Weight-class athletes cut their body weight for numerous reasons including participating in sports of lower weight, to enhance their appearance, or to improve their physical appearance. Such sports include weight-lifting, boxing, wrestling, lightweight rowing, judo, and other combat sports. Athletes who take part in weight-class sports use rapid bodyweight reduction techniques such as dehydration in one to two days, which involves fluid restraint and enhanced workouts. According to Bernadot (2006, p. 267), rapid weight cutting reduces the athletes’ aerobic endurance capacity, though moderate weight cutting may cause it to increase. Rapid weight cutting also reduces anaerobic performance and muscle strength (Barr, 1999). Bernadot (2006) suggests that bodyweight loss has a varied effect on maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max). Weight cutting causes VO2max that is measured in L/min to reduce, but causes VO2 max measured in ml/kg/min to increase (Barr, 1999). This paper looks at the dangers of rapid weight cutting in sports, as well as, appropriate techniques for reducing weight in sports.
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Some athletes go through weight fluctuation patterns whereby they cut weight as the events approach, and regain it after the competitions are over. These athletes result in rapid weight loss techniques as the competitive season approaches. Rapid weight-cutting techniques include starvation or rigorous dieting, fluid restriction, and dehydration. Passive dehydration involves the athlete sitting in a sauna while active dehydration involves exercising in sweat suits. Some athletes result to other methods like self-induced vomiting and the use of laxatives and diuretics (Medicine, Association, & Canada, 2001).
Rapid weight-cutting methods can lead to serious health risks that involve malnutrition and dehydration. Dehydration is caused by fluid restriction techniques that lead to excessive loss of water from the body, and no fat loss while malnutrition results from inadequate consumption of nutrients (Barr, 1999). “Dehydration involves the extreme loss of water and lean body mass, which hinders performance and appropriate body operations” (Fogelholm, 1994). Rapid weight reduction methods lead to reduced muscle carbohydrate storage and muscle water, which affects proper temperature regulation and cardiovascular function (Fogelholm, 1994). This, in turn, impacts strength and endurance capacity, which causes physiological changes that affect athlete performance negatively. Bernadot (2006, p. 91) suggests that reduced fluid intake decreases blood volume and sweat rates, which causes body heat to rise to a dangerous point. Body heat stress due to low levels of water, in turn, reduces athletic performance. Consequently, athletes should replenish the water that their body loses, during training, at a suitable rate (Bernadot, 2006, p. 92).
The performance of athletes depends on their body composition, which is determined by the amount of fat and muscle in their bodies. Coaches advice athletes to monitor their body composition on a regular basis in order to identify any physical harm caused by training techniques. Weight cutting involves the alteration of body composition by changing one’s diet and exercises. Bernadot (2006, p. 226) suggests that an increase in workout regime should be accompanied by an increase in energy intake, due to increased demand for energy by the body. Failure to do this leads to reduced metabolism, increased fat storage, and breakdown of muscle to provide energy for the body (Fogelholm, 1994).
Rapid weight cutting causes both short-term and long-term consequences. In the short term, it can lead to mood swings, decreased energy and a lack of drive. The loss of energy, decreased metabolism, reduced endurance capacity, and loss of muscle, strength and power impairs the performance of the athlete. Moreover, athletes face a bigger threat of psychological and physical fatigue (American College of Sports Medicine, 2001). Severe cases of rapid weight loss can cause collapse and even death.
Long-term consequences are prevalent in athletes who maintain unsuitable levels of body weight. Such implications include eating disorders like bulimia nervosa, and health concerns associated with poor energy and nutrient intake (Bernadot, 2006, p. 230). According to Fogelholm (1994), the appropriate levels of body fat for athletes vary depending on the sport. However, the minimal levels for proper health are 8% for men and 16% for women. Bernadot (2006) suggests that prolonged inadequacies of intake of appropriate nutrients may result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies that alter hormonal and metabolic function. As a result, both athletic performance and personal health can be severely damaged (Bernadot, 2006).
Weight cutting is necessary in sports in order to balance strength and weight, like in the case of diving and gymnastics. However, some of the weight-cutting techniques used by athletes lead to undesirable effects on body composition. Consequently, Bernadot (2006, p. 209) suggests that athletes should use techniques that help them to attain the desired weight by reducing body fat without compromising on muscle and power. Poor weight-cutting techniques lead to reduced muscle mass and increased fat mass, which inhibits performance. In addition, Bernadot suggests that athletes should be careful about the dangers of cyclic weight loss, such as eating disorders and bone-density complications (Bernadot, 2006, p. 209).
Proper weight-cutting techniques allow athletes to train and compete at a high level. These techniques include a combination of monitored food restriction and physical exercises. Bernadot (2006, p. 12) suggests that athletes require proper nutrition and adequate amounts of carbohydrates to optimize their performance. As a result, weight-cutting techniques should involve intense workout sessions that increase fat loss while enhancing body composition.
High-level athletic performance can be achieved by ensuring that one has the right weight. As a result, many athletes go through restrictive intakes that reduce metabolic rate, which hinders their regular eating patterns without resulting in weight gain. These athletes are forced to reduce their caloric intake consistently, which leads to eating disorders (Bernadot, 2006, p. 229). These disorders are characterized by increased concerns about food, weight and fat, use of laxatives, frequent visitation of the bathroom and increased need for more exercises beyond normal training sessions (Bernadot, 2006, p. 229).
Recurrent variations in hydration can pose digestion and absorption challenges for athletes. Stress due to competition and overtraining also causes gastrointestinal dysfunction like nausea and colitis, which lead to nutritional deficiencies (Bernadot , 2006p. 130). A proper training regimen involves regular rehydration without waiting until thirst manifests itself. Athletes should drink fluids and eat solid foods that have a low concentration of carbohydrates during exercises in order to reduce the chances of gastrointestinal distress (Bernadot, 2006, p. 131). Additionally, athletes should avoid heavy meals at the end of the day since they increase body fat. Alternatively, they should consume regular amounts of a balanced diet at different times of the day to ensure weight stability (Bernadot, 2006, p. 136). According to Barr (1999), athletes should train using individualized body weight goals, instead of comparing training patterns with others. Rapid body weight should be less than 8% of body weight and should be accompanied by a moderate-energy and high-carbohydrate diet.
American College of Sports Medicine, American Dietetic Association, & Dietiticians of Canada. (2001). Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2130-2141. Web.
Barr, S. (1999). Effects of dehydration on exercise performance. Can. J. Appl. Physiol., 24(1), 164–172.
Bernadot, D. (2006). Advanced Sports Nutrition. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Fogelholm, G. (1994). Effects of Bodyweight Reduction on Sports Performance. Sports Medicine, 18(4), 249-267.