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Fitness watch: MMA, combat sports illustrate the dangers of extreme weight cutting


The sight is well known to all fans of mixed martial arts (MMA). A fighter walks onto a stage on a Friday evening, waving to the cheering crowd before stepping onto a scale. The fighter waits nervously for a few moments as an official checks their weight to see if they’ve qualified for their chosen weight division.

Weigh-ins happen the day before every MMA fight. They’re designed to ensure both competitors are the same size, theoretically making a fair contest. Importantly, this is the only time a fighter’s weight is checked by organisers – meaning they only need to be “on weight” for those few seconds. But in order to make sure they qualify for the weight division they’re competing in, MMA competitors will spend weeks drastically reducing their body weight in a process called “weight cutting”.

Weight cutting generally happens in two stages: chronic weight loss (eating less and training more often for several weeks before the weigh-in), and rapid weight loss (taking extreme measures to lose even more weight in the days before weigh-in – such as through eating less or fasting and through dehydration.

After the weigh-in the race is on to regain as much lost weight as possible in the 24 hours before the…

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