Hacking the World of Weight-Sensitive Sports

From powerlifting and Olympic-style weightlifting, to mixed-martial arts and judo, to lightweight rowing and horse-racing, weight-sensitive sports are integral part of modern-day athletics. Unfortunately, practices to achieve the athlete’s competition weight have become commonly risky and occasionally even fatal. Despite the prevalence of these practices, wise weight control methods can instead be used in order to keep each of these sports as another exhilarating athletic venture, read ahead to learn how to keep the sports that way!

  1. Use of rapid weight-loss systems aren’t worth the athletic and health decline

RWL (rapid weight loss) is the practice often seen in weight sensitive sports when athletes student-post-2need to quickly shed some pounds to meet their weight requirements, 53-100% of athletes within combat sports reported using RWL methods to make weight2. Instead of allowing time for loss of fat mass, RWL relies on loss of water weight through carbohydrate restriction, use of diuretics, or increasing body temperature to cause sweating – think of saunas on this one! While RWL may help an athlete achieve their desired weight class, its side effects quickly accumulate and can cause an unexpectedly poor performance. Its mental side effects alone include a stunted ability to concentrate, lower levels of self-esteem, and higher levels of depression and isolation. Physiologically, effects include decreased performance both aerobically and anaerobically and an increased risk of injury all the way to extreme consequences such as heart attack or death. Whether your goal is adequate performance or overall health and wellness, RWL does not work in the athlete’s favor.

  1. Ditch the idea that loss of weight equates to loss of performance.

student-post-1As an Olympic-style weightlifting coach, I far too often hear athletes mention how they would expect someone of a greater weight to lift heavier than them. While this can be a familiar situation, it is not always the case. For those of you familiar with weightlifting, how common might it be to see the average male, who weighs 196 pounds1, outlift (or even match) Mattie Rogers, weighing over 40 pounds less and having moved over 296 pounds from the ground to a controlled position overhead4? Not so common. That being said, an athlete’s concerns should be less on contributing results to weight differences and placing greater emphasis on more controllable variables such as: proper sleep patterns, fueling exercise well through sufficient intake, and well-utilized pre- and post-workout nutrition.

  1. Allow time for two big wins on weight reduction.

student-post-3Tapping into the variables discussed in the last point, an athlete can realistically find themselves in a state of weight loss that enables both fat loss and lean body mass (most commonly, muscle) gain3. The greatest “trick” in all of this would be to allow enough time to achieve a weight loss rate of one to two pounds per week, which is where this double win state of weight loss occurs. This means the many athletes who have a ten pound weight cut expected, go ahead and plan for at least five weeks from competition to achieve this weight stress-free! Not only will this type of weight loss allow for greater performance aerobically and anaerobically because of a lesser need to use RWL, it will also enable a mental edge and quickness that might otherwise be lost with RWL.

If you happen to be an athlete needing to drop weight, do yourself and your gains a huge favor and plan ahead in order to avoid rapid weight loss methods!


Written by Idaho State University Dietetic Student,

Katherine Meikle 


  1. Body Measurements. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/body-measurements.htm. Published July 15, 2016. Accessed January 28, 2017.
  2. Franchini E, Brito C, Artioli G. Weight loss in combat sports: physiological, psychological and performance effects. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2012;9(1):52. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-52.
  3. Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of Two Different Weight-Loss Rates 
on Body Composition and Strength 
and Power-Related Performance in Elite Athletes . International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2011:97-104.
  4. Senior American Records. Team USA. http://www.teamusa.org/USA-Weightlifting/Resources/American-Records/Senior. Accessed January 27, 2017.


To contact a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in your area, check out the the Directory for RDN Services.

*Posted by Rachelle Ausman, RDN, LD, CHC (Idaho Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Social Media Chair)
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