A few weeks ago I was weighing guys at the Kentucky Fighting Challenge weigh-ins and I realized how bad these athletes needed some direction regarding nutrition. In fact, I have realized this for a long time as I speak with numerous combat athletes weekly. . I finally decided to address this issue with an article.

I always briefly inquire about the athletes’ nutritional profiles while weighing them. I have found that the responses are generally the same. Common responses include “I didn’t eat anything the last two days”. “I laid in the sauna everyday this week and I barely ate or drank anything”. Needless to say these are not the best methods concerning weight manipulation. Another problem combat athletes have is choosing the right foods after weigh-ins. Quite often inappropriate nutrition leading up to weigh-ins or after weigh-ins can result in sub-optimal fight performance. It bothers me to see a guy bust his ass to make weight and then compromise his performance by consuming the wrong foods or too much food before fight time. A common occurrence is rushing to the closest buffet after weigh-ins. This practice is tradition for many combat athletes. Is this a smart choice? You can be the judge of that.

For years many athletes have been making weight using extreme methods. Weight losses of 20lbs in three days are not uncommon. Complete starvation and 6 hour workouts have formed the backbone of many athletes’ weight loss regimens. I have seen some very unusual methods of weight loss in my experience with combat athletes. I have seen a guy put on a rain suit, wrap his body with saran wrap, go outside and cut down weeds in 95 degree weather. A few other examples of drastic weight loss methods include:

Wrapping ones self in saran wrap, wearing a rain suit and doing jumping jacks while in a small room with an electric heater turned up full blast

Placing ones self inside a sleeping bag, with zipper zipped, while wearing saran wrap and placing two blow dryers inside of bag (almost 60 minutes)

Spending 6 hrs in a sauna the day before the fight

I know its crazy, but believe me these drastic methods are not uncommon with combat athletes.

A key element related to maximal performance is a solid nutritional regimen throughout the season. This means don’t wait until two weeks before competition to prioritize eating. It is hard to drastically change someone’s eating habits and enhance health and performance qualities in two weeks. I receive numerous calls from athletes who are two weeks out from competition and need to drop weight. My first suggestion is to stay relatively close to fighting weight the majority of time. You should not be in panic mode two weeks out from the fight. Although this occurs frequently and I have to address this issue with the best possible solution. There is no way to place an absolute number on how far a fighter’s weight should go beyond fighting weight. Each individual is a little different. Some research indicates if a fighter is within 3-5% of fighting weight 7 days from competition there should be minimal effects on performance and other factors.

Below are a few research studies looking at nutrition and combat athletes.

Effects of rapid weight loss on mood and performance among amateur boxers.
Hall CJ, Lane AM.
Department of Sports Sciences, Brunel University, UK.

AIMS: To examine the effects of rapid weight loss on mood and performance among amateur boxers. METHODS: Participants were 16 experienced amateur boxers. In stage 1, structured interviews were used to assess the type of strategies that boxers used to reduce weight and the value of performing at their desired weight in terms of performance. In stage 2, boxers completed a 4 x 2 minute (1 minute recovery) circuit training session. Boxers completed the circuit training session on three different occasions with a week between each. The first test was used to familiarize the boxers with the circuit training task; the second and third tasks were at their training weight and championship weight, respectively. Participants were given one week to reduce their body weight to their championship weight using their preferred weight making strategies; boxers reduced their body weight by an average of 5.16% of body weight. RESULTS: Boxers typically lost weight by restricting fluid and food intake in the week leading to competition. Repeated measures multivariate analysis of variance results indicated that rapid weight loss among boxers was associated with poor performance, increased anger, fatigue, and tension, and reduced vigor. CONCLUSIONS: Strategies used to make weight by boxers are associated with poor performance and a negative mood profile.

The effects of restricted energy and fluid intake on simulated amateur boxing performance.
Smith M, Dyson R, Hale T, Hamilton M, Kelly J, Wellington P.

Centre for Sports Science and Medicine at the University College Chichester, College Lane, Chichester PO19 4 PE, UK.

This study examined the effects of serial reductions in energy and fluid intake on two simulated boxing performances separated by 2 days recovery. Eight amateur boxers (age: 23.6 +/- 3.2 years; height 175 +/- 5 cm; body mass [BM] 73.3 +/- 8.3 kg [Mean +/- SD]) performed two simulated boxing bouts (BB) under normal (N-trial) and restricted (R-trial) diets in a counterbalanced design over 5 days. The trials were separated by a 9-day period of normal dietary behavior (X-trial). BM was recorded on days 1, 3, and 5 of each trial. Simulated bouts of three, 3-min rounds with 1-min recovery were completed on days 3 (BB1) and 5 (BB2) of each 5-day trial. Punching force (N) was recorded from 8 sets of 7 punches by a purpose-built boxing ergometer. Heart rate (fC) was monitored continuously (PE3000 Polar Sports Tester, Kempele, Finland), and blood lactate (BLa) and glucose (BG) were determined 4-min post-performance (2300 StaPlus, YSI, Ohio). Energy and fluid intakes were significantly lower in the R-trial (p < .05). Body mass was maintained during the N-trial but fell 3% (p < .05) during the R-trial. There were no significant differences in end-of-bout fC or post-bout BG, but BLa was higher in the N- than the R-trial (p < .05). R-trial punching forces were 3.2% and 4.6% lower, respectively, compared to the corresponding N-trial bouts, but the differences did not reach statistical significance. These results suggest that energy and fluid restrictions in weight-governed sports do not always lead to a significant decrease in performance, but because of the small sample size and big variations in individual performances, these findings should be interpreted with care.

Effects of meal frequency on body composition during weight control in boxers.
Iwao S, Mori K, Sato Y.
First Division of Health Promotion Science, Graduate School of Medicine, Nagoya University, Japan.

The effects of meal frequency on changes in body composition by food restriction were investigated. Twelve boxers were divided between a two meals day-1 group (the 2M group) and a six meals day-1 group (the 6M group). Both groups ingested 5.02 MJ (1200 kcal) day-1 for 2 weeks. Although there was no difference in change of body weight by food restriction between the two groups, the decrease in lean body mass (LBM) was significantly greater in the 2M group than in the 6M group. The decrease in urinary 3-methylhistidine/creatinine was significantly greater in the 6M group than in the 2M group. These results suggest that the lower frequency of meal intake leads to a greater myoprotein catabolism even if the same diet is consumed

Keep in mind, many athletes drop massive amounts of weight in short times, but still win their fights. That does not mean that the drastic weight loss method enhanced their ability. It means that despite of not because of (the diet) they were able to succeed. In the next article we will take a look at some basic nutritional guidelines.

Copyright 2005 Jamie Hale