The purpose of this review is to critically evaluate the current body of research on weight-cutting in combat sports, including prevalence, common practices, performance effects, physiological response, and potential strategies to maximise performance following weight-cutting to provide clarity on this convoluted topic.
At a glance:
- Research should investigate the influence of weight-cutting on performance following longer (~24 h) recovery times.
- Weight-cutting may result in many negative health effects, such as increased risk of brain injury.
- Strategies to reduce the effects include replenishing glycogen, body water and electrolytes.
Full reference and abstract:
Barley, O. R., Chapman, D. W. & Abbiss, C. R. (2019). The current state of weight-cutting in combat sports. Sports. 7(5):123-134.
In combat sports, athletes are divided into categories based on gender and body mass. Athletes attempt to compete against a lighter opponent by losing body mass prior to being weighed (i.e., ‘weight-cutting’). The purpose of this narrative review was to explore the current body of literature on weight-cutting and outline gaps for further research. Methods of weight-loss include energy intake restriction, total body fluid reduction and pseudo extreme/abusive medical practice (e.g., diuretics).
The influence of weight-cutting on performance is unclear, with studies suggesting a negative or no effect. However, larger weight-cuts (~5% of body mass in <24 h) do impair repeat-effort performance. It is unclear if the benefit from competing against a smaller opponent outweighs the observed reduction in physical capacity. Many mechanisms have been proposed for the observed reductions in performance, ranging from reduced glycogen availability to increased perceptions of fatigue.
Athletes undertaking weight-cutting may be able to utilise strategies around glycogen, total body water and electrolyte replenishment to prepare for competition. Despite substantial discussion on managing weight-cutting in combat sports, no clear solution has been offered. Given the prevalence of weight-cutting, it is important to develop a deeper understanding of such practices so appropriate advice can be given.