In Muay Thai competitions, weight cuts are fundamental and in some cases provide the fighter a great advantage in facing their rivals. However, there are many cases that end up in tragedy. This because, in most cases the side effects of frequent and drastic weight cuts are still not deeply understood.
Before entering muddy soil, let’s make clear that if your a fighter that is normally 2-3 kg over their fight weight, and cuts those extra pounds with a few weeks of controlled diet and reducing fluids intake the last few days, generally you should not have any problems.
Yet I saw very extreme cases of people who spend days and days dehydrated and that lose 10 or 12 kg in a couple of weeks. I think all of us have heard about relatively recent of athletes who died after collapsing because weight cutting.
This is a problem, high level competitive sport is not healthy but there are ways to things with more sense and expone ourselves to less risks. In this article we will discuss the most common ways of cutting weight and explain the differences between how weight cuts are done in Thailand compared to foreigner.
Outside Thailand: diet and fluids
The most usual way of cutting weight is through a several weeks of diet, reducing calories and controlling your nutrients intake to try and lose fat and not muscle mass. Thereafter, during the few days before weigh-in, normally the intake of carbohydrates and salt (sodium) is reduced, alongside a controlled intake of liquids to “dry out” the body and lose the last kilograms of water. Helping out this process with the use of sauna suits, salt baths or classic saunas. In this last part is the most dangerous and where the majority of problems can occur.
Surely, no athlete would encounter any serious health problems in reducing carbohydrates and salt for a few days, especially if proteins, vegetables and the few fats that come with it are still consumed. This reduction of carbohydrates is done because, sugar in our body is stored as glycogen, and quite a lot of water is used to create glycogen. Roughly 3 to 4 parts of water for 1 part of sugar, therefore, if we reduce sugar in our diet we automatically reduce water in our body. The same goes for salt, our body always tries to balance the amount of water and sodium so the more salt we take in the more water will be kept in by our body. Obviously, this works in the opposite way too: the less salt we take in the less amount of water will be needed.
Therefore, if the consumption of water is maintained as normal and the carbohydrates and salt are removed from our diet, a notable amount of water would be successfully removed from our body. The problem shows up when we are still far from our fight weight and we have sweat to lose extra water. If you have ever sweated for a weigh-in you would know that it’s not just about sweating 2 liters (kg) of water, weigh-in and drink it back in. If it was like this there would now be much problems. The thing is that it takes days to sweat 2, 3 or 5 liters of water out. Firstly, because our body is not capable of losing water so fast without suffering greatly, and secondly, because you wouldn’t want to run for 3 hours one day before a fight.
Before getting into the understanding of the problem let’s see how they do it in Thailand and why it is harder for us.
Weight cutting in Thailand: sweating and not eating
Thailand is a hot and humid country, where if you breathe a little harder you will break a sweat and its main food, sometimes the only one, is rice. This will help us to understand the Thai style of cutting weight.
In Thailand they train very hard until 3-4 days before the fight, and then they stop training and start cutting weight. Normally they don’t follow a diet, they eat what ever they are offered at their training camp without looking if they are consuming carbs, proteins, fats or let alone salt (or sugar). A few days before the fight they start to cut weight, this means they just focus on jogging (two times per day) during the hottest times of the day, wearing a sweat suit (a full body suit made of thick plastic). After sweating it out they will progressively recude the amount of food and water intake until weigh-in (which normally happens early morning on fight day).
Basically, they dehydrate themselves for days. They eat less food but they don’t cut on rice. That’s something they don’t comprehend as it’s the main part of all their meals from since the day they are born. This is a quite aggressive ad risky behavior, and that’s when cases of death have occurred, but after all, Thais know how much weight they can cut without risking their life. They have been doing it for many years, and normally they would let a fighter cut more than his body can handle. Even if we still see cases of fighters who cut a lot of weight and end up not being at their best during the fight.
So where is the problem?
When cutting too much weight
Now you are probably thinking “what is the difference between the risks of cutting weight thai style or western style?”. Well, the more weight there is to cut the more risks are faced. We need to understand that Thais, who are mostly professional fighters, are always in shape and their body weight is stable. When they get close to their fight they cut weight, than they get it back for the fight; after the fight they rest and get back into training on their normal weight (or maybe 1 or 2 kg heavier).
For the foreign fighters it’s different, many times they walk around much heavier than they should, so they need to start losing weight much earlier and often with aggressive and uncontrolled diets. The last few days, the calories intake is already really now, and on top of that they have to sweat the last few kilos to get to their fight weight. This is sum of “violence” to the body becomes more dangerous as the body is in agony for a few weeks before the fight, and not only the last 3 days before the fight (like it happens in the thai style weight cuts). Then, after the fight they would take a long period of rest and stay inactive, together with the rebound effect of the diet, they will get back to being over weight and will eventually be forced to repeat the process.
Here the the sad news of the young fighter who passed away after a drastic weight cut, which was most popular news but unfortunately was not the only one.
When we have work or other things to do
Even if the Thais use a very aggressive style of weight cutting, it’s only for a few days. Furthermore, the routine of thai fighters during their weight cut consists strictly only on cutting weight. Basically, the fighter wakes up at 9 am, when the sun is nice and hot, and goes for a jog with the sweat suit, after than they would and drink something and go back to sleep or just play around on their phone until 4.00 in the afternoon when they repeat this process before having dinner and sleep.
Now think like if it was yourself, starting to sweat on Wednesday (if the weigh-in is on Friday), and than going to work or study or whatever else, with little food in your body and not drinking much water, and then in the afternoon again going to the sauna before bed, then repeating the process, which gets harder every time until weighing in on Friday after work. The punishment for your body is much greater because of the fact that most foreigners are not just fighters but have other responsibility and things to get done which need our body and a BRAIN, therefore with energy, water and well rest.
For the way of training we have and our daily routine, we cannot cut weight in the same way as fighters in Thailand. We have to adapt our trainings, diets and weight cuts to our life style and our responsibility. I couldn’t imagine a father going to pick up his daughter from school on Friday, all dehydrated without being able to stand up properly.
Sign up for a weight class that you can get to without doing crazy things, in which you are light but strong.
Don’t just start dieting the last week, looks like trend now to see who can lose the most weight in the least time but this can end in tragedy.
CONTACT THE DOCTOR IF YOU HAVE ANY DOUBTS
After fight, treat yourself a little bit but stay active and make sure you don’t bounce back to being over weight.
It’s recommended to cut a maximum of 5% of our body weight, but discuss it with a doctor anyway.
Do not maltreat your body for amateur or non-important fights, at that level it’s important to gain experience and not to win everything.
Learn to know and listen to your body, the other’s examples are not always right for us. If you need to call the promoter to put up the fight weight a little bit, do it.
It’s important to cut weight properly, and it’s fundamental to recuperate well with water, salt and especially carbohydrates before the fight. Many fail in this aspect and soon I hope to dedicate another piece to discuss on how to recuperate well after your weigh in. Let me know if you are interested in the topic. Until then, all doubts and comments ar welcome. Share if you were this was of your interest, it is the best way of appreciating it! Thanks for your time and I hope to have been of help.