By Dr. Domenic F. Coletta
All of the participants in the sport of boxing – from the fighters to the promoters to the trainers and managers – are certainly aware of the dangers of the pre-fight “crash dieting” and fluid restrictions in order to make weight. But what about the ongoing problem of improper rehydration after a contest?
For a boxer to find himself in the Emergency Room after a fight with a significant head injury or laceration is not unusual and unfortunately often times unavoidable. But severe dehydration which can easily occur in a course of a bout (especially an action packed fight that goes into the late rounds) can almost always be corrected in the boxers dressing room, thus avoiding a trip to the hospital.
I remember working a grueling middleweight match some years back in Atlantic City. It was a hot summer night (the environment can be an important risk factor for dehydration) and although both fighters were exhausted as you’d expect, the one contestant looked to me to be particularly affected by the severe fluid loss that had occurred in the fight.
In his dressing room afterwards, he had a rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, muscle cramping, decreased alertness, and generalized weakness to a greater degree than usual. He was being given large amounts of water to drink and I warned his camp to use a sport drink instead that would replace the sodium, potassium, and glucose that he needed for proper rehydration.
When I returned to check the boxer later, his condition has worsened and he was still drinking only pure water – a practice that will actually further deplete the needed electrolytes in this type of situation. Needless to say, he was hospitalized for a few days, received several liters of intravenous saline solution, and did just fine.
Replenishing these essential elements (sodium, potassium, and glucose) will not only help to avoid trips to the local ER, but will prevent the microscopic damage that can occur to the cells of various body organs in the athlete who is dehydrated. All boxers, as well as trainers and managers should be sure they have an adequate supply of these electrolyte rich sport drinks on hand for a fight.
I would even suggest that if the various boxing commissions could agree on regulating their use during a boxing match, these drinks might have beneficial effects if provided in between rounds as well. In any event, universal use of sport drinks instead of water only for rehydration, is a concept that is long overdue in our great sport.
Dr. Domenic F. Coletta practices in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he has been a licensed ringside physician since 1988. His medical specialty is in the field of Emergency Medicine and he is on the medical executive board of the American Association of Professional Ringside Physicians (AAPRP). All of the views, opinions, and/or recommendations contained herein are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board or the AAPRP.