
One examine tracked knowledgeable MMA fighter throughout coaching preparations to see their weight loss and physiological responses to each power and fast weight reduction.
Over this eight-week interval, the fighter misplaced 17kg – 7kg of which was misplaced largely by way of dehydration within the 36 hours earlier than weigh-in. This prompted a extreme discount of their testosterone manufacturing, an indication the physique doesn’t have sufficient vitality to take care of primary hormone perform – which is vital for all points of well being. There was additionally a pointy enhance in cortisol (a hormone linked to our stress response), to interrupt down muscle tissue to supply the vitality wanted to outlive.
This fighter additionally skilled a big enhance in each urea and creatinine of their blood, alongside extraordinarily excessive blood sodium content material, every of which point out kidney malfunction. Collectively, these findings would give trigger to ebook this explicit fighter right into a hospital mattress – not knowledgeable battle.
It’s extremely unlikely that that is an remoted incident both – with 43% of athletes at a UK MMA occasion in 2017 discovered to be severely dehydrated prior to competition, suggesting they hadn’t been capable of totally restore their fluids. Alarmingly, the fighters on this examine additionally displayed hydration and weight reduction readings just like these reported in weight cutting fatalities in US collegiate wrestling within the Nineties. It was these tragic occasions that led to widespread rule and tradition modifications inside wrestling, together with changing the timings of weigh-ins and enforcing minimum athlete weights in some locations to forestall excessive weight reduction.
Following wrestling’s instance, since 2017 the California State Athletic Fee have taken measures to reduce the amount of weight that fighters are allowed to cut. However regardless of this, many fighters are nonetheless taking excessive measures to chop their weight – and with negative health consequences.
Since weight divisions had been launched in MMA within the late Nineties, there’s been no less than one fighter dying formally linked to weight cutting in medical case experiences. There’s additionally the case of Yang Jian Bing who died in 2015 following coronary heart failure whereas present process extreme dehydration to make weight for knowledgeable battle. There are additionally quite a few movies and posts on social media displaying high-level MMA fighters collapsing both before and during their official weigh-ins, demonstrating the fast risks of those practices.
Although it’s at present unsure what the long-term results of repeated weight chopping could also be, it’s been linked to greater ranges of weight problems after retirement, consuming problems, kidney injury and endocrine dysfunction.
Time for change
Regardless of the extensively held beliefs of athletes and coaches, there’s little to be gained from excessive weight reduction – with proof displaying it could really hamper, not enhance, efficiency. Information from high-level and elite MMA competition exhibits no distinction within the quantity of weight misplaced or regained between winners or losers – with most rivals stepping within the cage weighing one to 2 divisions heavier than their official weigh-in.
Equally, one other examine discovered that MMA fighters who minimize extra weight lost their fights more often than those that minimize much less. It has additionally been proven that fighters who don’t restrict energy as severely in the course of the fast weight reduction stage stand extra likelihood of profitable.
However for these practices to vary, it will require lively and preemptive engagement from everybody concerned within the business. With newbie MMA bringing extra athletes into the game from a youthful age, the Worldwide MMA Federation has recently established a task force to forestall excessive weight chopping and promote safer, more practical weight administration practices. Such widespread cultural change won’t be fast or simple, however will make a distinction for the long-term well being of all of the athletes concerned.
Christopher Kirk, Lecturer in Sport and Train Physiology, Sheffield Hallam College
The article was first printed on The Conversation.