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Nutritionist George Lockhart talks IV ban, how to safely cut weight and rehydrate

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Top MMA nutritionist, George Lockhart gave his expert insight into the recently announced IV rehydration ban, how to safely cut weight and rehydrate, the impact of body fat percentage for fighters, and the differences in male and female weight cutting.

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The Three Amigos Podcast had the chance to catch up with George Lockhart, one of the top nutritionists in MMA, who gave his expert insight into the recently announced IV rehydration ban, how to safely cut weight and rehydrate, the impact of body fat percentage for fighters, and the differences in male and female weight cutting. Below is a partial transcript of the interview.

You can listen to the full show, including the interview with George, on the Three Amigo's Podcast episode 4.5 here.

George's clients & history

My current clients include Cris Cyborg obviously, and I have Rory MacDonald, Jeremy Stephens and Alex Garcia on the upcoming McGregor vs Mendes card. In terms of history my ‘accomplishments' include getting Kenny Florian down a weight class, Dustin Poirier cutting a weight class and also Brian Stann. When I say ‘accomplishments,' it makes it sound like I did something great, but these guys are all super disciplined and did all of the work; I just told them what to do.

IV Rehydration

I would say about 99% of guys are using IVs. Honestly, I think it's 100%, but there's always one or two guys who don't. But as long as I've been in the game, everybody has used an IV. But there are a lot of potential downsides to IV rehydration; if you have too much fluids or too many electrolytes you can have some backlash, like diarrhea among other things.

One of the big things we encounter is that a lot of people don't know how to actually inject the IV. I'm not necessarily talking about the fluid inside the bag, just the injection. I've seen guys who are so dehydrated that their vein actually collapses, which is very dangerous. The thing is once one collapses they'll just keep going down the pipe. If you're not a trained professional it's going to be very difficult on a regular person, let alone someone who has just made weight and is dehydrated at the time.

Who is administering the IV depends on the camp. One thing that I've learned is that a lot of camps don't leave anything to chance and they'll always have a registered nurse, or an EMT or something of that nature around. They'll have a high-end guy or girl who knows what they're doing. But I've seen guys that are like, ‘I've done this to myself once or twice,' and it makes you want to cringe.

When I was in the Marine Corps they showed us how to administer an IV, like seven or eight years ago, so guys will ask me to do it. It's like, ‘Brother, that's something you need to be practicing all the time!'

Does using an IV give a significant advantage over not using one?

No, I don't think it does make a huge difference. If you look at all of the studies between oral rehydration and IV rehydration, if they rehydrate properly orally, they'll gain the same weight back. You can gain the same amount going the oral route as going the IV route.

The biggest thing is the psychological effect. That makes a difference more than anything. If they don't know how to rehydrate properly, then it's probably better to use the IV because it takes a lot of difficulties out of the equation. But if they know how to rehydrate properly? There's no advantage to using an IV.

Will the new policy lead to under-hydrated fighters in the cage?

Yeah, I think so. The thing is, if someone has a really bad weight cut. We've all seen the guy who has to be carried to stage to make weight. That individual needs an IV. That's what the IV was made for, you know? Someone who needs to be seriously hydrated quick fast in a hurry.

No matter what happens, people are always going to cut the weight and try to make that lower weight cut, whether it's healthy or not. If fighters don't know a proper way to orally rehydrate than I can see this ban being dangerous.

I think them delaying the implementation until October is a good policy on their part. A lot of guys are calling me and tripping about the ban. They can use this time to educate themselves on how to properly rehydrate themselves. My goal is to give information to guys to help them rehydrate without the IV.

A brief guide to rehydrating without an IV

First you have to know what's inside an IV. There's all of your electrolytes; sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, chloride etc. All of these things your body needs for your cells to work. For instance, chloride basically controls the fluid inside and outside of your cell to make sure there's a balance there. You need an equal balance of everything. In a 1,000ml IV bag there will be 9 grams of sodium chloride.

Sodium chloride is basically sea salt or table salt. A teaspoon of table salt has about 2,300 - 2,500mg of sodium. The funny thing is when I was in the Marine Corps we didn't have all of this expensive stuff, so they would be like, ‘take this salt, put it in water, add a sugar packet and we'll drink that,' it tasted like buttcrack in a bottle, but it's the same basic principle; you're loading your body up with the sugar and sodium you needed.

So to get the same results as you would get from a 1,000ml saline bag, you're looking at about 4 teaspoons of table salt. I usually give guys shakes every 30 minutes after they weigh in, because you don't want them to eat solid food while dehydrated due to the lack of digestive enzymes. These shakes help get the body reloaded so you can start to take in actual foods.

Recommended supplements for rehydrating

I actually recommend that guys make their own supplements for rehydrating, Pedialyte has about 253mg of sodium per serving, which isn't exactly a load of sodium. You need the right balance of sodium and potassium. I say make your own mixture. People are always trying to make a buck off of supplements, but you can make more effective and cheaper stuff on your own.

Mix table salt with a salt substitute and sugar. For the sugar it's important to use the right kind of sugar. I usually want to use waxy maize because it's really light on the body and doesn't make you bloat. My company is actually coming out with something in a few months to help with this. It's going to be a kit that will tell you exactly how to rehydrate and with what.

The other big one is BCAAs. You have to have BCAAs, they are extremely important during your recovery. When you buy BCAAs you're getting 3 of the essential amino acids; leucine, isoleucine and valine which will help your body digest and synthesize the carbohydrates that your body needs.

BCAAs are branched chain amino acids. These amino acids are essential, which means your body can't make them on your own. You have to get them through your diet or through supplementation. I'll give guys amino acids to elicit a hormonal response, but I don't give them as a post workout. Taking BCAAs post-workout doesn't replenish your muscles like people think. They give your body the ability to replenish your muscles by making it easier for carbohydrates to enter the cells.

What is the biggest mistake guys make when rehydrating?

When you rehydrate you have to hit every electrolyte. Some of them you have to start loading up as soon as you get off the stage, like sodium and chloride. Down the road you want to get more calcium and magnesium, which you can get a lot of through foods.

The big mistake a lot of guys make is eating within an hour of stepping off the scale. The thing is, your body creates digestive enzymes in your saliva glands, and if you're dehydrated you will struggle to break that food down, which interferes with the absorption of the micro-nutrients in the food.
Your electrolytes can't get to where they need to go if you're eating that food when it's not being properly digested and absorbed.

What is the biggest mistake guys make cutting weight?

The biggest mistake I see is guys not understanding that it's called cutting weight for a reason. It's not called losing weight. A lot of guys are so worried about that scale. Say we have a guy who is taking in plenty of sodium in his diet and a bunch of carbs in his diet. He's able to train pretty decently because the electrolytes in his body are able to make his muscles contract, and in turn he's able to have a really good workout.

Now what happens is that guy sees his weight is high, so he starts taking the salt out, and then he starts taking the carbs out. Does his weight go down? Yes, because 1 gram of glycogen holds onto 3 grams of water, so when they lose that glycogen they lose weight. Then the week of the weight cut comes, and you have nothing left to cut except the water.

What they don't realize is that they would train harder through the camp if they have the extra carbohydrates at the right time. I don't mean an abundance of carbs, just giving carbs to the body when it needs them, and keeping sodium and electrolyte levels high to keep the muscles contracting. That right there is working off real weight. That's burning calories. When you take water out, there's no calories in that.

You can end up in a situation where the body gets into a negative feedback loop which makes it more difficult to drop water weight. It can be easier for someone to drop 15-20 lbs of water weight if they've been dieting properly than for someone who has been cutting carbs and salt for weeks to cut 10lbs of water weight.

Differences in weight cutting between women and men

Pretty much everything is different. If you give a guy the right food, he gets the right macronutrients, he works out and the weight burns off. You can give a woman the right food, she gets the right macronutrients, she works out and her weight can go up by 10lbs.

A guy will typically have a nice stead incline or decline in weight depending on what he does. Because of the fluctuating hormone levels, a woman's weight can skyrocket one moment and go way down the next moment. Things like estrogen and progesterone can affect how much water a woman holds.

In my upcoming book I'm writing a section about the truth about the scale. Women need to look at the scale as a tool, and not the be-all end-all. To give you some examples, not getting enough sleep, starting your menstrual cycle or eating too many carbs can spike your weight, because they affect how much water your body holds.

As an example, let's say a woman started her cycle, had some sodium, ate some carbohydrates and did a good anaerobic workout yesterday, and then she steps on the scale the next morning and gained a pound. That scale is actually saying she is losing weight, because of all of those factors are saying she should be gaining more weight than she actually did. A woman's weight will fluctuate more than a man's will and that has to be taken into account.

The problem with studies

There have been tons of studies on rehydration and dehydration, but the problem is these studies don't go to the levels that fighters go to. A scientist or a researcher isn't going to go, ‘Let's dehydrate this person for 20lbs,' so what works for 2% dehydration isn't necessarily going to work for an extremely dehydrated fighter.

Physiologically, it's a whole new level. You're not going to find a bunch of studies on dehydrating and rehydrating to the extremes fighters do. The one place they do that kind of thing is in the military. In military studies they're looking at how to get someone back into the fight in a hurry.

If you check out the NSCA (National Strength & Conditioning Association), they have a lot of really useful studies. There are a lot of really useful abstracts there as well. The NSCA is just full of a bunch of doctors and scientists sitting around asking, ‘OK, if we try this, what happens?' I think it's about $100 a year, which gives you access to all of the abstracts. Even then, you have to be very cognizant of the potential for flawed studies, because they have a way of proving whatever the study authors wanted to prove.


How much of a difference does having high body-fat make to performance?

Someone's body-fat percentage won't necessarily make a difference in terms of performance. For instance your VO2 max has a lot to do with genetics. Look at Roy Nelson - that guy is a stud. A lot of people say he needs to go down a weight, but I'll never tell a fighter they need to drop down a weight class. I guarantee you if he dropped down a weight class it would change up his game a lot. The power he has behind his punch? I guarantee you a lot of it comes from the weight behind that punch.

Now, if you're overweight and you drop 10-15lbs, studies suggest you can gain 10% to your VO2 max. That only works when you're dropping down from being overweight, though. It's not like if you keep dropping 10lbs you'll keep gaining 10% to your VO2 max.

Your VO2 max is the rate at which your body can oxygenate blood at a given time without dying. Now when you test your VO2 max they won't test you until the point you die, but they'll make you run and run to see how fast your body can oxygenate your blood.

So if a guy like Roy dropped some weight and increased his VO2 max he would probably be able to go longer and harder, but the thing is he would also probably have to work harder. If he punches somebody, he might not get the knockout he would have before. If he grabs a guy he won't have the same mass to help him.

It depends on the actual fighter. A lot of guys come to me wanting to go down a weight class, so I just give them the pros and cons. Just because you drop a weight class that doesn't mean things are going to be easier. A lot of the time it's not.

George has a nutrition program for both athletes and non-athletes at FitnessVT.com