Image may contain: text


Combat sports athletes
risk severe consequences
with reckless weight loss


The total tonnage most combat sport athletes and their trainers don't know about the safe way to lose weight is downright frightening, according to the chief medical officer for GB Boxing, the team of elite amateur boxers from the United Kingdom, funded by the National Lottery and based in the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.

Dr. Mike Loosemore, Head of Sport and Exercise Medicine at the Centre for Health and Human Performance in London, said methods athletes typically use for weight loss can put them at risk for serious consequences, some of which can literally be life-threatening.

Loosemore wars that fighters are playing a game of "Russian roulette" with their health with many of their practices for weight loss before a bout.

“First, there's the danger of actually losing the weight,” the doctor explained to sports journalist Jack Green. “Sweat isn’t pure water – the salts that are in your blood are required for running your heart nice and smoothly. When you get very dry, you lose a lot of electrolytes."

Electrolytes are critical to the nerves that make the human heart beat regularly, Dr. Loosemore explained, and if they start misfiring, the athlete is at risk of heart arrhythmia, heart attacks, and even death.

There are also other potential negative effects.

The doctor cited the case of Liverpool UFC fighter Darren Till, who briefly lost his sight while cutting weight before headlining UFC Fight Night 130 in May, an incident that ignited a debate over how weight cutting is regulated in mixed martial arts.

In January, Jamaican middleweight Uriah Hall suffered a seizure and what was diagnosed as a "slight heart attack" after he failed to make it to the scales for UFC Fight Night 124.

In November of 2017, an 18-year-old Australian Muay Thai fighter died of extreme dehydration after collapsing during a training run 30 minutes before her weigh-in. The victim, Jessica Lindsay, whose sister later said her organs shut down one by one, had recently added an ominous post on her Instagram page: "Weight cutting is sick," she wrote.

Dr. Loosemore said it's not unusual for fighters to lose 20 pounds -- often more than 10 percent of their body weight -- during the 48 hours before a weigh-in, typically by depriving their bodies of food and liquids, and using a combination of saunas, hot baths, and cardiovascular exercise to force their bodies to excrete as much fluid as possible.

They then rehydrate after the weigh-in in an attempt to gain a size advantage over their opponent. (Canelo Alvarez is said to have weighed as much as 30 pounds more than the 155-pound limit in May 2016, when he scored a one-punch knockout victory over Amir Khan.)

Dr. Loosemore's organization, GB Boxing, adheres to weight cutting guidelines that state that dehydration of no more than 2 percent of a fighter's weight is safe.

"Greater percentages than that, we wouldn't recommend. It's dangerous. It's Russian roulette," the doctor said.

He also says the dangers of weight cutting don't end at the weigh-in. Fighters who cut great amounts of weight over short time periods risk damaging their chances of victory and suffering serious injury in the ring.

"Often when you rehydrate the fluid doesn't distribute itself normally within the body, and it can go in the wrong places,” he said. “When you’re dry your body secretes anti-diuretic hormone, so you retain the fluids you take in when you rehydrate because you don't pee them out. You have a rebound where you end up heavier than before.

“People may think that's great. But it's just fluid, it's not muscle. What actually happens is the fighter feels really poor because they're over-hydrated. It means you are almost certainly going to under-perform, so you've also got the danger of being hit hard and losing the fight.”