The UFC Performance Institute is recommending fighters stay within 10 percent of their weight class on fight night, per an expansive analysis by the facility released Monday.
In addition, the detailed study states that no more than 1.5 percent of an athlete’s body weight can be lost per week from only body fat, so any drop in weight “should plan to be less severe” in order to lose fat and not muscle. The recommendation is that fighters should be losing no more than two to three pounds per week through their weight descent to get down to their contracted weight.
“It is critical to establish a longitudinal timeline for weight descent to effectively navigate a fighter down to his or her ideal fight weight within an adequate time frame to ensure that weight loss happens gradually and without significant metabolic impact,” the study states.
In many cases, these situations are not typical among fighters, who have far steeper weight cuts. In an interview published Monday on MMA Fighting, UFC fighter Craig White spoke about losing 46 pounds in two weeks to make weight for his fight with Neil Magny at UFC Liverpool last month. White said he weighed 202 pounds on fight night, nearly 19 percent above the 170-pound contracted weight class.
That’s an extreme case, but a significant number still walk into the cage above the 10-percent marker recommended by the UFC Performance Institute. A continuing California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) showed last year that nearly 30 percent of fighters compete at 10 percent or more above the weight class. That number is probably higher for fighters in the UFC, who are competing at the highest level and willing to incur the greatest risk. CSAC has a policy, as part of its 10-point weight-cutting reform plan, that says it can recommend fighters move up a division if they come in above 10 percent of the weight class on fight night.
The UFC guidelines for the last two years have stated that fighters should come into fight week within 8 percent of their contracted weight. The UFC has not released the data on this regarding what percentage of fighters actually meet that guideline.
The UFC Performance Institute study underscores the need for UFC fighters to gradually diet down their weight or risk a crash in metabolism and performance. It emphasizes that fighters cannot take deplete themselves of nutrients and still expect to fight well. The sub headline of the section states: “You can’t diet your way to peak performance.”
“Importantly, moderating the rate of weight loss will help limit exaggerated metabolic disturbance of the energy deficits and allow the fighter to continue to build skill and physiological capacity through fight camp,” the study states. “Some fighters may choose to initiate their weight descent in advance of their fight camp in order to be able to re-balance the nutrition and training during fight camp, thus better enabling a focus on fighting during camp rather than having to emphasize weight loss over performance training.”
Another key aspect mentioned in the analysis is post-fight nutrition. The study states that a poor diet following the weight cut and fight can lead to making a weight cut harder next time and a drop in performance — as well as health issues down the road.
“Not only does this weight ‘cycling’ make achieving the desired weight class more challenging and thus nutritionally more restrictive for each subsequent fight, but it is also responsible for the development of disordered eating behaviors, including binge eating and metabolic disorders later in life,” the analysis states.
Weight-cutting continues to be one of the top issues affecting mixed martial arts. Some regulators believe extreme weight cutting through severe dehydration is the top health risk of MMA athletes. UFC fighters have been rushed to the hospital during their weight cuts due to kidney failure and MMA athletes in other parts of the world have fallen into comas or died.
The study recommends “better fueling strategies” during the weight descent and weight cut, rather than crash diets and severe dehydration.
“Difficult weight cuts at the end of a calorie-restricted fight camp take a toll on a fighter’s body; particularly on their metabolic health,” the study states. “This becomes a critical issue when you consider that a blunted metabolism chronically impairs numerous biological systems and ultimately induces a more extreme weight-rebound. The consequence of this is often presented as more extreme and challenging weight cuts for future fights.”