Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Secrets of Bodyweight Manipulation, Part Two - J.M. Blakley

Secrets of Bodyweight Manipulation, Part Two
by J.M. Blakley

Cutting Weight

Cutting weight is not dieting. It has nothing to do with dieting. It has to do with the weight. The idea is to maintain one's bodyweight just over the class limit all through training. Then through as series of drastic manipulations in water, food, and thermoregulation, drop the excess pounds prior the weigh in. Once having weighed in, the process is reversed and a phase of reconstitution ensues. This begins the moment the athlete the athlete steps off the scale. It continues right up to the competitive event. If an athlete is well versed in the process, it is very likely that they will enjoy a "rebound". This is to say that they may cut 11 pounds but with sufficient reconstitution actually gain back 13 or 14! By the time for the actual event they may out-weigh their competition by almost 15 pounds! Even a modest effort will return 90% of what is lost by cutting. Still quite an advantage! But, of course all athletes don't always meet with this kind of success and that is solely due to lack of knowledge. And then, too, there are the horror stories of the foolhardy among us.

The sport of powerlifting has a built in promotion for cutting weight. Almost all the big federations recognize a 24 hour weigh-in rule. A few do not but they are the exception. This rule (always in effect at state, national, and international competitions) allows a lifter to step on the scales for official bodyweight measurement 24 hours prior to their scheduled lifting time. So if the flight a lifter is in starts at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, that lifter is allowed to weigh in at 11:00 on Friday.

This rule was intended to help those who are very close to the class limit (say 2 to 5 pounds over) to adjust their weight temporarily by sweating, avoiding fluids, and eating light. After they had made weight,they were assumed to eat and drink as usual and it was accepted that they would be a few pounds over by the next day (2to 5). But leave it to some zealous individuals to take that to the extreme!

They realized they could drop copious amounts of water weight, and having a full day to replenish their fluids, be right back where they started in bodyweight by the time it was their turn to lift. Some found this to be quite depleting and it wreaked havoc on their performance, yet others seemed to be unaffected by the swing in hydration. The difference is somewhat due to individual personality, but more due to the timing and mechanism of the process they had chosen. I believe that most anybody can endure the process with little effect on their strength. But certain individuals do adopt an attitude that it just won't work for them. And to that I have always believed that attitudes are more important than facts. And I never agree with a mans who says "I can't."

With even a 12 hour weigh-in much of the lost weight can be recouped. With all this time between the weigh-in and the event, it is only natural for athletes to begin to look for ways to take advantage of the fact. That's just good competitive spirit! But when it is done improperly or halfheartedly or poorly, it can ruin the meet and cause serious health problems. It's not as easy as some people make it look. But the fact that some people are ultra-successful and others abysmal failures at it points to techniques which are better than others. Finding the good ones has been the crux of the biscuit!

What Happens to the Body

The goal of the athlete cutting weight is to hold their weight up as near to the competition as possible, drop the weight precipitously, then reconstitute the weight back on just as rapidly. To quote a line from a popular movie, "That can't be good." And it's not. The body must pay a price. But in an age where athletes willingly put themselves through amazing amounts of what would be considered torture by most, it's not so bad by comparison (think of the damage, stress, and risk of running on pavement for 4 hours that a marathon can do).

One important thing to realize is where the weight comes from. There are only a few options.

First of all, none of it comes from fat. There isn't any appreciable metabolization of fat in this short-term process. Fat is burned in the long term. Drastic manipulations in bodyweight involve negligible amounts of adipose tissue. There just isn't time.

The majority of the weight lost is water. And the body has plenty of it. Everybody knows that the human body is mostly water. 75% in fact. Get this straight. Take a 200 pound man. Completely dehydrate him right there on the scale and all the "stuff" you'd have left would weigh only 50 pounds! That's right! Muscle is 73% water, bones are 31% water, even adipose tissue (body fat) is 22% water or more. It's true to describe humans as walking sacks of water! The 200 pound man has 150 pounds of water on hand. (Of course not all of it is available for cutting, but you get the idea.)

The water that the body chooses to lose comes first from the plasma compartment. This is water that's in the blood. A normal adult has several liters of blood and most of the blood is water. Blood without the red cells (and a few white blood cells) is known as plasma. Plasma is almost all water except for some serum factors and platelets. This is the most labile of compartments from which to pull water.

Sweat ducts pull water from capillaries in the skin and the kidneys filter the blood constantly, and the water they produce as urine comes directly from the blood. When a person sweats or urinates heavily, their blood volume goes down. The water that leaves the body was most recently plasma just minutes prior.

When the plasma volume drops, the blood gets thicker. There are more red blood cells per unit volume because one is not bleeding. The number of red blood cells (rbcs) stays constant one doesn't lose those) but the amount of fluid they are swimming around in goes down quickly. This changes the hematocrit value and makes the blood more viscous. The blood becomes more soupy and less watery which makes it flow a little more sluggishly. This is a normal sign of dehydration.

If the plasma volume loss is great enough the cardiovascular system will see a drop in blood pressure. This can be understood by thinking of a water balloon. If the balloon loses water, the skin of the balloon isn't stretched as tightly and the pressure inside goes down.

The body responds to this drop in pressure by vasoconstricting the arterioles which makes the actual "pipes" that the blood flows through smaller. These arterioles are elastic and can either stretch or contract to cause blood pressure to rise or fall by increasing or decreasing the diameter of the blood vessel that the blood must flow through.

When the blood volume goes down the body tries to squeeze the blood pressure back up to normal. (And I'm using the terms blood volume and plasma volume interchangeably, for our understanding they are the same, although technically a loss of blood volume would refer to bleeding in which rbcs are also lost. For this discussion assume that the term blood volume and plasma volume mean the same . . . fluid lost, not cells lost. One can not have blood loss without plasma loss, but one can have plasma loss without true blood loss although blood volume would be affected.) But it can only squeeze so much. If pressure still is not achieved, the heart rate may increase as the heart attempts to pump the pressure back up. This can be very fatiguing. The heart may also contract more forcefully in an attempt to increase stroke volume.

All this paints a picture of cardiovascular stress upon dehydration. This is only one of the reasons that maintaining a dehydrated state for as short a time as possible is preferable in regard to both health and performance.

The body is very resourceful and if the athlete does not ingest fluids to replenish the plasma volume, the body will look within to get the necessary fluid to replace what was lost and restore proper cardiovascular function. The body begins to siphon water away from the interstitial spaces. This is the area between the cells. It is also known as extra cellular space. The area around the cells. It is highly hydrated and gives up its fluids readily.

This is a passive process and water flows "down hill" from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration. Water follows an osmotic gradient. That means water seeks to equalize itself between compartments. When the vascular compartment loses fluid, the concentration of things dissolved or suspended in it goes up. There is less water per every molecule of "stuff" in the compartment. The interstitial compartment is adjacent to this compartment and the water in it is pulled away by the imbalance between them. It's as though the membranes say, "Hey, there's lots of water over here with only a few particles swimming in this compartment, and a shortage of water over here with a crowding of particles. Let's even it out some." Water passively flows down the gradient. The plasma volume begins to rise at the expense of the interstitial fluid volume.

This is OK. In the short-term there is no real downside to this. The interstitium serves as a sort of bank for fluid and making a withdrawal has no real impact on the system. It is a good reserve to pull from and can restore plasma volume without any undesirable effects on health or performance. But that is only in the short-term. Keeping the interstitial volume depleted for longer periods can lead to the most harsh form of dehydration . . . cellular dehydration.

If fluids are still not ingested after interstitial dehydration, the plasma will be refilled because that is an immediate concern to the body, but the expense was depletion of the interstitium. This sets up the same osmotic gradient in relationship to the cells. The cell was presents a barrier to fluid loss from the cells into the interstitium which makes it more difficult for water to move out, but the osmotic pull is strong and slowly but surely the cells begin to lose fluid to the cell spaces (which are losing fluid to the vascular space . . . see the cascade of events?

So the plasma pulls fluid from the interstitia and the interstitia pulls fluid from the cells. Where do the cells pull fluid from? NOWHERE! That's the end of the line, pal. Once the cells deplete you've got some very serious dehydration on your hands. The type that can and has sent a few boys to the emergency room.

Cellular depletion is devastating to performance as well. One might as well just go home. The cells lose turgor and everything feels flat. Plasma volume is still not quite up to stat and a massive headache ensues from vasoconstriction for extended periods of time. The body tries to hold fluids with charged particles called electrolytes. Some are elevated and some are depleted and the whole electrolyte balance is blown all to the devil, causing severe cramping. (If the electrolytes are held out of whack for too long, cardiac function can be impaired. The heart can't pump right when the electrolytes are imbalanced. At this point, you're really asking for it.) This is truly no way to compete.

The only resolution now is to administer fluids. That is the body's limit for fluxation. But it is still a quite amazing capacity. Just how many pounds can a person lose? Physiology texts cite that about 3% loss of bodyweight in water will have a detrimental effect on performance. A 200 pound man then could lose 6 pounds and feel little effect. But anyone who has played high school football knows that on a hot day in August in full pads it is not at all uncommon to see boys losing 10 pound in an afternoon session lasting only 2 to 2-1/2 hours. They do this day in and day out for weeks. Even an out-of-shape middle aged man can sweat out 10 pounds mowing his lawn on a hot, humid summer day without much complaining. In all these cases there is also usually little attempt at reconstitution. All coaches and athletic trainers admonish their athletes to drink more water during practice but still at the weigh-in and weigh-out they have hardly kept up.

In a competition where full reconstitution is a real option (24 hour weigh-in) and the dehydration is removed by many hours from the event I am convinced that 10 pounds is a reasonable rule of thumb for anyone weighing 130 and over.

True, 10 pounds is a lot more to a 150 pound man than to a 295 pound man. But the vascular compartment is remarkably similar in size in liters although a larger man will feel the loss less and pull from the cells and interstitial less (a man weighing twice the weight does not have a heart 2x bigger or 2x the blood in his body).

I have been witness to remarkable weight fluxations such as 13 pounds in a 137 pound female, 15 pounds in a 147 pound male, 21 pounds in a 153 pound male, 22 pounds in a 265 pound male and so forth with no apparent ill effect on strength. Amazing! With this in mind it seems that 7 to 10 pounds is a reasonable expectation and just round that up to 10 for convenience sake. The body has a great capacity to endure dramatic swings in water weight. And, to be certain, I have also witnessed lifters crash and burn with only a slight change of only 4 or 5 pounds. How can some lifters undertake a 15 pound shift and see no detriment to strength and others be decimated by dropping only 5 pounds? I suggest that it's all in the way they go about it.

What is reasonable to believe is that if one person can do it, so can others. And if several people can do it, so can anyone. I doubt that genetics or any other self-selecting determinant truly omits anyone from being able to produce similar results. I believe the limiting factor is know-how.

So, how do they do it?

Next: Methods of Transient Bodyweight Manipulation.

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