The struggles of ‘making weight’ in sport and why women find it harder than men2 min read
Manipulating body weight, often to extreme lengths, comes with risks, as shown last month when UFC fighter Julija Stoliarenko’s bout with Julia Avila was called off after the Lithuanian twice collapsed at the weigh-in.
“The problem was not my weight cut,” she said afterwards. “I made weight too early. As everybody knows, when you cut weight you cannot be on this weight for too long because you’re already at the limit of your dehydration.”
Stoliarenko pushed her body to its limits and it is a situation judoka Livesey, targeting this summer’s Olympics in the -63kg category, can also relate to, having seen a team-mate break down three years ago with an eating disorder. As a result, she addressed her own crash diet methods.
“It’s not a way to live a life,” she says. “If I didn’t get the help of a nutritionist at the time I did, I don’t think I would be where I am now.”
With athletes facing pressure to make weight in order to compete, it is not surprising to hear stories of individuals tipping the wrong side of healthy – which makes good practice even more crucial.
“I always tell myself that we will weigh in,” British lightweight rower Imogen Grant tells Telegraph Sport. Encouragingly, her approach and that of team-mate Emily Craig, with whom she won silver in the women’s lightweight double scull at the recent European Championships, is clearly drawn from experience, not blind faith.
“It’s about balance,” adds Craig. “It’s working out what works for you. For me, I’ll cut out sugar and that tends to bring my body weight down. Around a racing weekend you go into more actual food weight. Gut-emptying [getting rid of food waste that can include use of laxatives] and cutting fibre.”
In women’s lightweight rowing, the crew average must be 57kg, with no rower over 59kg, although the team policy is to aim for 57kg each. There are “about 10 to 12 days over the season” where they are actually at race weight. A support network – nutritionists to talk through how to fuel properly and psychologists to help with concerns around food – is clearly invaluable if you are part of an elite team.
Unlike most jockeys who will often have to sweat or starve for a ride, Hollie Doyle, at 5ft, actually faced the opposite issue, becoming too lean amid her heavy workload while trying to break into the professional ranks and thus risking a detrimental impact on her riding.