Dehydration brought on by rapid extreme weight cut practices has led to well documented injuries and death in combat sports. Despite this combat sport athletes continue these practices under the impression that they lead to competitive advantage. A recent study was published unfortunately bolstering these beliefs finding that the advantage of competing in a lower weight class may balance out any decrease in strength and explosiveness caused by dehydration.
The recent study, titled “Muscle Contraction Velocity, Strength and Power Output Changes Following Different Degrees of Hypohydration in Competitive Olympic Combat Sports“, which was published this month in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, followed 163 combat sports athletes during the 2013 senior Spanish National Championships.
The Athletes all competed in Olympic combat sports (Boxing, Wrestling or Tae Kwon Do).
The Study revealed that 84% of the athletes were dehydrated at weigh ins (42% severely dehydrated), and while these athletes rehydrated following weigh ins they did not reach euhydration levels by the time of competition.
63% of the Athletes rehydrated to the point of competing in a full weight class higher than that for which they made weight.
The study had the athletes undergo various muscle strength and power output exercises both at weigh ins and following rehydration for competition. The dehydrated athletes had reduced neuromuscular performance but these muscle function losses were partly regained with rehydration by the time of competition.
The study went on to find that the medal winners ranked among the most dehydrated at weigh ins leading the authors to conclude that “Perhaps, the advantage of competing in a weight category below the athlete’s habitual weight, balances the negative effects of competing somewhat hypohydrated.”
Given that athletes are sometimes more motivated by results over safety, this study emphasizes the ongoing need for Athletic Commissions and other combat sports regulatory bodies to remain ever vigilant about the dangers of rapid extreme weight cuts and to ensure that sensible practices are in place to protect overzealous athletes from themselves.