The impacts of 'weight-cutting' in combat sports are being put under the microscope by Charles Sturt University Port Macquarie PhD student Grant Brechney.
The CSU research study by Mr Brechney, a current Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter, seeks to understand the benefits or detriments of weight-cutting and intentional dehydration in sport.
"After you weigh in to compete in a match there's an opportunity for you to recover any body mass that you've rapidly reduced beforehand so that you're heavier than the class you've qualified for," said Mr Brechney, who has previously won two title fights in the Australian MMA.
"You can then re-hydate in the 24 hour period and hope to enter the cage at your original weight before weight-cutting.
"As I started competing in that arena myself in Western Sydney, Lithgow and Canberra I became familiar with the process of weight-cutting in order to qualify for a lower weight class.
"I really thought there was something quite substantial happening because when you experience that process it's absolutely grueling, both physically and mentally.
"It's extremely difficult to do and fighters often refer to it as 'the fight before the fight'. From a scientific perspective it's a severe dehydration of yourself before weigh in."
Fifteen male combat sport volunteers will be recorded for performance and health before and after 'weight-cutting' during the study.
The research project is led by Mr Brechney and supervised by researchers at the Charles Sturt School of Exercise Science, Sport and Health in Munster Street.
Project participants will complete a range of activities to simulate weight-cutting before being recorded in strength performance tasks such as jumping and gripping.
"In one trial participants will reduce their body mass by five per cent by completing light intensity exercise wearing a sweatsuit in a controlled climate chamber that exposes them to heat and humidity," he said.
"During the other trial participants will still complete the light intensity exercise in the climate chamber, but will maintain their normal body mass.
"Further testing including blood and hydration testing, will take place after each trial."
Research findings will be relevant to multiple sports which currently use the practice such as in martial arts, wrestling, weight-lifting and jockeys in horse racing.
Mr Brechney said he hopes it will contribute to change in promoting athlete health and safety as well as optimise performance.
"Being an MMA athlete I understand that fighters are not particularly concerned with their health. They are there for the glory and the fight sometimes to the detriment of that health," he said.
"I do know that they are absolutely obsessed with their performance and they want to be at peak performance all the time at the highest levels.
"If we determine that weight-cutting doesn't have an advantage in terms of performance we hope that it may convince coaches and athletes from engaging in these systems because they have been shown to have quite detrimental health effects.
"There has been research done that weight-cutting can really compromise immune system functioning, detrimental effects for growth in youth and compromising of red blood cells."
The research project is currently in a pilot testing stage at facilities in Port Macquarie and Bathurst.
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