The sight is well-known to all followers of combined 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 just a few 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 opponents are the identical measurement, theoretically making a good contest. Importantly, that is the one time a fighter’s weight is checked by organisers – which means they solely must be “on weight” for these few seconds. But with a purpose to be sure that they qualify for the load division they’re competing in, MMA opponents will spend weeks drastically lowering their physique weight in a course of referred to as “weight slicing”.
Weight slicing usually occurs in two stages: continual weight reduction (consuming much less and coaching extra usually for a number of weeks earlier than the weigh-in), and speedy weight reduction (taking excessive measures to lose much more weight within the days earlier than weigh-in – equivalent to via 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. This is often performed by eating energy dense foods excessive in simply digestible carbohydrates and by consuming elevated fluids to aim speedy rehydration.
Though weight slicing 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 drop some weight. Most additionally miss as much as two meals a day (generally even fasting all day) throughout weight slicing – and generally even consuming as little as 300-750 calories a day.
Such vitality and fluid restriction can cut back brain and nervous system function and a muscle’s speed and capacity to work when required, which means more effort is needed to finish athletic actions. There are additionally vital detriments to well being to think about alongside these detrimental results on efficiency.
One examine tracked an expert MMA fighter throughout coaching preparations to see their weight loss and physiological responses to each continual and speedy weight reduction.
Over this eight-week interval, the fighter misplaced 17kg – 7kg of which was misplaced principally through dehydration within the 36 hours earlier than weigh-in. This induced a extreme discount of their testosterone manufacturing, an indication the physique doesn’t have sufficient vitality to keep up primary hormone perform – which is vital for all facets of well being. There was additionally a pointy improve 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 improve in each urea and creatinine of their blood, alongside extraordinarily excessive blood sodium content material, every of which point out kidney malfunction. Together, these findings would give trigger to ebook this specific fighter right into a hospital mattress – not an expert 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 in a position to totally restore their fluids. Alarmingly, the fighters on this examine additionally displayed hydration and weight reduction readings much like these reported in weight cutting fatalities in US collegiate wrestling within the Nineteen Nineties. It was these tragic occasions that led to widespread rule and tradition adjustments inside wrestling, together with changing the timings of weigh-ins and enforcing minimum athlete weights in some locations to stop excessive weight reduction.
Following wrestling’s instance, since 2017 the California State Athletic Commission have taken measures to reduce the amount of weight that fighters are allowed to cut. But regardless of this, many fighters are nonetheless taking excessive measures to chop their weight – and with negative health consequences.
Since weight divisions have been launched in MMA within the late Nineteen Nineties, there’s been at the very least one fighter loss of life 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 an expert 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 instant risks of those practices.
Though it’s presently unsure what the long-term results of repeated weight slicing could also be, it’s been linked to greater ranges of weight problems after retirement, consuming issues, kidney injury and endocrine dysfunction.
Time for change
Despite the extensively held beliefs of athletes and coaches, there’s little to be gained from excessive weight reduction – with proof displaying it might really hamper, not enhance, efficiency. Data from high-level and elite MMA competition exhibits no distinction within the quantity of weight misplaced or regained between winners or losers – with most opponents stepping within the cage weighing one to 2 divisions heavier than their official weigh-in.
Similarly, 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 speedy weight reduction stage stand extra likelihood of successful.
But for these practices to alter, it could require lively and preemptive engagement from everybody concerned within the trade. With beginner MMA bringing extra athletes into the game from a youthful age, the International MMA Federation has recently established a task force to stop excessive weight slicing and promote safer, more practical weight administration practices. Such widespread cultural change won’t be fast or straightforward, however will make a distinction for the long-term well being of all of the athletes concerned.