Need to Lose a Few LB’s? Don’t Sweat It!

One of the most prevalent demands of boxing is the constant need to monitor and endure weight loss. It’s a requirement that casts a looming shadow over many fighters training camps and can be a constant source of anxiety in the gym.  Seldom do you see a fighter who maintains his optimum fight weight at all times, so there are a variety of methods that are often implemented to aid the fighter in dropping pounds. Most practices range from mildly effective, to detrimental, to downright extreme. Coaches use a wide variety of methods to get their fighter on weight, but one of simplest, most common forms comes in the way of the sauna suit.

A sauna suit typically consists of a long-sleeve shirt and pants that are made of waterproof material, such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or a nylon cloth. The purpose of this type of suit is to trap-in heat as you exercise.  This causes the body’s temperature to quickly rise above normal levels. The body’s natural defense mechanism then begins producing an abundance of sweat in an attempt to bring the body back to its natural state. Many believe that the extreme heat causes an increase in metabolism and calorie burning capabilities, although there is no hard scientific evidence to back-up this theory.

What many athletes are not aware of is, if not used properly, there are dangers that a sauna suit can pose. According to the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute, sauna suits are suggested not to be used at any time due to the possibility that your body temperature could reach a dangerously high level. These high body temperatures can cause your body to over-sweat, resulting in heat exhaustion, electrolyte depletion, dehydration, and even stroke. Although “not to be used at any time” is a little extreme, the advice does have some merit.

The problem with sauna suits is that they’re keeping your body from engaging in a natural process. When your body is hot, it produces sweat to cool off.  That’s how it protects itself from overheating.  When you’re wearing a sauna suit, this natural body function is impeded, giving your body a false sense of reality. What’s even more disturbing is that many fighters use them long term when preparing for a fight.

Personally, I have known former college wrestlers who used sauna suits extensively throughout years of training and competition to quickly cut weight. Many of them have questioned me about the practice of using these types of suits.  They showed obvious concern over the possible damage the sauna suits could have caused and the potential long-term, lasting affects they feared remain.  One of these gentlemen, who I know very well, told me that after years of using sauna suits in college, his natural ability to sweat was permanently hampered. He could go on a run for as long as 3 or 4 miles without breaking a sweat. He just could no longer seem to sweat readily and it took his body years to reestablish normality.

Now, does this mean that sauna suits are bad and should never be used? Absolutely not. They are a great tool when used correctly. Sauna suits should only be incorporated short term and not on an ongoing, daily basis.  It’s when people use them all of the time in training and in fight preparation that things get dangerous. When it’s a day or two before your big fight, and you’ve got those few extra pounds to loose, grab that sauna suit and sweat it out.  Give your body an assist.  The suit will help you raise your body temperature quickly so you can shed those last remaining pounds in water weight.  Then, properly re-hydrate after the weigh-in.

The last thing you want to do is go into a fight feeling dehydrated, depleted or weak in any way, so knowing the ins and outs of healthy weight loss will greatly increase your confidence and competence going into a fight. There’s no harm in making your preparation for fight night easier, but get close to your fighting weight now through proper diet, and use “tricks” like a sauna suit as a last resort.

For everyone, there is life after boxing and your body will either serve you or betray you, based on how you treat it now.  Take care of yourself physically and avoid doing things to compromise your overall heath.  Don’t take shortcuts that could cause long term damage.  You may be willing to pay the price now, but it won’t suit you in the long run.

Spencer Ward is a Nutritionist with the Acupuncture Center in Overland Park KS.