If you’re not familiar with the world of combat sports, weight cutting is a common weight on bringing down your weight. Why? Well, many combat sports are organised by weight class, and to fit into the right one some people resort to what we call ‘weight cutting’. 

Fighters will adopt a ludicrous diet in an attempt to drop the pounds. However, the body hasn’t adapted to cut/gain weight at such rapid rates, and often, the practise of weight cutting comes with harmful side effects. 

Psychological effects

One study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found rapid mass reductions in weight lead to confusion in wrestlers. In combat sports, where split-second decision making is critical, weight cutting can often muddy the mind which impedes the athlete’s performance. 

Another study discusses how rapid weight loss decreases short-term memory, vigour, concentration, and self-esteem. Not only that, but it also brings about confusion, rage, fatigue, depression, and isolation. These can all lead to poor performance and increase the risk of injury, including fatalities. 

Health impacts

Weight cutting can have various impacts on physical health, particularly in women. For women, it can lead to a condition called amenorrhea - the absence of menstruation. Even where weight loss isn’t rapid, a significant reduction in body fat can cause the onset of amenorrhea as the body tries to conserve energy. Estrogen, a crucial part of bone health in women, is stored in fat cells, meaning a shortage of fat can compromise bone density, as well as irregular periods, or amenorrhea. They may not return until the body fat percentage increases.

However, most of the time, rapid weight reductions are due to loss of water weight, as opposed to fat. This can significantly dehydrate the body which has a variety of health impacts on performance including reduced aerobic endurance, dizziness, lightheadedness, and fatigue. A 2013 study found 39% of MMA fighters compete while significantly dehydrated. 

But some personal stories show more severe issues. UFC fighter Jim Miller found blood in his urine and suffered from kidney stones as a result of weight cutting. The practise shares a risk-impact chart with brain injuries and performance-enhancing drugs. What’s scary is Miller’s story isn’t unique. 

So why do we still do it?

Weight cutting can be dangerous physically and psychologically. It can even lead to death, such as in the case of Jessica Lindsay who died preparing for a Thai boxing competition. But it’s such an integral part of combat sports it might be a hard habit to break. 

Many athletes continue the practice despite the dangers and doctor’s concerns. There are other alternatives to the harmful practice. The first is to focus on healthy weight loss over the long-term. This may include reducing the number of calories you consume to lose body fat over time. But others suggest athletes should be less concerned about moving up a weight class and instead focusing on their skills. 

Now there are so many weight classes, instead of a rigid eight, moving up one isn’t too big of a deal, particularly if that’s the one your body naturally fits into. When you’re in the right weight class, instead of focusing on weight cutting before a fight, you can focus on your strategy, getting your head in the game and honing your technique. 

Going up a class is a much safer option than weight cutting. It’s important you take the right precautions to stay safe in sport and look after your physical and mental well-being. Being the best isn’t about who can lose enough weight to stay in a lower class, it’s about having the right skill, fitness, and technique to get the job done. 

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