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UFC has banned the use of IV’s to rehydrate after weight cuts

AP

CASUAL fight fans may not be aware, but weight cutting — losing large amounts of weight quickly — is common practice in the UFC.

Take UFC interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor for example.

In the lead up to last weekend’s title bout with Chad Mendes, it was revealed he was well over the 65 kilogram weight required for the fight.

Less than two weeks before the fight McGregor was tipping the scales at 78kg, meaning he had to lose a whopping 13 kilograms to be eligible for the title shot.

And this is nothing new for the UFC, with many fighters forced to drop large amounts of weight to compete.

The process of a weight cut often starts with the fighters altering their diet to be as clean and plain as possible.

By removing sauces, condiments and sodium heavy products, they are able to avoid retaining excess water in their body.

Combining a clean diet with hard training sessions, the fighter will be able to drop weight quickly.

Although, sometimes this is not effective enough and fighters will be forced to reduce their water consumption.

This will see them reduce water intake to less than one litre in the days leading up to the fight, with a complete fast from all food and water coming into effect the evening before the weigh in.

In a number of cases, fighters will also spend time in a sauna 48 hours out from the fight in order to remove any excess water weight from their body.

A prime example of this came during the filming of the Ultimate Fighter season 18 when UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey dropped eight kilograms after spending five hours in a sauna.

Sweating out eight kilograms after spending five hours in a sauna is not healthy.

Sweating out eight kilograms after spending five hours in a sauna is not healthy. Source: AP

But, how do they undergo such extreme weight cuts and appear seemingly unhindered in the octagon?

The answer is IV rehydration.

For a long time, it has been common practice for fighters to use an intravenous saline solution to recover from the extreme dehydration they suffer when cutting radical amounts of weight.

However, following the UFC’s new partnership with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), it has been decided the use of IV’s containing more than 50ml of saline will now be banned.

Since the rule change was announced, there has been a backlash with a number of influential fighters and trainers suggesting the ban will be detrimental to the health of fighters.

Having worked as a weight management and performance nutritionist for the likes of Johny Hendricks, Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort, legendary trainer Mike Dolce is no stranger to weight cuts and he thinks the IV ban will make fighters susceptible to brain injuries.

“Someone would die because of that,” he said on a Periscope Q&A session.

“Let the USADA officials stand there and watch every athlete on a drip, that’s fine.

“I know they’re trying to get rid of drugs, which I think is awesome, but you can’t risk the health of the athlete, it’s just so close-minded. It’s dangerous.”

UFC bantamweight fighter Anthony Birchak was also very vocal on issue saying its highly dangerous because fighters will have less fluid protecting their brain.

“I think it’s f—-ng dumb. A lot of fighters are going to get knocked out,” he said on Periscope.

“They’re going to expect us to go out there and fight and not be fully hydrated to the max. We run a big chance of getting knocked out.”

While there has been a loud uproar about the rule changes, not all are opposing the ban.

Top MMA nutritionist George Lockhart said while most UFC fighters use IV drips to rehydrate after weight cuts, it is not the be-all and end-all.

“I would say about 99% of guys are using IVs. Honestly, I think its 100%, but there are always one or two guys who don’t. But as long as I’ve been in the game, everybody has used an IV,” he told Bloody Elbow.

“But there are a lot of potential downsides to IV rehydration; if you have too much fluids or too many electrolytes you can have some backlash, like diarrhoea among other things.”

Mr Lockhart said while fighters may think the IV is the most effective method to rehydrate, it doesn’t make a huge difference.

“If you look at all of the studies between oral rehydration and IV rehydration, if they rehydrate properly orally, they’ll gain the same weight back,” he said.

“The biggest thing is the psychological effect. That makes a difference more than anything. If they don’t know how to rehydrate properly, then it’s probably better to use the IV.

“But if they know how to rehydrate properly, there’s no advantage to using an IV.”

UFC hall of famer BJ Penn took a far less tactful approach to showing his support for the ban on Twitter.

Following comments made by supporters of the ban, Anthony Birchak hit back saying his biggest grievance was the ban was the fact it had nothing to do with weight cuts.

“It’s not to control fighters cutting too much weight. They’re searching for cheaters, guys who are blood packing, blood doping,” he said.

“The way they check it is plasticides on your urine. Basically, whatever residue is on the inside of the plastic IV bag, drains into the solution, and you p*ss those chemicals out. That’s how they see if you’ve been using an IV.”

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart confirmed the accusation by saying the ban was being introduced to stop fighters using IV’s to perform gene doping or blood transfusions.

“[If] you take someone else’s blood in advance of a bout, it gives you oxygen carrying capacity and recovery capacity, and all sorts of benefits,” he told The MMA Hour.

“You saw it used a lot in cycling.”

Mr Tygart said using a bag containing over 50ml could potentially mask or alter blood tests looking for prohibited substances.

“There were examples in there where athletes would put a bag of saline in their arm when they saw the blood collectors coming,” he said.

“That was really the purpose behind the rule.”

“We’re here to stop those who are intentionally cheating with dangerous and performance enhancing drugs that rob their competitors of their rights under the rules.”

Despite wanting to rid the UFC of IV use, USADA has said it wont be imposing the ban until October giving fighters a three month grace period.