In combat sports such as wrestling, karate, and boxing athletes are divided into weight categories in order to match them with similar competitors in terms of physical characteristics. Some athletes aim to compete at an upper end of the weight category range with the idea of gaining an advantage over their opponents. Therefore, they train over their competition weight category and then loss weight within a few days before the competition they by using rapid weight loss methods. After weigh in, they regain the weight they lost during the period until the competition. With rapid weight loss methods, athletes lose 2% to 10% of their body weight in less than a week. Severe restriction of food and fluid intake, excessive exercise, sauna, use of diuretic and laxative drugs, and vomiting are some of the rapid weight loss methods.
Rapid weight loss methods have many negative effects on health and performance due to fluid and nutrient losses, including cardiovascular problems and dysregulation of body temperature due to decreased blood plasma, reduced glycogen stores and electrolyte imbalances due to nutrient losses. The negative effects of rapid weight loss are not limited to deterioration of health and performance, but can even cause death.
Despite all these negative effects, it is known that rapid weight loss methods are widely used in weight-category sports. An earlier study (1) reported that 35% of university wrestlers experienced weight loss up to 5 kg more than 100 times in their lives. It is known that these methods are widely used in other sports branches as well. However, the time between the weigh-in and the competition, depending on the regulations of the sports branch, affects the prevalence of these methods. For example, in mixed martial arts (MMA) sport, there are 24-32 hours from pre-competition official weigh-in to competition, and this extended period allows athletes more opportunity to regain their weight. In weightlifting, the post-weighing period is as short as 2 hours, but the negative effects of rapid weight loss can be seen less because of a short performance.
In conclusion, it is extremely important that sports dieticians, trainers and sports physicians closely monitor the athlete, monitor their hydration status, inform them about the risks of using rapid weight loss methods, and encourage weight management in a way to maintain performance by providing fat mass loss with long-term strategies.
- Steen SN, Brownell KD. Patterns of weight loss and regain in wrestlers: has the tradition changed? Medicine and science in sports and exercise. 1990;22(6):762-8.
- Franchini E, Brito CJ, Artioli GG. Weight loss in combat sports: physiological, psychological and performance effects. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9(1):52.