Water is relatively heavy – just one litre weighs a kilogram. Many fighters use dehydration as a strategy to fight at a lighter weight than they normally walk around at. By restricting fluids or losing water through sweat, he or she can lose weight before stepping on the scales and then rehydrate after the weigh in. This is such common practice that it is regarded by many fighters as a fundamental aspect of the sport.
Dehydration has a significant effect on your performance. Even a small drop in hydration at fight time can lead to a large decrease in strength and especially stamina. In addition, there are concerns that being punched in the head while you’re dehydrated may put you at a significantly higher risk of serious head injury. This is one reason why in professional MMA and boxing there is usually at least 24 hours between the weigh in and the fight itself.
Losing large amounts of fluid can be dangerous in other ways, too. Taken too far, athletes may develop serious kidney or heart problems, or heat stroke from spending too long in the sauna. Any of these can be potentially fatal.
Using dehydration as a weight cutting strategy is always at your own risk. There’s no safe limit for how much water you can afford to lose. If you’re considering drying yourself out to lose those last few kilos, here are a few pointers to consider.
- If you have fat to lose, you have no business being in a sauna. Don’t use dehydration to substitute for preparation and good diet.
- Make sure you have enough time to rehydrate between the weigh in and the fight. Bear in mind that your body can absorb a maximum of around 750 ml of fluid per hour from your guts. It is usually best to avoid dehydration if the weigh in is on the same day as the event.
- Consider using carbohydrate depletion first.
- Speak to a doctor first if you have any pre-existing medical conditions, or are taking any medication (whether prescription or over the counter).
- Avoid combining dehydration with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or diclofenac as this significantly increases your risk of kidney damage.
- Make sure a friend or team mate is with you at all times, and you both know the symptoms of heat stroke, what to do and how to get help in the event of an emergency.
- Always do a test weight cut before you do it for real, so that you know how it will feel and how much you can lose. Ideally this should be done well before the fight so it doesn’t interfere with your training.
- Make sure you have a rehydration strategy ready to go – know exactly what you’re going to drink after the weigh in, and how fast. We’ll discuss this in a future blog.
In part 2, we’ll look at some of the techniques fighters may use to lose water weight.