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The Weight of Success: Navigating the Challenges of Making Weight in Boxing

In the world of boxing, making weight is a challenging but crucial part of the sport, where athletes can lose up to 10% of their body weight in the days leading up to weigh-in. While losing those last few pounds can certainly reflect a boxer's dedication, the process can have big impacts on their health and performance. There is a saying in boxing that goes “the bigger they are, the harder they fall”, but just how much damage can the fall do?


Apart from the obvious diet, one of the most common ways boxers make weight is by dehydrating themselves. This not only means cutting back on water but also doing anything that makes them sweat a lot (running in thick clothing, saunas, etc) as well as other strategies such as diuretics, laxatives, etc. The thing is, these strategies not only lead to dehydration, but also to changes in renal function1, brain ventricular volume2, metabolic activity3 and immunoendocrine status4.

 

While this helps drop weight fast, I’m sure you can imagine the kind of repercussions this can have in terms of their quality of physical and cognitive performance. Dr. Narapareddy (MD), a neuropsychiatrist from the research team that recently published a study on boxers and MMA fighters exploring the effects of continuous impact on the brain5, says “They’re losing water weight and almost passing out on the scale in some instances (…) When they’re taking repetitive impact during the fight, you have to wonder the role such dehydration plays.” Well, it is known that dehydration can lead to weakness, blood pressure issues and kidney damage6, 7, but can it lead to more serious consequences for athletes experiencing continuous impact and the occasional concussion?


 

Previous research has suggested that despite rehydration after weigh-in, boxers are often still dehydrated at the time of competition8. In addition to making boxers weaker, slower, and more prone to injuries, it seems dehydration can worsen any brain injuries sustained. In a survey with 132 combat sport fighters, 65% reported their concussion symptoms to be worse, and also last longer when undergoing a weight cut9.

 

Other implications of rapid weight loss include messing up the balance of electrolytes in the body (which can cause muscle cramps and heart issues) as well as losing muscle along with fat, which can negatively affect their strength and power10. But not only the body is affected by this – athletes can experience a lot of stress and anxiety due to the pressure to make weight, as well as mood swings caused by the cutting of calories and water. Cognitive function can also be affected, leading to poor decision-making and slow reaction times11, 12 – a big deal in a sport where quick thinking can make or break a fight.



In conclusion, making weight in boxing is a tough process that needs careful handling to minimise negative effects on a boxer's health. Since cognitive function is one of the crucial ones affected during the process, boxers could really do with following world champion Chris Billam-Smith and taking CONKA to speed up their recovery process as well as protect their brain from any further damage. Learn from the greats.



 

Leticia Hosang, BSc


Leticia is a sports science, sports psychology and neuroscience researcher, previously working with Brunel London University and exploring the effects of exercise on brain activity.


 

References:


1.     Kasper AM, Crighton B, Langan-Evans C, et al. Case study: extreme weight making causes relative energy deficiency, dehydration, and acute kidney injury in a male mixed martial arts athlete. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2019;29:331–338. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/29/3/article-p331.xml

2.     Uddin, N., Waldron, M., Patterson, S. D., Winter, S., & Tallent, J. (2022). A survey of combat athletes' rapid weight loss practices and evaluation of the relationship with concussion symptom recall. Clinical journal of sport medicine32(6), 580-587. https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/fulltext/2022/11000/a_survey_of_combat_athletes__rapid_weight_loss.5.aspx 

3.     Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, et al. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011;32:7 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/hbm.20999

4.     Uddin N, Tallent J, Waldron M. Physiological and perceptual responses to a five-week pre-event taper in professional mixed martial arts athletes. J Sport Exerc Sci. 2020;4:90. https://research.stmarys.ac.uk/id/eprint/4256/

5.     Char Bray, M. J., Tsai, J., Bryant, B., Narapareddy, B., Richey, L. N., Krieg, A. D., ... & Peters, M. (2022). Effect of professional fighters' weight class on regional brain volume, cognition, and other neuropsychiatric outcomes. Neurology98(1_Supplement_1), S10-S10. https://doi.org/10.1212/01.wnl.0000801824.22603.9a 

8.     Jetton, A. M., Lawrence, M. M., Meucci, M., Haines, T. L., Collier, S. R., Morris, D. M., & Utter, A. C. (2013). Dehydration and acute weight gain in mixed martial arts fighters before competition. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research27(5), 1322-1326. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23439336/

9.     Uddin, N., Waldron, M., Patterson, S. D., Winter, S., & Tallent, J. (2022). A survey of combat athletes' rapid weight loss practices and evaluation of the relationship with concussion symptom recall. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine32(6), 580-587. https://journals.lww.com/cjsportsmed/fulltext/2022/11000/a_survey_of_combat_athletes__rapid_weight_loss.5.aspx

10.  Walton, M. & Hoffman, M. (2024). How to Lose Weight Quickly.  https://www.webmd.com/diet/rapid-weight-loss

11.  Hall, C. J., & Lane, A. M. (2001). Effects of rapid weight loss on mood and performance among amateur boxers. British journal of sports medicine35(6), 390-395. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1724425/

12.  Franchini, E., Brito, C. J., & Artioli, G. G. (2012). Weight loss in combat sports: physiological, psychological and performance effects. Journal of the international society of sports nutrition9, 1-6. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-9-52


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