MMA fighters influenced more by peers on weight loss than doctors

Quality of information given to combat sport participants could be improved, says research

Sources of information in support of rapid weight loss, specifically among mixed martial arts athletes (MMA) and powerlifters, is "a cause for concern", according to research from Dublin City University (DCU).

They found while the practice varied considerably between sports in terms of methods and magnitude, common to both MMA and powerlifting “was that much of the practices were influenced by coaches and fellow athletes, whereas medical and health professionals including dieticians had minimal contributions”.

The research, involving Dr Brendan Egan, David Nolan and John Connor from the School of Health and Human Performance, profiled over 260 athletes engaging in rapid weight loss prior to competing.

Rapid weight loss is frequently carried out in sports that have weight class restrictions, and includes wrestling, judo, boxing, taekwondo, horse riding, rowing, MMA and powerlifting. It generally involves athletes cutting weight in the 48 hours before competition through a variety of means that reduce food contents from the gut and overall body water content through dehydration.


The practices vary between sports, depending on factors such as the time from weigh-in to competition and the historical/cultural practices of the sport.

Fasting periods

Drinking up to 10 litres of water per day in a process known as water loading, lengthy fasting periods, immersion in hot salt water baths, and time in the sauna were some of the most frequent methods employed for rapid weight loss by these athletes.

Dr Brendan Egan said rapid weight loss practices have been around for “a long time in these sports” and as long as there are weight categories “athletes will look to a competitive advantage using these practices”.

“It is important to understand which methods are being used, and how widely they are being used, and in turn understand which individuals are most influential in providing information to athletes about these practices,” he said.

“Clearly there is scope to improve the quality of information provided to athletes across a range of sports, but there is also a lot more research needed on the effectiveness and safety of the methods presently being used”.

The prevalence of rapid weight loss in the sample cohort of MMA athletes was generally greater than 95 per cent while in the sample of powerlifters it stood at 86 per cent.

The prevalence of rapid weight loss in female powerlifters is more than 90 per cent and 83 per cent for their male counterparts.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times