Women mixed martial artists may find it more difficult to make weight as routinely as their male teammates. Hormone levels may factor into making it harder for women to deplete themselves of water and glycogen weight. Hormonal levels in men tend to be more stable, whereas women may have more cyclical changes. Women typically have a lower body weight than men (this limits the total amount of weight women can lose), a higher percentage of body fat (this limits the relative amount of water weight women can lose) and less muscle mass (this limits the relative amount of weight that can be lost from glycogen, which is stored within the muscle and liver). Also, fat, like all lipids, is hydrophobic, meaning it repels water. As a result, an increase in body fat decreases the amount of mass that will be affected by a water cut. Since hormones such as estrogen and progesterone fluctuate -- these hormones affect water retention and energy metabolism -- being able to make a cut, especially water, is more unpredictable in females.
Interestingly, a 2003 study looked at the explosive power of women and men after cutting weight in a sauna. In addition to being an unhealthy weight-cutting practice, it actually affected women’s squat strength but not men’s. Despite being rehydrated after the weight cut, the squat jump ability remained lower than in pre-sauna levels and was directly related to the percent reduction of body weight.
Another topic that may find its way into women’s MMA is the concept of the “Female Athlete Triad,” which is defined as Anorexia, or low available energy and poor nutrition; Amenorrhea, or lack of menstrual cycles; and Osteoporosis, or thinning of the bones.
It has been estimated that up to 15 percent of female athletes experience all three of these symptoms, although men can also experience anorexia and osteoporosis. Hopefully, no one will incorrectly see the amenorrhea and loss of hormonal cycling aspect of the female athlete triad to mean weight cutting may be easier; but everyone should be aware of the real risk of bone fractures from the weakened osteoporotic bones. While weight-cutting practices continue to be re-evaluated across MMA, the issue may be even more important for the females who populate the sport.