Fitness | Nutrition | Dec 19 2014

The risks and rewards of drying out

Fight nutritionist Freddy Brown explains the effects of water loss on performance
Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor weigh in
floyd-mayweather  |  Esther Lin/Showtime

A LOT is being made in combat sports of being “big for the weight”. Boxers will obviously aim to weigh in their leanest state, after having shed every last ounce of surplus fat that may be more permissible in other professional sports. However, there are many things that influence an athlete’s daily fluctuation in weight, and even food and water in an athlete’s stomach (“gut weight”) can make an impact of a couple of pounds. However, being 70% water, an athlete can make serious headway towards their target weight by manipulating their hydration. It is reported that the majority of MMA fighters, with day-before weigh-in schedules and an experience of American high-school wrestling, are immersed in this culture. However, we’ve been told for years that dehydration is bad for performance, while many deaths in boxing have been attributed to drastic weight-loss. I’m going to briefly cover some of the risks, rewards, and reported effects of “drying out”…

The Pros of Sweating Down

The advantage of losing water weight is obvious. Boxers aim to bend the rules to fight smaller people, and to enjoy a weight advantage. The sad fact is that in reality it will be just minimising your opponent’s advantage – if everyone is sweating down, many feel they also must do so in order to compete. HBO’s unofficial fight-night weigh-ins demonstrate that most fighters gain at least 10lbs after weigh-in, while many may put on far more. Brandon Rios was noted as rebounding 20lbs before his lightweight match against John Murray (15% of his body mass), whilst MMA exponents of this strategy like Georges St Pierre have been reported to put on in excess of 25lbs before entering the octagon. Now, the debate begins when we start weighing up this reward versus the risk… Some fighters believe that given 24 hours to rehydrate, the risk to performance and health will be outweighed by the reward of being bigger. Evidence that would go at least some way to supporting this view can be found in studies done on lightweight rowers, who preserved their performance after dehydrating by 4-5% body-weight (e.g. 3kg for a welterweight). Given only 2 hours for rehydration, consuming high carbohydrate electrolyte solutions restored performance to previous values. Interestingly, Derry Matthews’ second training camp with nutrition expert Dr James Morton allowed Derry to maintain 2kg more lean mass, his strength being 10% greater throughout his training camp before using a pre-weigh-in dehydration strategy. More recently, Vasyl Lomachenko’s first loss was inflected at the hands of experienced pro Orlando Salido, who held, spoiled and outmuscled the skilled amateur star. This gamesmanship also extended to weight-making, as Salido came in almost a stone heavier than Lomachenko on fight night. We’ve talked about the rewards… but what of the risks. Well, we know that in combat sport, the risks don’t get any bigger…