Muay Thai fighters weight cut, Shanice Desilva
Gut health for fighter weight cuts / Shanice Desilva

The ProLeague – Blog

Cutting weight is an unavoidable element of a fighter’s journey, however it does not need to be a time of struggle. At some point during a fighter’s professional or amateur career, a weight cut will be required in order to compete within a specific weight class. Recently I conducted a survey, finding that 83% of the fighters involved in this survey experience uncomfortable indigestive issues such as bloating or constipation.

These symptoms can cause a certain amount of emotional stress on a fighter, which isn’t ideal when preparing for optimal performance. In some case’s extreme bloating, digestive issues or unhandled emotional stress can severely alter the outcome of competition for an individual.

The enteric nervous system

The body’s Enteric Nervous System is responsible for connecting the gut and digestive tract to the central brain. This nervous system consists of an array of neurotransmitters which alter the condition of the gut according to the level of stress detected within the brain. This means that the gut is directly affected according to the mood and condition of an athlete’s emotions or mindset.

When the body is frightened or strained (whether physically or emotionally), the central brain detects the stress and as a response will release stress hormones. The body alters its status from homeostasis (the Parasympathetic Nervous System – a balanced and restful state) to a state of ‘fight or flight’ (Sympathetic Nervous System). When this occurs, our body simply prioritizes pumping adrenaline throughout the body so that energy is readily available for the muscles to ‘fight or run’. Cortisol (a stress hormone) is elevated as a result, which can in turn cause inflammation, fluid retention and digestive issues (among sleep deprivation and immunity problems also).

The way with which an athlete manages their mental/emotional state is what determines how the body responds, and to what extent it reacts. In the process of the body releasing stress hormones to combat the threat which it feels, the digestive tract, immune system and gut temporarily slow or shut down.

It is important to manage stress diligently when trying to cut weight, which is essentially another stressor to the body. Self-development, sports psychology, meditation, floating pod’s, yoga and Pilates can drastically improve the fighter’s performance come fight time. All elements of an athlete’s lifestyle must be evaluated for the best possible outcome.

Symptom relief during weight cuts

To improve Uncomfortable Digestive Issues however, during the course of a weight-cut, try the following:

Consider Digestive Enzymes before each meal. These come in either tablet or capsule form and can drastically improve the absorption of fats, proteins and carbohydrates to relieve digestive disorders. Suggestion: 250ml of warm water with 1-2 Digestive Enzymes (capsules highly recommended) taken 30-60 minutes prior to eating.

Monitoring Fibre Intake: dense, fibrous foods such as brown rice or sweet potato can cause discomfort particularly when calories are moderately deficient or water intake is reduced (for the weight cut). Try consuming foods which contain Vitamin K, Vitamin C, Folic acid, Potassium and Magnesium. You can find these in: broccoli, asparagus, spinach, bananas, avocados, mushrooms, dried apricots, salmon, white beans, butternut squash or watermelon.

Herbal Tea: Dandelion Root Tea (for water retention), Green Tea or Matcha Green Tea (a mild dose of caffeine with detoxifying effects), Senna Tea (reduces inflammation, detoxifies gut from potential parasites, relieves constipation). *You should beware these teas are caffeinated and/or classed as Diuretic’s, meaning they are herbal laxative’s. Dependency on these teas should be monitored and minimalised, the consumer should only resort to using these teas in cases of discomfort. It is usually advised not to consume these tea’s for more than 5 consecutive days. Recommended: Drink in the morning or throughout the day (avoid consuming within three hours of bed-time due to the caffeine content). It is best to brew your own tea, to do this you would need to buy the tea in powder or leaf form from your local Health Food Store or Weigh and Pay.

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Shanice Desilva
Shanice Desilva is a writer and personal trainer from Perth, Western Australia. She specializes in training developing athletes for competition in various sports, including combat sports. She also trains in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Perth, and has done for 6 years. Desilva is a regular contributor to FIGHTMAG, where she writes the ProLeague blog.

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