The pitfalls of "cutting weight"

Losing dramatic amounts of weight prior to an athletic event has become a common practice in some sports.  Unfortunately, “cutting weight” can be a deadly practice.

In sports where an athlete’s weight determines the level of competition, losing weight in order to compete at a lower weight class has become a strategic move.  The goal is to lose weight for the weigh-in and then gain the weight back before the event.

Wrestling, rowing, boxing and mixed martial arts (MMA) are sports where this dangerous practice has become an acceptable part of preparation.

Human physiology is based on a delicate balance of fluid and electrolytes that allow vital organs to function efficiently.  Large shifts of fluid and electrolytes disrupt this balance, resulting in organs shutting down.

Common symptoms include dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion and heart palpitations.  Physical signs of rapid pulse, low blood pressure and concentrated urine are indicative of impending danger.

Dehydration and rehydration over a short period of time raises the chances of severe brain injury.  This is especially dangerous in combat sports like boxing and MMA where head trauma is common.

A recent MMA weigh-in at the Mohegan Sun Casino emphasizes the problem.  Two athletes arrived at the weigh-in with clear signs that they had cut weight. The medical staff and Department of Athletic Regulation, in cooperation with the promoter, took the rare action of cancelling those bouts.  Those athletes lost an opportunity to earn a significant purse.  One athlete landed in a local emergency room with kidney failure.

"It is imperative that sports which utilize weight classes also utilize a hydration check at weigh-ins to assure that athletes do not reach dangerous levels of dehydration in order to make weight,” said Dr. Douglas Casa, professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut and an expert in the field of hydration in sports.  “The recent cancellation of MMA events at the Mohegan Sun highlight the risks associated with this,” said Casa.

Education of athletes about the dangers of cutting weight can be lifesaving.

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