The issue of weight loss strategies being used.
Hall and Lane (2001) interviewed 16 amateur boxers and identified four phases of weight-making practice, with the mean value of self reported weight being:
The boxers reported weight loss of 5% body mass, equivalent to 2 to 3kg the week before a championship, achieved through dieting and restriction of fluid intake. The Hall and Lane (2001) study found that some of the boxers did not consume any fluids up to 24 hours before weigh in and 73% of boxers reported exercising the morning of competition to promote dehydration and help achieve competition weight.
The effect of dieting and fluid reduction on a boxer.
Gopinathan et al, (1988) found that acute dehydration leads to impairment of cognitive skills and concentration, especially when the athlete is exposed to a hot environment (i.e under the lights in a ring). As well as impairing the cognitive skills in the ring, weight making strategies will also increase the perception of effort in the boxer, meaning they feel they are working at a higher rate than they actually are.
Research suggests that weight making practices have negative effects on mood and lead to poorer short term memory ability (Choma et al, 1998). Choma found that an athletes mood levels return back to normal within 72 hours of recovery. Another study found that boxers have increased levels of anger, fatigue and tension due to making-weight in the run up to a fight (Hall and Lane, 2001).
A study by Smith et al (2000) found that a 3.8% reduction in body mass due to fluid loss can decrease performance by 27% in boxers, when looking at power of punches delivered in a 3 minute round. Research suggests that serial weight-making efforts can lead to a decrease in total punching force and the amount of punches thrown in a bout (Smith et al, 2000).
Recovery strategies after Weigh In
The acute needs of most weight-making athletes following a weigh-in is the restoration of fluid balance following moderate to severe levels of dehydration, combined with the intake of carbohydrate to provide fuel source for the upcoming event. The issue is, according to research the restoration of severe fluid loss incurred from weight-making may require a recovery period of 6 to 24 hours (Burke, 2007). Although, large amounts of fluid post weigh-in will improve plasma volume, it will also lead to larger urine losses and less retention of fluid in the short term. A pattern of small, frequent drinks is likely to be a better strategy over a longer time period (Kovacs et al, 2002).
Safer Approaches To Weight- Making
It is difficult to provide detailed guidelines for weight-making practices. This is due to the diversity of factors, such as ethical issues, fitness levels, body composition, age, gender, etc.
Below is a list of essential considerations all coaches should have a firm understanding on before making recommendations to athletes.
Understanding the requirements of the sport
Investigate the rules of the sport in regard to weight class and weight making policies.
Understand the physiological and psychological requirements of the sport, including the issues surrounding repeated performances in tournaments (Box Cups).
Investigate other weight making sports to see if there are other strategies to consider. There is some good research in MMA.
Developing rapport and understanding of the athlete
Consider the athletes weight history, and weight loss practices. This should include frequency of weight loss achieved in previous endeavours.
Consider objective and subjective data on history of results in relation to above strategies.
Develop a long term weight management plan
Encourage the athlete to choose a competition weight class that is within 2 to 3% of there training weight. This weight should be consistent with healthy eating and hydration levels.
Develop weight targets that are safe, realistic and effective at achieving weight goals for specific competitions and times of the year..
Use objective anthropometrics to measure athletes body mass, to allow for changes to lean body mass, increase muscles mass, growth spurts in adolescent etc.
Strategy week before a bout
Maximal manipulation of body weight of 3% one week before a bout.
Consider a small reduction in calories, particular in conjunction with taper to ensure effective small weight loss.
Achieve a weight loss of no more than 1kg in the acute period before the bout. The athlete should switch to a high fibre low residue menu 12 to 24 hours prior competition. Switching from pasta, grains to white cereals, liquid meal replacements and fruit. This will lead to reduction in weight through emptying the gastrointestinal region.
Consider mild reduction in fluid and salt in conjunction with appropriate training to achieve small levels of dehydration.
The period between weigh in and competition
Restore euhydration and energy levels through appropriate means.
Ideally restore fluid balance by replacing 150% of the volume of fluid deficit incurred to make weigh in. This should include sodium replacement during this process.
Top up energy fuels with readily available carbohydrates, strategies should be practised in the weeks via to competition to ensure athlete does not feel any discomfort.
Adapted from Burke (2007)
Burke, L (2007) Practical Sports Nutrition. Human Kinetics.
Choma, C.W., Sforzo, G.A, and Keller, B.A (1998) Impact of rapid weight loss on cognitive function in collegiate wrestlers. Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise. 30: 747 - 749
Hall, C.J., and Lane, A.M (2001) Effects of rapid weight loss on mood and performance among amateur boxers. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 35. 390 – 395
Kovacs, E.M.R, Senden, J.M.G and Brouns, F. (2002) Urine colour, osmolality and specific electrical conductance are not accurate measures of hydration status during prolonged rehydration. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness. 39. 47 – 53
Smith, M.S, Dyson, R, Hale, T, Harrison, J.H and McManus, P., (2000) The effect in humans of rapid loss of body mass on a boxing related task. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 83. 34 – 39