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The first ever IMMAF Thought Leadership panel event on April 19, which covered the topic of Athlete Weight Management in Sport, was engaging enough that many audience questions which could not be answered live. 

IMMAF is happy to now share these questions, and answers from panel speaker Clint Wattenberg, who is Director of Performance Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas.

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Clint Wattenberg, Director of Performance Nutrition UFC Performance Institute

In addition to the Q/A we are also glad to provide supporting information documents from the UFC Performance Institute which can be accessed here:

UFC PI – Fight Week Meal Plan – Lightweight Template – Mon-Tues
UFC PI – Fight Week Meal Plan – Lightweight Template – Weds
UFC PI – Fight Week Meal Plan – Lightweight Template – Thurs
UFC PI – Rehydration Protocol – Lightweight Sample Plan
UFC PI – Journal

To maintain the momentum of the successful panel events, an Athlete Weight Management Task Force to develop recommendations for IMMAF for the improvement of athlete safety in weight management for competition: 

  • Dr. Mike LoosemoreCommonwealth Games Chief Medical Officer, Team England boxing doctor, former AIBA Medical Commission member, Safe MMA
  • Clint Wattenberg – Director of Nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute
  • Ben Crighton – PhD student at Liverpool John Moores University researching the effects of weight management on performance and health in sport.
  • Chris Kirk Lecturer of Sport and Exercise Physiology at Sheffield Hallam University; PhD student at Liverpool John Moores University, researching the development of a performance coaching framework for MMA

IMMAF President Kerrith Brown said: “IMMAF is delighted with the impact of our first Thought Leadership initiative, and we want the education and policy development around this topic to be on-going. This new task force will commence work after the Olympics when the terms of reference and scope of work are finalised, and I would like to express my thanks to the task force volunteers for their support and contribution to this really important subject.”

IMMAF ATHLETE WEIGHT MANAGEMENT PANEL:

OUTSTANDING AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

General Questions

  1. Can we have a link to Pre game meals, super food and rehydration drinks pre event for MMA Atheletes?

See documents below:

UFC PI – Fight Week Meal Plan – Lightweight Template – Mon-Tues
UFC PI – Fight Week Meal Plan – Lightweight Template – Weds
UFC PI – Fight Week Meal Plan – Lightweight Template – Thurs
UFC PI – Rehydration Protocol – Lightweight Sample Plan
UFC PI – Journal

  1. Should a woman athlete compete in a fight if they possess signs of RED-s within the early stages (first 4 weeks) of a 12-week camp? If so, what are the recommendations to help reduce this from occurring?

There are many factors that must go into a decision to continue or discontinue weight descent/fight preparation.  Magnitude of weight descent required, overtraining status and symptoms, etc.  Also critical consideration is the role of the practitioner in relation to the athlete- private practice providers can make recommendations and walk away if an athlete chooses not to follow advice.  If working in a team setting, you may have more leverage but it can remain a complicated calculus.  Here at the UFC PI we are effectively consultants and athlete can follow-through as they like.

Even if it is not appropriate to push an athlete to pull out of a fight for metabolic health reasons (i.e. RED-s) discussing the impact of low energy availability (LEA) on overtraining, injury, illness, mood/mental health, performance and overall health is appropriate in order to compel better fuelling tactics.  

  1. How do you see the culture surrounding weight cuts changing over the next 10 years within both combat and other sports?

I am hopeful that the “arms race” of weight cutting cool significantly, leading to weight making becoming just another part of the training and fight preparation process; this would allow athletes to be as well prepared for their fights without having to push the limits of how much weight they can lose and regain before the fight.  This change requires personalized nutrition and weight management along with a significant culture change in weight cutting… and would likely also require policy changes to further solidify the changes.  

  1. In the bodybuilding culture there is a common tactic of using creatine the 2 last days before competition in order to retain more fluid and especially intracellularly. Is this tactic common in MMA as well? Or do you think that it makes sense?

Creatine 48hrs before the fight would of course be mid-weight cut… so holding water intracellularly would be inadvisable.  

Creatine use in the post-weigh-in rehydration phase is used by some athletes and practitioners in order to facilitate intracellular rehydration.  We (UFC PI Nutrition) do not use this practice on a widescale basis as we have a “do-no-harm” responsibility with our athletes and the strain of more extreme dehydration behaviors have the potential to impair kidney function, so we do not want to add additional strain to the kidneys.  If working with an athlete (s) whom are known to not be pushing their body’s dehydration capacity then this tactic would be advisable… and creatine has a host of performance and brain health benefits so would be advantageous to utilize.  

  1. Wouldn’t it be preferrable for athlete safety and competition integrity that weight-cutting as a (generalized) practice disappear? Would it be possible and/or desired? How is the matter of weight-cutting regarding IMMAF and IMMAF competitions?

I believe that the hypothetical scenario of no-weight cutting would be fantastic, however the instant weight classes are used in attempt to create competitive parity, athletes will work to gain competitive advantage (or reduce a disadvantage as I discussed on the panel).  In my opinion weigh in policy / regulations that reduce recovery time is (by far) the most effective mechanism of cutting down on the magnitude of weight cutting as most other measures are addressing symptoms of weight cutting and become a micromanagement of a macro problem.  Unfortunately, in professional combat sports adequate time to promote the fights between weigh-ins and competition is required, thus limiting the opportunity of having weigh-ins and competition in close proximity.  Solutions to the weight cutting conundrum will require more creative solutions to de-incentivize weight cutting.  

  1. Does MMA need to add more weight categories

Adding weights represents a perfect example of implementing a policy / regulatory change without addressing the underlying culture that leads to the abuse of the regulations.  If more weights were added athletes would simply cut more weight as it would that much easier to drop down a weight division.  Policy/regulatory change and culture change must go hand-in-hand in order to be effective.  In this case, added weights combined with some policy to reduce incentives for weight cutting (i.e. move weigh-ins closer to competition, etc.) combined with education and systemic support of athletes / coaches making the transition would be ideal. 

  1. Clint said younger athletes/fighters, one of the most important things is ring-time and skill acquisition, is the management of weight a skill that should be developed, or would it be safer for athletes to be regulated against weight cutting by means of hydration tests? (Such as in One FC)

Yes – I believe that policies and culture should work to limit/eliminate/stigmatize weight cutting in youth (~14U).  Each step up in age/competitiveness will be accompanied by an increase in weight cutting pressure and focus.  Junior and University level athletes will definitely be exposed to some level of weight management / weight cutting in which case policies such as done in ONE FC, NCAA wrestling and high school wrestling in the US to limit weight cutting based upon the age of athletes.  I would like to see weight cutting further limited based on competitive status as well (less cutting for less competitive/experienced athletes) although that is hard to regulate / stratify as intended. 

  1. During the week of the fight what percentage of weight are we looking for our athletes to cut? Less than 10%?

For UFC Athletes we recommend that they lose no more than 8% of the body mass during fight week and compete no more than 10%. This of course reduces for athletes with less recovery time and for those at lower age and competitive levels. 

As an example, for NCAA wrestling (university aged) with weigh-ins 1-hour before competition my recommendation is 3-5% weight cut. 

Specific questions for Clint:

  1. Clint you talked a little about nutrition. In the last week before the fight what do you recommend in amounts of carbohydrates and proteins percentage, wise to keep the athlete strong, and healthy.

Nutrition during the final days/week prior to weigh-ins and competition shifts dramatically from the “training camp” phase of preparation.  The final days are about eliminating non-essential body mass from 3 main compartments – gut/fiber, glycogen and salt/fluids.  This is done by utilizing a very low carbohydrate, low residue and low sodium fuelling pattern for 2-3 days prior to weigh-ins in order to temporarily shift mass off the body for weight making.  The constituents can then be repleted (with a priority on salt/fluid and carbs/glycogen) to prepare for competition. Objectively, the composition of fight week feeding looks a lot like keto with salt restriction… but we are diligent to avoid dogma and use feeding tactics in order to support the body in specific goals rather than being trapped in the dogma of a nutrition cult.

MUCH more about this will be covered in depth in the upcoming UFC PI Journal #2.

  1. The UFCPI has specific ongoing physiological measures to monitor performance and recovery. For Clint… has there been consideration for identifying ‘readiness’ and optimal recovery to define how much of a short term cut is manageable without adverse physiologic influence?

Absolutely, this is 100% in line with what we are working towards.  There are obviously many components that contribute to weight-making readiness that includes body mass, body composition, metabolic health, recovery status, etc.  We are also collecting extensive weight and fuelling status data from our athlete engagement during fight week that we use to fine-tune our understanding, practices and risk assessment process.

We discuss this in many chapters of the upcoming (free) UFC PI Journal #2 but we are continually working toward better understanding fighter preparedness for weight making (in addition of course to in-cage performance). 

  1. Question for Clint. In your experience at UFC PI what have you observed as the ideal fat percentage for MMA athletes before camp and during camp for optimum performance. Is fat percentage related to performance?

Body composition, and BF% specifically, is a really individualized metric in terms of what is ideal.  Some athletes may function well at or near the bottom of the minimum range of essential body fat for their gender (males – 5-10%, females 12-20%) while my experience is that most UFC athletes may compete near the middle lower end of these ranges but cannot tolerate and recover from the training loads / demands when at lower ends of these ranges and thus must periodize their body composition somewhat in order to withstand the rigors of training camp while also competing at their optimal body composition.  Thus, it is not my / our recommendation for combat athletes to walk around at their competition weight year round but rather to periodize their body mass and composition. How much this weight fluctuates should be determined by the sport / competition’s weigh-in regulations, how long the time to prepare for the competition is, regularity of competition (periodic as is MMA or regular like a traditional sport season) and individual variations.  

Also, for all athletes but especially non-elite professional athletes, there can be serious risk with overly prioritizing body composition (as there is with incentivizing weight management and weight cutting with younger athletes) as it can drive an unhealthy preoccupation with body shape and size and food that can drive body dissatisfaction and eating disordered thoughts and behaviours. 

  1. Do you perhaps have a document that covers much of what you’ve mentioned here already that you implement with your athletes?”

In the document link, I am providing some materials for reference and hope that some of my other answers provide some context. The UFC PI Journal #2 will be an unbelievable and unmatched resource. Journal #1 as well as my eBook Performance Nutrition for Wrestlers are also great resources.



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