An Auckland based Dietitian (dietician) (West Auckland). Specialising in Diet for Sport, Diabetes, recovery, training nutrition and weightloss.
What are New Zealand combat sport athletes doing to make weight for competition?
By Hamish Johnstone
I fought as a middleweight in Muay Thai and had to make weight time and time again for my fights, ranging from the 69 to 79kg I decided in the last years of my Nutrition degree to do some research into the NZ scene. I started looking at over seas studies on the effects of rapid weight loss on fighters mood, performance and immediate health. It became apparent that all were affected negatively. I wanted to know what New Zealands situation was like and If our fighters were using rapid weight loss techniques and what changes they made to their diet and dietary patterns.
So I made a questionnaire that covered background, training related questions, methods and techniques used to make weight and what the fighters diet habits were and what they changed, to make weight.
I then headed to the gyms to get fighters to complete my questionnaires I managed to get 30 fighters both male and female covering the combat sports of MMA, BJJ, Boxing and Muay Thai.
What I found was that we are pretty similar to fighters overseas
About 40% of athletes would only start to make/cut weight within 3-7 days before weigh in. In the final 24 hours before weigh in restricting fluid intake was favoured by 76% of the fighters while 73% also favoured fasting, of those 20% of fighters had gone for longer than 24 hours without food when making weight for competition.
The methods used to make weight
Thankfully gradual dieting to make weight was the most common method used. But if the gradual dieting does not involve maintaining a well balanced diet and instead consists of RWL techniques then a negative mood state may occur and research shows that this has been associated with an inability to cope with training demands. The majority of the other techniques used involve methods to dehydrate, research shows us that being dehydrated by more than 2% impairs thinking and performance in sports.
Changes to Diet
The results here showed that many of the athletes are consuming a diet that is not well balance while trying to train and lose weight for competition. Its going to make training harder and recovery harder. Many fighters were cutting out carbohydrate, this is the preferred source of energy for the fighters body. Cutting down on these foods from the diet can result in reduced blood glucose levels and reduced liver and muscle glycogen stores, which will result in worse performance, decreased energy and a decreased ability to train at your best.
In NZ the use of RWL techniques are common place. Leading up to a competition poor dietary practices are followed including reduced fluid intake and this may lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, mood changes and reduced glycogen stores.
All of which can have a detrimental effect on the fighters health and their performance. Ive seen it time and time again a fighter just hitting some invisible wall, theyre hands drop , they become sluggish and I know they’ve had to make weight and I cant help but wonder……did they do it the right way and did they recover correctly.
My Practical Recommendations:
1. Dont fight to far out of your training weight, know your limits
2. Don’t use laxitives or diuretics, they could dehydrate you too much, you never know how they are going to impact you.
3. Use gradual dieting to get close to your weigh in weight but maintain a well balanced diet well you do this, to stay healthy.
4. Don’t be carb phobic, carbohydrates are your fuel, you will need plenty when training for a fight but timing is everything.
5. Hydration is crucial while training and after to recover faster, remember train at your best to fight at your best. Be well hydrated for your fight, if you have dehydrated for weigh in make sure to use a fluid with a good amount of electrolytes in it rather than just water. You need to replace what you sweated out.
6. If you had to make weight and your weigh in was the day before the fight, have a carb (pasta, rice, potato) heavy dinner and also include a good amount of carb (porridge, pancakes, bread) in your breakfast before competition. This will make sure you have fuel to burn and your firing on all cylinders come fight time.
For further and fuller details of the research including graphs hit the link below.