Combat sports: How to lose weight without damaging your health

Jordan Coe

A Scottish Muay Thai boxer has died in Thailand, with fears he was trying to lose weight before a fight.

Jordan Coe, 20, is reported to have been found dead in a heavy tracksuit, hours before he was scheduled to fight on Sunday.

Training in heavy clothing to lose weight through sweat can be extremely dangerous.

Newsbeat has been speaking to people within combat sports to find out the scale of the problem.

Is this type of thing common?

Jordan Coe in a fight with another Muay Thai boxer
Image caption Jordan Coe moved to Thailand three years ago

"I've been in this sport for 30 years and it's the first time something like that has happened," says Richard Smith, founder and head trainer of Muay Thai boxing gym Bad Company.

But while deaths like this may be rare, the practice of combat sportspeople dehydrating themselves is still common, according to people within the sport.

"Over the 24 hours or so before a weigh-in, it is common for [fighters] to dehydrate slightly to cut their weight a bit," he explains.

"But anything more than a couple of percent of your body weight is dangerous and ill-advised."

Antoine Pinto of France and Charlie Guest of England fighting during a Muay Thai event in Thailand
Image caption Fluid restriction is on the rise, according to Freddy Brown

By losing water, a fighter can qualify in a lower weight category while putting on as much muscle as possible.

Richard adds: "In the last 5-10 years, trainers have become a lot more educated on how to lose weight and how to do it safely."

However, many "old school" coaches still recommend reducing the amount of water you drink and training in heavy clothing, according to Freddy Brown, ex-boxer and author of Nutrition for Combat Sports.

"In some ways, the increasing popularity of combat sports has actually spread bad practices, with the fluid restriction practices used by high-school wrestlers now becoming more common in MMA [mixed martial arts], boxing and Muay Thai," he says.

What are the dangers of dehydration?

Michael Badato punches Jason Scerri during the Cage Muay Thai 8 bout
Image caption Blows to the head can be even more dangerous to a dehydrated boxer

"Dehydration is dangerous on a number of levels for a combat athlete," says Freddy, who is also a nutritionist with the English Institute of Sport.

"Becoming dehydrated impairs the body's ability to regulate temperature," he says, which can lead to heatstroke.

It is being claimed that this was a key factor in Jordan Coe's death.

"Being dehydrated makes being hit more likely, as reaction time and cognitive function are impaired," says Brown.

"If you lose fluid from around the body then you lose it from around the brain," adds Richard Smith, "so if you get punched in the head you're increasing the risk of brain damage."

How can you lose weight healthily?

Ricky Hatton
Image caption Ricky Hatton was known for gaining and losing large amounts of weight in between fights - but this kind of practice is dangerous

"Ballooning up and then getting lean for the fight is not a healthy lifestyle," says Smith.

"I tell anyone who comes into my gym that bingeing is not a way to lead a healthy life."

Freddy Brown says that fighters should "monitor their portion sizes and reduce energy from fat and carbohydrate to a level that permits weight loss of 0.5 kilos a week".

He adds that your diet should be specific to your training regime and that "protein requirements also increase throughout weight loss".

His main advice for combat sportspeople preparing for a fight is to "start early, go slowly, weigh daily and don't follow any restrictive diets".

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