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How The Fight Dietitian Carved Out A Niche In Combat Sports: Jordan Sullivan

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How The Fight Dietitian Carved Out A Niche In Combat Sports: Jordan Sullivan

Cutting weight for sport is a contentious issue - when done well it can be safe and fine, however it can be extremely dangerous when done incorrectly, with some athletes even dying during weight cuts due to heat stroke or dehydration.


Which is why Jordan Sullivan has made a niche for himself in being a dietitian specialising in combat sport weight cuts. 


Along with being a bachelor of exercise and nutrition science and a master of dietetics, Jordan has also coached notable Olympians. He currently works with UFC champions including Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski, as well as the majority of combat athletes in Australia and New Zealand.

While the field he works in is nutrition for combat sport athletes, his passion lies in performance nutrition in general. He says that his aim is “bringing science to areas that don’t have a lot of science.”


Jordan discovered the niche while doing weight cuts for fights himself. 


He says, “I was doing terrible weight cuts, like, I was doing keto diets to make weight. I was cutting eight to ten kilos in the space of six to eight weeks and doing it terribly and feeling crap when I was competing.”


After finishing his bachelors degree, Jordan went to Canada and was training with combat sports teams. 


While the team there was successful in the outcome, Jordan saw a lack of structure and discipline in weight cuts. 

He says, “there’s not a lot of science in what they’re doing, they’re just using this pseudoscience approach.” He goes on to say, “and I came back to Australia and thought well shit if that’s what they’re doing [at the highest level], and they’re doing so well and they’re kinda just winging it, what could we do if we actually get a lot of science around this and build it up and create systems.”


With combat sports, one of the greatest concerns is probably the weight cuts that athletes focus on to get into particular weight categories. Weight categories are a way to level the playing field in fight sports. It helps to make it safer and fairer. People try to lower their weight to fit into other categories because they think it gives them competitive advantage.


But weight cuts also can reduce performance when overdone.  


Common Methods for Weight Cuts


Jordan says that there are two main ways people focus on to go about weight cutsHe explains that the first thing is during the fight camp, which is about 6-12 weeks before the fight, there is a long-held belief that the best way to lose weight is just by cutting carbohydrates. 


He says, I’ve met a lot of people who survived eight weeks on one can of tuna and then a couple crackers every single day. Yet, they’re training twice a day for what I would argue, one of the most energy intensive sports that exist and it’s just terrible.”


The other common practice is something that happens closer to the weigh in. Three to four days leading up to those weigh inspeople cut weight by attempting to manipulate body fluids. What a lot of guys do is have their sauna suit on and just heat in a sauna, sweating a lot. And more often than not, this causes complications that come from overheating and extreme dehydration. Jordans states that they have even seen people die after going through things like that.


Backed Up by Science

Jordan says that the most important thing is to be smarter about it, and to be more calculative with the way one deals with their body. “You need to put structure in and a bit of order amongst the chaos,” he says. 

“Say, if you come to me and say ‘hey, I’m a fighter. I’m going to complete at this weight class,’ I always ask, ‘why do you want to compete in that weight class?’. And they go, ‘I don’t know, my coach told me.’ [To which] I say, ‘well, no, I need you to go get a DEXA scan and I need to see physically how much body fat you have, how much muscle mass you have. What can your body physically get to, like, what weight can we manipulate within your body. And there’s numbers that we can work out.”


The next thing to focus on is to set up some good performance nutrition during that fight camp period. This means, as Jordan says, “loading up the body in a way that supports the demands of their training. So, eating good carbohydrates.”


Even though fighters are taught to avoid carbs, it’s actually dangerous to completely cut them out because a lot of the training needs exercises that involves just burning carbs. Therefore, it’s essential to be aware and consume the right foods; to have a good amount of carbs, a good amount of proteins, and also enough fat to support the hormones.


After that, in the last few days leading up to the weigh ins, the focus lies in safely manipulating body fluids. Jordan says, “I’m very confident that you can very safely, if you do it properly, lose between eight and 10 percent of your body weight just in fluid water weight. And what that means is you’re not losing fat; you’re manipulating fluid in different compartments of your body.


While this can get complicated to figure out, it is mainly just manipulating three nutrients in the body: carbohydrates, fibre, and sodium. And then in the last couple of days or so, the final weight can be reduced by going to a sauna and sweating it off, without making the body too hot or dangerously dehydrated. 



When it comes to training in general, it is extremely important to individualise for all your athletes, while understanding their physical as well as mental states. It is significant to understand that if they’re not feeling a certain way on a particular day of training, it is important to accommodate that. For example, in the case of female athletes, it is important to consider their menstrual cycles especially because fluids and weight can really vary throughout the monthly cycle.


Hydration and Sodium

When asked about the importance of hydration, the first thing Jordan says is that regardless of whether they’re athletes or not, “everyone should be taking their hydration seriously.”


When we sweat, we’re obviously losing fluid. But it’s not just water that is being lost. There are a lot of those key electrolytes in there, such as iron and sodium. In a lot of hot areas, if you’re out there going for a run or something, it’s not unusual to lose about two kilos of sweat per hour.  


Jordan explains the importance of those electrolytes: “the way that our body organises fluid in our body, it likes to keep it very balanced amongst a few different compartments. And when we get to a point where we lose a lot of sweat, it throws off that balance. Why that’s important is because as we get progressively more dehydrated, we start seeing performance decrements. You’ll start seeing a lack of reaction time, strength goes down, your optimal power goes down, it progressively gets worse and worse.


Added to that, aone continually gets more dehydrated, their body starts pulling water from different compartments and it further upsets this balance because the body doesn’t necessarily work by just how much water is in there. It works by how many solutes are in there, or perhaps the concentration of solutes, like sodium. Sodium is a very important regulator of the balance of fluid in the body.


So, if you sweat a lot suddenly, you lose all those important solutes and electrolytes real fast. And to replace it, you will drink a lot of plain water. However, your body doesn’t recognise the nutrients in it that quickly. It just goes through the bladderand you end up peeing it all out, before the body can absorb nutrients that, for example, provide oxygen to different parts of the body . So, while the bladders are fine, the rest of the body lost all the nutrients that weren’t replaced


A good way to ensure that proper rehydration of the body is taking place is by putting the electrolytes in the water that you’re going to drink. This speeds up the process of your body recognising the nutrients in the fluids.


It is important to remember that the fluid isn’t really in your body until it’s in your blood. 


Tune in to the podcast to learn more about combat sport weight cuts and how The Fight Dietitian is working with big names.


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