The challenges of ‘weight category sports’ are intense. Not only do you have to receive shots, but you need to diet as well. Ian Craig shares one of his most rewarding athlete experiences.
A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to work with one of the warmest personalities of British sport, a boxer by the name of Ross Minter. It’s funny how those who can punch the hardest can also smile the most! Ross at the time was the English Welterweight Champion and he presented himself in front of me no more than eight weeks before his bid to contest for the WBU Welterweight World Title. His main aims were to make weight easier prior to his fight and to stop falling ill so much. He weighed 73 kg at the time and had to weigh-in at 66.6 kg: no pressure!
‘We are indoctrinated to believe that we must reduce calories to drop weight. In fact, I’ve had many successful cases where I’ve greatly increased the amount of food in the diet.’ – Ian Craig
The crash dieting that Ross had used for his last fight had left him depleted of energy and he thought that this may have been a reason for him losing the fight. He also experienced frequent infections, which increased in frequency when training hard.
Additionally, he revealed an interesting group of signs and symptoms:
- Anxiety and seeming to be in need of control, describing himself as ‘obsessive’
- Stresses in his life were plentiful:
- the need to make weight
- responsibility for selling fight tickets
- family obligations
- a two to three-hour daily commute to training
- Recurrent chest and throat infections, which were more frequent when training hard
- Digestive upsets, especially when immune compromised
- Stress-related headaches
- Fluctuating mood
- Fluctuating energy
- Restless and excessive sleep
- Dizzy when standing quickly
- The need to eat frequently.
In addition, Ross was carrying two injuries – a fractured rib from his fight two months previously and an inflamed right knuckle from training. He trained three to four hours a day and ate little, often in a very snacky pattern.
With dietary analysis, I found that Ross consumed about 2 500 calories/day (21% protein; 44% carbohydrates: 35% fat), whereas I estimated that he would need over 4 000 calories/day to meet his training demands. Assessed by skinfold callipers (Durnin & Womersley), he had about 10% body fat, so didn’t have much fat weight to shed. An important fact to note with boxers and other ‘weight-category’ sportspeople is that they always choose to fight at a class lower than their natural body weight, with the aim of obtaining a competitive advantage.
It was very obvious to me with symptoms like these that he was overtrained. The fact that he was still able to rise to the challenge of training twice a day suggested to me that his adrenals still held some level of reserve, but they were certainly struggling. I ran the Comprehensive Adrenal Stress Index test, which measures salivary levels of cortisol. His indicators for mucosal immunity were the lowest value that I had ever seen and could certainly go some way towards explaining his frequent infections, especially during the stress of heavy training.
THE REBUILD PHASE
Unfortunately for Ross, soon after I saw him, he reinjured his rib and had to postpone his fight. The plus side was that I now had a good opportunity to build up his adrenal reserves through nutrition and lifestyle changes. Between the trainer and I, we dropped his training down to the basics, just keeping enough to maintain his fitness and to settle his mind. For lifestyle, I suggested that he drop some of the tasks that he didn’t have to do, move to London to reduce the daily commute and to relax with a bit of yoga. We also used a training diary and well-being quiz to watch out for future overtraining.
In terms of nutrition, I asked him to increase his daily calorie intake to over 3 000 in order to get closer to his current requirements. He increased his protein and fat intake, along with a substantial boost in vegetable and fruit consumption and restricted his carbohydrate content to a token amount at each meal plus the use of sports and recovery drinks specifically around training. My intentions were to: get him used to a low-carb diet that could be used to strip body fat prior to his next fight and to keep him lean while not training hard; increase nutrients required for the adrenals, including protein, vitamin C, B5, B6, zinc and magnesium; increase anti-inflammatory foods such as essential fatty acids and antioxidants; and balance blood sugar levels for improved stability of energy and mood.
For supplements, I recommended a multi-nutrient high in chromium, extra vitamin C, extra magnesium, hemp oil and fish oil. For gut and immune health, I recommended a digestive enzyme with each meal, 5 g/day of glutamine powder (which is also a fuel for training), whey protein, Epsom salt baths and a strong probiotic. For adrenal health, I additionally recommended 500 mg/day l-tyrosine plus phosphatidylserine (200 mg post exercise), which has been shown to improve mood and concentration plus blunt the adrenal corticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol response to exercise or stress.
This strategy worked really well and gradually his immunity became stronger and his weight was much more stable despite eating more and exercising less. This is a really important lesson in weight management: We are indoctrinated to believe that we must reduce calories to drop weight. In fact, I’ve had many successful cases where I’ve greatly increased the amount of food in the diet, and it’s been much more stabilising to the blood sugars, nourishing to the immune system, and supportive of the glands. Additionally, I always aim to ‘clean up’ a diet with much improved food quality – lowering the burden on the liver and allowing the body to ‘spring clean’ can have remarkable fat-loss effects in some individuals.
In time Ross was ready to fight again and he landed a shot at the same WBU title about six months later. He had dropped 1 to 2 kg with the lower-carb diet and adrenal support, but as I said earlier, he was already pretty lean to start with. So, he still had around 5 kg to drop before his weigh-in. Something to note here is that in contrast to amateur sport, where the weigh-in is usually just before the fight, in professional fighting sports the guys often have quite a bit of recovery time between the weigh-in and the fight. Ross was actually weighing in at noon on the Friday and fighting at 8 pm on the Saturday: 32 hrs of reload time. So, with that large recovery time to work with, we were able to be more aggressive with the weight-loss strategies. Amateur fighters, on the other hand, would fight much closer to their normal training weight.
About two weeks away from the fight, in order to partially deplete carb stores and force further fat burning, we restricted the carb intake a bit more than usual while still training normally. In the final week before the fight, he was tapering the training, so it meant that we could take out his carbohydrate during- and after-training drinks. At two days before the fight, Ross weighed about 3 kg over where he needed to be. This was where his experience kicked in, because rather than being concerned, he was actually quite pleased to only have 3 kg to lose. Boxers traditionally use sweating methods to drop the final few pounds before the weigh-in and 3 kg is actually very easy to shed using this method. The night before, he did a run in his sweat suit and then sat in a steaming bath for about an hour and he was at his target weight. In the morning, he drank a little and then skipped off some more sweat and weighed in with a few grams to spare!
The next bit was the most interesting. We had two lunch, two dinner, one breakfast and three snack opportunities to load him with 5 870 calories of food and about six litres of fluid (with electrolytes). It resulted in a massive carb- and water-load and he entered the ring weighing 75 kg, almost 10 kg more than the day before. These are not the healthiest strategies, but with such a large amount of weight to lose, fluid loss is really the only option. Of course, well before the fight, it’s important that the athlete is already as lean as possible and that their immune system and adrenal glands are healthy enough to deal with the shock of such a regimen.
You’ll be wondering what happened next! Ross fought admirably and often in full charge until round nine when his opponent unfortunately got the better of him. He said afterwards that the taper and load had gone extremely smoothly. He even found that at the point of the stoppage, he felt so full of energy that he actually wanted to go around talking to people rather than sleeping, as was usually the case in his other contests during 17 years as a boxer!
In analysis of the fight, Ross said that he didn’t have the opportunity for a warm-up prior to this fight due to drug testing, which definitely took its toll on a normally very fast starter. That is one possible explanation for losing this fight, but maybe he just wasn’t fi t enough compared to the vastly more experienced and agile opponent, or maybe he already had half an eye on retiring and marrying his lovely girlfriend Louise (which he did soon after). Maybe we’ll never know!
TIPS FOR THE TAPER
- Work down to a lean body composition during the months before the fight.
- Strengthen adrenal and immune strength in the months before to cope with the harsh regimen.
- Within two weeks of the fight, tighten in on the carb consumption to the point that you start losing body fat or whatever other technique works genetically for you.
- Two days before the fight, if you still need to lose weight, start water fasting but only under experienced supervision.
- After weigh-in, have a carb- and water-load strategy ready to rebuild as quickly as possible. Take plenty of rest at this time.
Ross is now a boxing promoter and a personal boxing coach. To see his upcoming shows, view www. queensburyboxing.co.uk and if you would like boxing training, contact Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: QueensburyBoxing League and Ross The Boss Minter.
Twitter: @QueensburyBL and @RossMinter