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Reid Reale, Gary Slater and Louise M. Burke

It is common for athletes in weight-category sports to try to gain a theoretical advantage by competing in weight divisions that are lower than their day-to-day body mass (BM). Weight loss is achieved not only through chronic strategies (body-fat losses) but also through acute manipulations before weigh-in (“making weight”). Both have performance implications. This review focuses on Olympic combat sports, noting that the varied nature of regulations surrounding the weigh-in procedures, weight requirements, and recovery opportunities in these sports provide opportunity for a wider discussion of factors that can be applied to other weight-category sports. The authors summarize previous literature that has examined the performance effects of weightmaking practices before investigating the physiological nature of these BM losses. Practical recommendations in the form of a decision tree are provided to guide the achievement of acute BM loss while minimizing performance decrements.

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Reid Reale, Gary Slater and Louise M. Burke

Purpose: Combat sport athletes undertake chronic and rapid weight loss (RWL) practices to qualify for weight divisions lower than their training weight. Variation between sports in the prevalence, methods, and magnitude of weight loss as well as recovery practices may be influenced by factors including competition level and culture. Differences in methodologies of previous research in combat sports make direct comparisons difficult; thus, this study aimed to examine weight loss practices among all Olympic combat sports in Australia, using standardized methodology. Methods: High-caliber competitors in wrestling, boxing, judo, and taekwondo (n = 260) at Australian competitions were surveyed using a validated tool that provides quantification of how extreme an athlete’s weight loss practices are: the rapid weight loss score (RWLS). Additional qualitative and quantitative survey data were also collected. Results: Neither sport, sex, nor weight division group had an effect on RWLS; however, a significant effect of athlete caliber was detected (F 2,215 = 4.953, mean square error = 4.757, P = .00792). Differences between sports were also evident for most weight ever lost in order to compete (H = 19.92, P = .0002), age at which weight cutting began (H = 16.34, P = .001), and selected methods/patterns of RWL (P < .001). Weight cycling between competitions was common among all sports as were influences on athlete’s behaviors. Conclusions: Although many similarities in weight loss practices and experiences exist between combat sports, specific differences were evident. Nuanced, context/culturally specific guidelines should be devised to assist fighters’ in optimizing performance while minimizing health implications.

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Reid Reale, Gregory R. Cox, Gary Slater and Louise M. Burke

We examined the relationship between the regain of body mass (BM) after weigh-in and success in real-life judo competition. Eighty-six (36 females, 50 males) senior judoka volunteered for this observational study of an international judo competition. Subjects were weighed at the official weigh-in and one hour before their first competition fight (15–20 hr later). Regain in BM after weigh-in was compared between medal winners and nonmedalists, winners and losers of each fight, males and females and across weight divisions. Heavyweights were excluded from analysis. Prefight BM was greater than BM at official weigh-in for both males and females, with % BM gains of 2.3 ± 2.0 (p ≤ .0001; ES= 1.59; CI95% [1.63, 2.98]) and 3.1 ± 2.2 (p ≤ .0001; ES = 2.03; CI95% [2.30, 3.89]), respectively. No significant differences were found between weight divisions for post weigh-in BM regain. Differences in post weigh-in BM regain were significantly higher in medal winners than nonmedalists for males and females combined (1.4 ± 0.4% BM; p = .0026; ES= 0.69; CI95% [0.05, 2.34]) and for males alone (1.5 ± 0.6% BM; p = .017; ES= 0.74; CI95% [0.02, 2.64]), but not for females (1.2 ± 0.7% BM; p = .096; ES = 0.58; CI95% [-0.02, 2.31]). Differences in BM regain after weigh-in between winners and losers were significant across all fights (0.9 ± 0.3% BM; p = .0021; ES= 0.43; CI95% [0.31, 1.41]) but not for first round fights (0.8 ± 0.5% BM; p = .1386, ES = 0.38; CI95% [-0.26, 1.86]). Winners showed a greater regain in BM post weigh-in than losers. This may reflect the greater magnitude of the BM loss needed to achieve weigh-in targets which also relates to the experience level of successful athletes.

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Reid Reale, Gregory R. Cox, Gary Slater and Louise M. Burke

Purpose:

Combat-sport athletes acutely reduce body mass (BM) before weigh-in in an attempt to gain a size/strength advantage over smaller opponents. Few studies have investigated these practices among boxers and none have explored the impact of this practice on competitive success.

Methods:

One hundred (30 women, 70 men) elite boxers participating in the Australian national championships were weighed at the official weigh-in and 1 h before each competition bout. Regain in BM after weigh-in was compared between finalists and nonfinalists, winners and losers of each fight, men and women, and weight divisions. Boxers were surveyed on their pre- and post-weigh-in nutrition practices.

Results:

The lightest men’s weight category displayed significantly greater relative BM regain than all other divisions, with no difference between other divisions. BM prebout was higher than official weigh-in for men (2.12% ± 1.62%; P < .001; ES = 0.13) and women (1.49% ± 1.65%; P < .001; ES = 0.11). No differences in BM regain were found between finalists and nonfinalists, winners and losers of individual bouts, or between preliminary or final bouts. BM regain was significantly greater (0.37% BM, P < .001; ES = 0.25) before an afternoon bout compared with a morning bout.

Conclusions:

Boxers engage in acute BM-loss practices before the official competition weigh-in, but this does not appear to affect competition outcomes, at least when weight regain between weigh-in and fighting is used as a proxy for the magnitude of acute loss. While boxers recognize the importance of recovering after weigh-in, current practice is not aligned with best-practice guidance.

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Reid Reale, Gary Slater, Gregory R. Cox, Ian C. Dunican and Louise M. Burke

Novel methods of acute weight loss practiced by combat sport athletes include “water loading,” the consumption of large fluid volumes for several days prior to restriction. We examined claims that this technique increases total body water losses, while also assessing the risk of hyponatremia. Male athletes were separated into control (n = 10) and water loading (n = 11) groups and fed a standardized energy-matched diet for 6 days. Days 1–3 fluid intake was 40 and 100 ml/kg for control and water loading groups, respectively, with both groups consuming 15 ml/kg on Day 4 and following the same rehydration protocol on Days 5 and 6. We tracked body mass (BM), urine sodium, urine specific gravity and volume, training-related sweat losses and blood concentrations of renal hormones, and urea and electrolytes throughout. Physical performance was assessed preintervention and postintervention. Following fluid restriction, there were substantial differences between groups in the ratio of fluid input/output (39%, p < .01, effect size = 1.2) and BM loss (0.6% BM, p = .02, effect size = 0.82). Changes in urine specific gravity, urea and electrolytes, and renal hormones occurred over time (p < .05), with an interaction of time and intervention on blood sodium, potassium, chloride, urea, creatinine, urine specific gravity, and vasopressin (p < .05). Measurements of urea and electrolyte remained within reference ranges, and no differences in physical performance were detected over time or between groups. Water loading appears to be a safe and effective method of acute BM loss under the conditions of this study. Vasopressin-regulated changes in aquaporin channels may potentially partially explain the mechanism of increased body water loss with water loading.