Rehydration After Weight Cutting: Water Doesn't Cut It
In weight-classed sports, athletes need to be approximately the same size as their opponents. The idea is to create a situation in which skill and athleticism are the determining factors for victory, not simply greater body size. However, many athletes seek to circumvent the intended purpose of weight classes by cutting weight to have a size advantage. Cutting weight is probably more common in weight-classed sports than not. Researchers recently discussed the effects of consuming one liter of water on a host of weight cutting issues in a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
If you’re new to weight-classed sports, let me explain what weight cutting is. Weight cutting is the acute loss of (mostly) water weight beginning either the morning of weigh-in or sometimes as much as a two days beforehand, depending on the methods used and how much weight to be cut. Preparations for the weight cut may begin a week before the weigh in. A poor weight cutting strategy is to use cutting methods to reduce as much weight as possible. Nevertheless, this is often the method chosen, despite its negative effect on health and performance. The best strategy is to cut a modest amount of weight, and have a robust plan for rehydrating to ensure optimal performance and health.
In this study, the researchers were concerned with the consumption of a liter of water to improve hydration after a bout of weight cutting. While this is important information for coaches and athletes who cut weight, the purpose of the study was even more substantial. Fifteen years ago, the NCAA implemented the Weight Certification Program (WCP) following the death of three wrestlers in 1997 from weight cutting. The WCP establishes a minimum weight a wrestler may be for a season to reduce harmful weight cutting practices. However, many athletes try to cut weight for the WCP as well, in order to get a lower minimum weight.
The WCP accounts for this in part by using urine specific gravity to determine the dehydration status of the wrestlers. Specific gravity is a measure of the percentage of solutes in urine. More solutes means more dehydration. If a wrestler fails this part of the WCP, they have to wait at least 24 hours to retest, in order to give them enough time to rehydrate.
The researchers wanted to know the effects of immediate consumption of one liter of water on athletes who tested one hour after weigh in. The athletes only lost a little over four pounds, which was not a huge amount considering the average wrestler tested was 170lbs. However, this amount was almost enough for them to fail the WCP test for dehydration. One hour after consuming one liter of water, their hydration status actually worsened on average, giving them a failing score.
This study suggests acute rehydration is generally ineffective at producing a hydrated status when limited to one liter of water. For those seeking the healthiest possible methods for weight cutting, this is important to keep in mind. For those who failed a WCP, the results of this study should be an eye opener to the health consequences of cheating the system and attempting to reduce your minimum weight for a season.
1. Paul Cutrufello, et. al., “The effect of acute fluid consumption following exercise-induced fluid loss on hydration status, percent body fat, and minimum wrestling weight in wrestlers,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000339
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