The California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) and Association of Ringside Physicians are warning boxers and mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters about the risks of unhealthy weight loss—known as cutting weight—and dehydrating.
A recent study found that 39 percent of MMA fighters were entering competition in a dehydrated state, according to CSAC. Heat illness and death in athletes have occurred in MMA and wrestling.
Combat sports competitors often cut weight to qualify for a bout or fight in a specific weight class.
It has been shown that excessive or rapid weight loss and repeated “cycling” of weight gain/loss causes decreased performance, hormonal imbalance, decreased nutrition, and increased injury risk. Other serious medical conditions associated with improper weight loss and dehydration include:
Decreased muscle strength and endurance. Decreased blood flow to muscles hinders their performance.
Decreased cardiovascular function. The heart works harder and less efficiently.
Reduced energy utilization and nutrient exchange. With decreased blood flow to tissues, nutrients don’t get delivered, and the body’s waste products are not removed.
Heat illness. This takes on four forms—heat cramps, heat syncope (loss of consciousness), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke, which can be fatal. Dehydration causes a decreased ability to regulate body temperature.
Decreased kidney function. Dehydration leads to decreased kidney blood flow and urine problems. Decreased kidney function also results in electrolyte imbalances such as unhealthy increases in potassium and sodium.
CSAC warns against using extreme methods to making weight, such as excessive heat methods (rubberized suits, steam rooms, saunas) and excessive intense bouts of exercise, vomiting, laxatives, and diuretics.
The Commission recommends athletes commit to a proper diet year-round and train for proper weight control; maintain an optimum state of hydration by drinking fluids throughout the day, particularly during workouts; and be wary of nutritional supplements—they are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration and some have been shown to be harmful.