Athletic Weight Cycling
Weight cutting in combat sports has to be one of the most dangerous aspects of any athletic competition. Which is ironic, because it isn’t even part of the actual competition, but part of the preparation (Baltz, 2013). Many athletes have developed a mentality of commitment, sacrifice, and self-discipline that sees weight loss as a critical component of the “no pain, no gain” philosophy (Perriello, 2001). It has become a tradition in these sports; something athletes do, because "everyone else is doing it," (Schneider, 2010). Weight cutting is a controversial subject in combat sports due to the inherent dangers that cutting weight possesses. The strategy of cutting weight immediately before fighting is commonly used in nearly every combat sport from boxing to wrestling to mixed martial arts (Pishna, 2013). While the unnecessary practice of weight cutting may be believed to provide a competitive advantage, it not only puts the athlete’s physical health at risk, but it has physiological and psychological effects as well.
Most athletes who want to lose weight are driven by a desire for improved appearance, better performance, or a perceived competitive advantage (Perriello, 2001). Athletes in weight-class sports, such as judo and wrestling, have been known to cut large amounts of weight using extreme methods (Schneider, 2010). The desire to compete can motivate athletes to lose weight whether or not they have excessive body fat (Perriello, 2001). If athletes can have an advantage over the competition, most will make the sacrifice to get there (Schneider, 2010). Athletes participating in weight cutting train their bodies to be in peak condition, and then in the week leading up to a competition they abuse their bodies in a way few can understand (Baltz, 2013). Unfortunately, some even view weight cutting ability as a point of pride, a badge of honor, a part of the culture (Nelson, 2012).
Some athletes also believe the practice of weight cutting is a form of cheating, as a way to get an unfair advantage. However, most combat athletes participate in some form of weight cutting regularly and view it as a necessary part of their sport (Dupont, 2012). When wrestlers are unable to defeat wrestlers in their own weight class for a position on the team, dropping ones weight and competing for a lower weight class may be the only way of gaining a spot on the team (Taylor, 2002). Athletes competing in a weight class below their natural body mass often undergo weight cycling, a term used to describe the consequent fluctuation of gaining and losing weight (Kazemi, 2011). Many athletes repeat this process for every competition. Research has reported an average of 5-10 lbs of weight loss and gain every week in such athletes (Perriello, 2001).
During a recent study, it was found that the most common amount of weight cut was 2 to 5% of body weight, but 40% of all athletes had lost 5 to 10% (Dupont, 2012). In order to achieve this feat,...