There are many sports that dictate competition is performed within upper and lower boundaries of weight, the major principle for this being to match opponents of similar size, strength, and capability and produce the fairest contest. Examples of such sports include boxing, rowing, wrestling and horse racing (in this case jockeys weight is used as a handicap for the horse), and their rules and regulations are widely accepted. Although many are extremely different, the majority of such sports are individual combat sports, and/or rely on the athlete maintaining an optimal power to weight ratio.
In reality patterns of weight management very among athletes with some choosing to chronically maintain a low body weight, many athletes utilize different weight classifications in order to attempt to gain an advantage over smaller, lighter opponents by competing in a class demanding a lower weight than that with which they are used to training. This has resulted in the evolution of now widely encouraged but extreme practices to rapidly ‘make weight’ centering around aggressive dehydration techniques and energy restriction, the implications and dangers of which are often forgotten in the desire for sporting achievement.
The rules and regulations regarding frequency and timing of necessary weigh-ins differ between the weight-making sports and they have different characteristics influencing the degree to which athletes go to in order to achieve the necessary targets. These sports vary in the number of weight classifications available for example the 14 operating in boxing compared to just 2 within rowing, the environment in which they take place be it indoors or outdoors and the effect this has on humidity, as well as the frequency and intensity of competition and competitive format itself, i.e. is the competition conducted in rounds, heats and finals or a single bout. Patterns of weight management fluctuate between athletes with some choosing to chronically maintain low body weight, while others will lose or ‘make weight’ for the competitive season and re gain this for training in off-season cycles.
Short Term considerations
If an athlete employs decent nutrition and hydration practices, a body weight loss of 2-3% of original well hydrated body mass can be tolerated 2-3 days before compulsory competition weight in. There are various strategies that are commonly utilized to achieve this;
Restricting energy intake
It is common practice among athletes in a variety of sports to undergo a taper period in training (gradual reduction of training volume) in the 7-14 day period prior to competition. Such a reduction in energy expenditure needs to be matched with associated reduction in energy intake to maintain or decrease body mass in the lead up to competition. Creation of a larger daily energy deficit of 5000kJ and above through excessive calorie restriction and/or inclusion of intense training bouts may risk losing lean muscle tissue in addition to body fat leading to negative effects on power to weight ratio and therefore performance. In addition these strategies are more likely to reduce metabolic rate and impair growth and development, especially in younger athletes and also risk nutrient variety risking deficiencies. Lower bone densities have also been recorded in some athletes populations participating in weight category sports, as a result of reduced bone deposition and increased bone resorption a restricted energy intake is conducive to.
Controlling body water content
One if the most frequently used practices amongst weight making athletes is the manipulation of body water content by deliberately inducing fluid loss through sweating either actively or passively, combined with restricting fluid intake. Athletes should aim to induce sweat loss though training typical to their schedule rather than other method. Alternative methods not recommended but frequently employed include the use of saunas ad exercising in excessive clothing to promote high sweat rates, use of laxatives. Many athletes will also mistakenly attribute weight change during a training session from sweat loss, to overall ‘true’ weight loss. They may therefore restrict fluid intake during a training session to exacerbate these results and achieve a greater fluid deficit, and/or not rehydrate fully post session, which will only serve to compromise training performance and risk chronic dehydration. If an athlete’s chooses to decrease body water content to make weight fluid still needs to be taken on board but beverages chosen carefully to be low in salt such as water cordials and juices, to oppose the increased fluid retention associated with higher salt content of some drinks. Additional strategies to enhance this include the consumption of beverages separate to food.
Low Residue Diet
Acute body mass loss of 0.5-1kg can be achieved through the shift of a normal/high fibre diet to a low fibre one. This strategy will only be affective if contrasted to a training diet high in fibre. If this strategy is chosen care must be taken to ensure a sufficient amount of carbohydrate is still consumed to avoid muscle glycogen concentrations and sustain training and subsequent performance.
A low residue diet in practice could look like this:
3 Days Out: Change breakfast
2 Days Out: Change main meals
24 hours Out: Consider meal replacement for lunch with fruit or yogurt and increase snacks
Competition Day: Sports drinks, yoghurt, liquid meal supplements, jam/honey sandwiches
|Low Residue Foods||Foods to Avoid|
|Low-fibre cereal (e.g. corn flakes, rice bubbles)
Over cooked vegetables
Well cooked meats
Clear soup (e.g. chicken broth)
Tomato based pasta sauce
Liquid meal supplements
Nuts and seeds
Crunchy Peanut butter
Whole coconut foods
Juices with pulp
- Homemade pancakes with tinned fruit & yogurt
- Cornflakes with white toast and smooth peanut butter
- 2:1:1 ON or Meal replacement shake
- White pasta & strained sauce with grilled chicken
- Cold white pasta & tinned fish salad
- Clear chicken broth & toast with pulp free juice