Fight Doctor Jon Gelber, M.D. (founder of FightMedicine.net) has focused his career around two points; medicine and MMA. Even with the internet, finding the truths of medicine through the abundance of false info can certainly be difficult for someone outside the field of medical occupations. Being a martial arts practitioner, a fight fan, and a doctor has given Dr. Gelber a perspective that very few have. That’s exactly why he stopped by Late Night Cageside to clarify some medical questions concerning MMA and help us separate the facts from the pseudo-science.
“Unfortunately, the sport has grown so fast that the advice hasn’t really grown with it. It’s a relatively young sport, although it’s probably the fastest growing sport in history, but unfortunately people are getting injured more and more, but there’s not enough advice to go around.”
Dr. Gelber also notes the difference between mixed martial arts and other sports such as baseball and football, where there is an off-season and a rather thick crowd of coaches and medical professionals to seek advice from. The same cannot be said for MMA, or at least not yet. Dr. Gelber first elaborated on the topic of TRT (testosterone replacement therapy), a well debated topic in MMA.
“When taking testosterone, the body has a feedback mechanism. Normally the brain sends signals to the testes and they pump out testosterone. That’s sort of the feedback loop, and once you get enough testosterone, it tells them to quit and you’re at a good level. That can change with age. The problem is that when you take steroids or testosterone, your body doesn’t know that it’s not your testosterone. It senses testosterone in the blood stream, so the brain shuts down the signal to produce more testosterone. When you stop taking anabolic steroids or testosterone, if you’ve been taking it long enough, your body will likely not produce it again at that same level because the mechanism has been disrupted.”
While Dr. Gelber says that there is likely no serious or fatal threat to come consequentially, he does verify that TRT, steroids, or any other such thing can bear the threat of damaging one’s testosterone production on a permanent scale. Dr. Gelber goes on to suggest that the benefit reaped by those taking testosterone isn’t really that significant by stating that while there may be strength gains noticeable in activities such as squats or leg presses, those gains are proportional to the strength that one already has. Subsequently, after discussing things that can damage testosterone production, the discussion turns to weight cutting. After what amount of weight do we begin to tread in the danger zone? The doctor suggests that the case isn’t necessarily how much weight is being cut, but how dehydrated is the individual?
“There’s actually a correlation between how much someone is cutting weight to what their hydration status is.”
He discusses the manner in which the NCAA went about preventing unsafe weight cuts by testing hydration status via deducing the gravity of the athletes’ urine and various other methods. An individual’s hydration status is indicative of how much of their lean body mass they can lose. Once that percentage goes past 5%, things begin to get dangerous.
“Usually about 3% is what is recommended as a safe weight cut. When the Canadian wrestlers did a study and looked at all of their guys, the guys who medaled cut about 1 or 2%. So in fact, cutting weight to an extreme is not only bad for your health, but it can hurt you performance.”
Dr. Gelber also emphasizes the importance of a clean and healthy diet in the midst of a weight cut, as the body is under stress. Feeding it garbage during an already intense period is certainly not the best route.
“A nice, controlled weight cut is usually the way to do it. The way you do that is by burning more calories than you consume; that’s step one. So as you’re increasing cardiovascular training and burning more calories, you may want to cut down n the calories, but you want to do that in proportion. Don’t just go to one extreme and not eat, and you don’t want to eat only carbs. People have their own diets that work for them, and there isn’t necessarily one that’s any better than the others. Just as long as they’re healthy and well-rounded, you can pick and choose which ones you want.”
So it appears that in order to proceed with a safe weight cut, one should stay adequately hydrated, create a slow and proportioned calorie deficit, and maintain a clean and healthy diet (and taper it as you advance). With the recent tragedy of Leandro Feijao’s passing while cutting weight in Brazil for Shooto, it is important to educate all of the upcoming generations on proper procedure with such dangerous practices, especially with an instrument as delicate and sensitive as the human body. For more enlightening information concerning the medical properties of MMA, check out more of Dr. Gelber’s fascinating info at Fightmedicine.net.
Listen to the doc’s full interview right here:
(Image: Gabe Ruediger via HeavyMMA)