Journal of Athletic Training 2013;48(1):99–108 doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-48.1.04
Practices of Weight Regulation Among Elite Athletes in Combat Sports: A Matter of Mental Advantage?
Stefan Pettersson, MS, RD; Marianne Pipping Ekstro¨m, PhD; Christina M. Berg,
Department of Food and Nutrition, and Sport Science, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Context: The combination of extensive weight loss and inadequate nutritional strategies used to lose weight rapidly for competition in weight-category sports may negatively affect athletic performance and health. Objective: To explore the reasoning of elite combat-sport athletes about rapid weight loss and regaining of weight before competitions. Design: Qualitative study. Setting: With grounded theory as a theoretical framework, we employed a cross-examinational approach including interviews, observations, and Internet sources. Sports observations were obtained at competitions and statements by combat-sport athletes were collected on the Internet. Patients or Other Participants: Participants in the interviews were 14 Swedish national team athletes (9 men, 5 women; age range, 18 to 36 years) in 3 Olympic combat sports (wrestling, judo, and taekwondo). Data Collection and Analysis: Semistructured interviews with 14 athletes from the Swedish national teams in wrestling, judo, and taekwondo were conducted at a location of each participant’s choice. The field observations were conducted at European competitions in these 3 sports. In addition, interviews and statements made by athletes in combat sports were collected on the Internet. Results: Positive aspects of weight regulation other than gaining physical advantage emerged from the data during the analysis: sport identity, mental diversion, and mental advantage. Together and individually, these categories point toward the positive aspects of weight regulation experienced by the athletes. Practicing weight regulation mediates a self-image of being ‘‘a real athlete.’’ Weight regulation is also considered mentally important as a part of the precompetition preparation, serving as a coping strategy by creating a feeling of increased focus and commitment. Moreover, a mental advantage relative to one’s opponents can be gained through the practice of weight regulation. Conclusions: Weight regulation has mentally important functions extending beyond the common notion that combatsport athletes reduce their weight merely to gain a physical edgeover their opponents.
Key Words: grounded theory, sport identity, self-esteem,
sport nutrition, weight loss