If you’ve never competed in a weight-class restricted sport, it’s hard to fathom the phenomena of the weight cut. Imagine yourself being deprived of food and water, sitting in a sauna, wiping sweat off of your body with a credit card to coax more perspiration your pores; this is the reality of many a fighter before weigh ins take place. Cutting weight is a grueling task, and although there are many methods to this madness, the process has inherent health risks that are potentially deadly.
In September 2013, a Brazilian mixed martial artist named Leandro “Feijao” Souza died from a stroke only hours before official weigh-ins for his flyweight bout at Shooto Brazil 43. He had taken the fight on short notice, and his death proved to be the result of a diuretic called Lasix, one which “Feijao” reportedly used attempting to cut 33 pounds in a week. Souza may not have been a world renowned fighter, but his death certainly impacted the MMA community. When interviewed on the topic, Dana White said “Where you see the dangerous situations are the guys that take last-minute fights and have to lose a ton of weight, it’s never good. In the UFC, these guys have plenty of time. They know when they have to fight. They know the time they have. They diet and do the proper nutrition to get down the right way. When they get closer (to weigh-ins), they cut a few pounds. That’s the healthy, normal way to do it.”
Products like diuretics and thermogenic fat burners are frequently abused in MMA weight cuts, the death of Leandro Souza is prime example of the potential consequences of a fighter exceeding the recommended dosage of a substance in an attempt to make weight. Even without help from water pills or fat burners, substantial weight cuts can be detrimental to a fighter’s health, which is why many pay a nutritionist like Mike Dolce to manage their diet and weight cut. When asked about his approach, Dolce said “The art of cutting weight is a matter of peaking. It’s a very scientific process but in general, I try to bring a healthy and practical approach. So many fighters look dreadful on the scales because they’re so dehydrated. Unlike some others, my fighters stay hydrated throughout the entire process of cutting. The day of the weigh-in is never going to be easy, no matter what. However, the day before the weigh-in, the fighter should be fine.”
While higher level fighters may have the luxury of paying a nutritionist, it’s certainly not as practical for fighters in the lower echelons, in which primitive weight cutting methods run rampant. Some of these mixed martial artists take great care of themselves, but there is a large population who either don’t know how to diet properly or simply lack professionalism. A Butterfinger candy bar may seem more appetizing than a bowl of broccoli, but your body will certainly thank you for the nutrients. Eating healthy is not the sorcery it’s made out to be, it’s making conscious decisions about what you’re fueling your body with, and as an athlete that should be a priority!
I’ve had my fair share of painful weight cuts, but by looking back on what had caused issues in the past it was easy to see how I had shot myself in the foot. Armed with more knowledge of how to fuel my body for success, I’ve made significant changes in my diet that have shown great improvement in my health. Some things like juicing your own vegetables, eating only grass-fed organic beef and chicken, and eliminating processed foods from your diet may seem a little extreme, but are 100% worth it in my mind.
In the end, it’s a lifestyle choice that can ultimately make or break your success. In a perfect world, fighters would diet like they’re cutting weight regardless of if they have an upcoming bout. That’s a far cry from the way things are, but those who do are the cream that rise to the top.