Medical Officer’s Report (Ulster Council Congress 2005)

 

Dear Mr President and members of the Council,

 

My report this year will reflect upon the effect of fluid restriction. Ours is a weight limited sport throughout the entire range of categories viz. age, gender, weight and experience.

 

It is expected that all those who approach the scales to enter a competition, whether at club show level, county, provincial or national championship level shall be fit to box at a particular weight This means that a boxer will have been trained at least in the basic skills of amateur boxing, will have achieved a level of physical fitness and will have prepared mentally for the rigours of amateur boxing.

 

It goes without saying that in order to gain advantage boxers will seek to maximize their skills and physical abilities. This will include strict dieting and restricting fluid intake in the immediate pre-bout period of time. This does not gain, say, a continuously healthy lifestyle.

 

It is apparent to all involved in amateur boxing that this is a delicate balance between benefit and risk. The benefit is from making the weight without weakening the body. The risk occurs when too much restriction of food (the energy source) and/or restriction of fluids leads to a weakened and strength sapped boxer unable to recover in time and hence not at his best when the contest begins.

 

Some of us are old enough to have either witnessed or been regaled by the stories of the great world flyweight championship contest in 1948 between the then World Champion, Scotland's best, Jackie Patterson and our own lilting champion 'Rinty' Monaghan. Allegedly the champion Patterson lost a lot of weight on the day before the fight in order to make the 7˝ stone limit (some say the loss was nearly 1 stone - proportionately a huge loss in such a light body). Available video film shows a lack of lustre and jaded champion entering the ring against a super fit and eager challenger. Rinty "done him" in 9 rounds. Who is to say this was always going to be the outcome? The wise old owls of this sport intone that Patterson never gave himself a chance and as a result Ireland have a star whose light still burns as brightly today as that glorious night in 1948.

 

I am referring to dehydration, a condition caused by too low a fluid intake causing serious side-effects. Children and small adults are most susceptible to dehydration because of their small body mass and higher loss of water and electrolytes (salts) which is greater during exercise.

 

The symptoms are:

 

(Doctors know how best to treat these problems)

 
Hydration Urine Test
Holy Trinity Boxing Club Belfast - nutrition guide
Target
Yellow (Harp)
Dehydration
Dark (Smithwicks)
Severe Dehydration
Very dark (Guinness)
 
% Dedydration Effect
2% Impaired performance.
4% Capacity for muscular work declines.
6% Heat exhaustion.
8% Hallucination.
10% Circulatory collapse, heat strokes.
 

 

Extreme severe dehydration may result in collapse, seizures or fits, permanent brain damage or even death.

 

Even mild dehydration can cause a loss of form i.e. a loss of 2 – 4lbs (1-2 kilograms) in the lower weights will cause a loss of ability. Sluggishness, slow reactions and no stamina with tiredness at the end of rounds and a complete loss of energy in the last round will result.

 

Those who use saunas, laxatives and fluid and food restriction will experience loss or sapping of strength. Boxers will feel weaker. This practice also causes a loss of sodium or potassium salts from the body To avoid losing too much fluid during exercise it is best to drink regularly - up to 2 litres per day in addition to your usual fluid intake which is in drinks and food. Remember water has zero calories no matter how much you drink. The issue we must address most seriously is the practice of forcing fluid restriction in underage competitors. It is unacceptable to risk the health of a young boxer merely to "make the weight."

 

I believe that the practice of exercise at the weigh-in venue must be outlawed. Also be aware the other professionals i.e. teachers are remarking on paleness of young schoolboys prior to competition.

 

Those charged with the responsibility should ask whether this practice of fluid and food restriction is driving young boxers out of our sport.

 

In this age of child protection and given the negative image of boxing in some parts of society, we risk keeping opprobrium in all who run boxing if we are seen to be complicit in risking harm to young underage boxers. (The age of consent in Northern Ireland is 17).

 

I therefore urge that the boxing authorities in Ulster and Ireland seriously consider the risks I have outlined above and address urgently some of the destructive old practices which still hold sway today.

 

Because the pros do it does not make it right!

 

Thank you to Dr Martin J Donnelly, Dr Dermot Grant and all those colleagues in Ulster who complete the white card medicals, without whose help it would be almost impossible to deliver a medical scheme.

 

Also thanks to the Medical Registrar, Paul McMahon and all the County Board Medical Registrars and to you Mr President and the Ulster Council.

 

 

Dr J E Donnelly MB BCh MRCGP

 

 

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