Sports that require athletes to regularly manipulate their body weight include combat sports such as taekwondo, boxing and horse racing (jockeys). The practice of reducing body mass for a sporting event is commonly referred to as ‘making weight’ or ‘cutting’.
Efforts are made to reduce body mass in the days leading up to an event to enable athletes to perform in their desired weight category however, rapid weight loss leads to a decrease in lean muscle mass and a reduction in performance. This is due to following a generalised protocol which can leave athletes underperforming, wasting the hard work put into training.
Severe food restriction, excessive exercise and dehydration (sauna, rubber suits, limited fluid intake) can be dangerous and negatively affect performance and overall health. For safety reasons it is a general aim is to lose no more than 2-3% of body mass, making it essential for athletes in these sports to engage with a sports dietitian to assess appropriateness for achieving a weight category and the strategies to use.
Making Weight strategies should only be followed for 48-72 hours leading into a competition and are NOT a representative of a regular nutritional intake to support nutrition requirements to and health. When making weight athletes can use a variety of strategies which will be explored below.Use of low residual foods:
These are foods low in fibre to reduce the ‘bulk’ held in your digestive tract. It is possible to achieve 300-750g weight loss through by doing this. Low residual foods include: White bread with no nuts/seeds
Well cooked vegetables without skin or seeds
Ripe bananas, rockmelon, watermelon and honeydew melon, apricots, plums, peaches
Jelly Canned fruit without seeds or skin eg applesauce or pears
Dairy products Salt restriction: Limit salt intake minimises fluid retention resulting in short term weight loss. It is best to eat from the core foods groups (fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy, meat/protein), however when using packaged products, the best packaged options will have less than 120mg of salt (sodium) per 100g. Fluid manipulation: In the past athletes have been known to severely dehydrate themselves to make weight, however this can be extremely harmful. It can be useful to slightly limit fluid intake however, fluid is still required. For example, an athlete may require 3+ L of fluid a day to match high training loads, therefore slight reductions will still provide some necessary hydration.
Once the final weigh-in has occurred, it is ideal to follow a rehydration protocol. For example, taking the following steps.
1. Weigh yourself prior to beginning a ‘making weight’ or ‘cutting’ protocol. Record this number.
2. Begin making weight protocol (48-74 hours prior to final weigh in).
3. Take your initial weight and minus your final weigh-in mass.
4. Replenish the difference by 150% to rehydrate effectively (for example, if 2kg lost, 3L of fluid is required)
To assist with refuelling nutrients, it can be effective – if tolerated – to use fluids such as sports drink, smoothies, meal replacement shakes and dairy to contribute to fluid and nutrition intake in a short period prior to performance.
What you do after the actual event is vital to recovery! Your main goals should be to replenish glycogen stores with carbohydrates, repair muscles with protein and rehydrate with fluid. This can be with a meal of lean protein, quality carbohydrates and vegetables or a milk-based fruit smoothie as an example.
General Health Factors to ConsiderIt is valuable for your healthcare team (Doctors, dietitian, specialist, trainer/coach) to review regular blood tests to ensure that bodily functions are as normal. For example, evaluating iron status is important and is usually checked every 6 months.
Female athletes should seek medical review if menstrual cycle becomes irregular or ceases as this can affect your long-term health.
Bone mineral density may also be recommended to ensure nutrients intake is adequate as low bone mineral density is associated with higher risk of fractures. This can be done through DEXA scanning. At Coast Sport we use DEXA scanning at Coast Medical Imaging.
Final Athlete TipsTrain close to (within ~2kg) of your competition weight
Avoid excessive weight gain in the off-season or when injured
Avoid weighing or measuring yourself too often – it can take weeks to see true changes
Your training program may need alterations if lean muscle mass gain is an issue for making weight
Protect bones including dairy products or calcium rich/fortified foods in your diet daily
Avoid dehydration to ‘make weight’ as this can negatively impact performance and health, this also includes the use of diuretics, laxatives or vomiting which are not advised.
Making weight is a complex requires individualised protocols to ensure that nutrient requirements are met for training and overall health. Seeing a Sports Dietitian is the best way to achieve this. To find out more about our dietetic service contact Coast Sport today or book online via the button below.
Thanks to Coast Sport Dietitian Ali for preparing this blog. You can find out more about Ali here.