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Combat Sports And The Risks Of Rapid Weight Cutting

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In combat sports, athletes try to maintain a physical advantage by dropping to the lowest weight possible without sacrificing muscle tissue or hydration. In practice many athletes forgo one or both in favor of meeting the required weight on official weigh-in day and then stuffing themselves with food and water (sometimes intravenously) to regain the lost muscle tissue and water. While it may help them meet their immediate goals for the weigh-in, what  are the long and short term repercussions of doing this to your body?

There are plenty of athletes that have felt the negative effects of cutting weight. In 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, Daniel Cormier was the captain of the American wrestling team. He was highly regarded as “the” candidate to leave China with a gold medal.

Cormier of the U.S. celebrates winning a bronze medal during the men's Free Style 96kg finals at the Senior Wrestling World Championship in Baku

Instead, what transpired resulted with Cormier being hospitalized due to dehydration and cramping. Finding out that his kidneys were failing and being forced to withdraw from the Beijing Olympics altogether certainly sent some alarm bells through him and his training team.

There’s now discussion of Cormier dropping to light heavyweight after his win over Frank Mir at UFC On Fox 7. If he had trouble making the 211.5 weight limit for the Olympics, is it safe for him to try to drop to 205?

31_Urijah-Faber-WEC-52-w

When high performance athletes like mixed martial artists cut weight they’re not only cutting crucial water weight from their body, but also risking organ damage in the process.  Severe dehydration coupled with rapid rehydration hydrating can cause extreme damage to your kidneys and heart.

Weight cutting is also known to have a psychological effect. The official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association states that rapid mass reduction leads to increased confusion. MMA requires split second decision making, a higher state of confusion and tension can detrimentally affect an athlete’s performance.

Benson Henderson

Before deciding to cut any weight, make sure to talk to your physician about safe and smart ways to make weight properly.  There are no free lunches when it comes to fitness.  Shortcuts each have their price.  Are you willing to pay?

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SciFighting's mission is to bring a higher standard of fitness to both the professional athlete and general population through concise reporting on the latest trends in the science of fighting. Our involvement in mixed martial arts spans both the professional and recreational realms of the sports. In addition to reporting on the news in the industry we function as a think tank, researching new facets of combat science and developing new tools and techniques to analyze theoretical and practical applications.
  • Christopher Reza

    Boy, can I add any piece of advice on top of this is to cut the right way. Don’t resort to just constantly dehydrating yourself and continuously starve yourself either.

    It is about timing, and portions.