Newswise — From starvation diets to sauna suits, athletes in sports like mixed martial arts, wrestling and boxing often to go unhealthy extremes to meet their weight class goals.
A Kansas State University graduate student is showing them that they don't have to.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said numerous times that these methods are not healthy, but people still do it," said Jen Case, a K-State doctoral student in human nutrition. "There's a lot of research that shows that with this group, performing in the lowest weight class possible is the mentality. You can't change it, so let's try to make it safer."
Earlier this year, Case studied active Fort Riley soldiers and Air Force cadets who came to K-State to train in combatives, a sport that combines submission wrestling with elements of kickboxing and mixed martial arts. A typical workout session is two to four hours of intense strength-building exercises and technique drills.
"I wanted to show the guys a way to rapidly lose weight without these hazardous measures, and that's where a high-protein diet comes in," Case said.
She prescribed the soldiers and cadets high-protein diets suited for their desired weight class and encouraged them to eat often.
"So many of them were only eating one meal a day, which for athletes is not good at all, especially if you're trying to lose weight," she said.
Then, Case looked at their performance on tests of running and explosive leg power. She found that the diet didn't negatively affect their performance as did their previous weight loss measures like starvation diets. Moreover, eating more protein helped the athletes increase lean mass rather than losing it.
Because her study was a preliminary one, Case hopes the test will be replicated with a larger sample size. She said this area of research could be useful given the growing popularity of mixed martial arts.
"The more popular the sport becomes, the more people you have wanting to do it," Case said. "These people are cutting weight at every level, and you need some kind of guidelines. You've got to try to get it into these guys' heads that there are better, healthier and safer ways to make weight."
Moreover, Case said this area of research could help people who aren't athletes. Most weight loss research focuses on people who are overweight, obese or sedentary, but she said these findings could help people who are already active and healthy but want to lose weight.