It’s funny, the world can bitch and complain about how models are too skinny and have eating disorders. Not only that, but everyone talks about how unhealthy it is and how it mentally affects teenage girls with false expectations of how they need to look for acceptance. And yet, men (and women) are expected to dehydrate and starve themselves to fight in cage to entertain the masses. Constantly, there are memes making fun of how the UFC fighters look at the weigh-in’s emaciated and aged. Is this a problem?
“It's deeply entwined and integrated into the sport that you cannot compete against the best in the world unless you're willing to starve yourself and deplete yourself, and I think it's fucked” – Joe Rogan
When I decided to interview Anthony Birchak never did I realize how controversial re-hydration and starvation is and that would end up being the focus of our interview, but it was. Hydration is a necessary component for any athlete. I knew we would chat about hydration due to how we became acquainted and why I was interviewing him; through a company who specializes in hydration called ORAL I.V. It wasn’t until I asked him about a fight he lost that the passion sprang out of him and opened up a totally different story that is a very prevalent controversy for UFC fighters. Re-hydration and weight cutting….
“Not allowing fighters to use IV’s for rehydration is dangerous and stupid. If you allow weight cuts, allow IV’s." – Joe Rogan
Sam: I first saw your name in an ORAL I.V. forum. How long have you been working with ORAL I.V?
Anthony: I first started working with them in 2013 when I was with MFC which is a Canadian organization and it’s been a staple in my training regimen for sure.
Sam: How did you find out about ORAL I.V. and why did you want to use it?
Anthony: It was funny. I was on Facebook and one of my buddy’s who’s a bartender and another bartender friend of mine said, “Dude, we need these for the nights out.” It was so we wouldn’t have a hangover in the morning. After I looked it up, this link came up and I started researching it and I looked into what it was for. At that time, I was also a bartender. Before the UFC, I was working three jobs: bartending on the weekends, Sports Authority during the week, and working for my uncle’s roofing company on the weekend days.
I was burning the candle at both ends. I live in Tucson, Arizona and when I roof all day I get severely dehydrated. Going from one job to the next, I didn’t have the time to sit down and continuously replenish myself. I thought ORAL I.V. would help. On top of the three jobs I had to find time to train.
Sam: How did you get connected for sponsorship?
Anthony: I ended up reaching out and connecting with Bob. I asked him to send me a sample pack, if he could. Once I started using it, I noticed that in my training regimens I wasn’t having to continuously guzzle down a gallon of water. I was just drinking 16 oz. at a time. I had a very steady level of energy. My muscle fatigue was going away and the cloudiness in my head was going away. This enabled me to continuously process what positions I was in at the gym. During Jiu Jitsu, boxing, and wrestling I could assess the situation a whole lot better. Now, I have a vial when I wake up in the morning and two or three vials throughout the day in my drinking water. I will put four vials in my drinking water for a 3 hour training session. It really set a tone for how I train now for the UFC.
Sam: I’m glad you said that because people always say to me, what should I feel? You don’t get a boost of energy, you just feel better and are more aware for a more prolonged amount of time when exerting yourself.
Anthony: It sounds kind of counter-intuitive. You don’t have to drink as much water. When we live in a fitness world that everyone is looking for a quick buzz like from a pre-workout…I tell them, that’s not what you are going to feel. What you will notice is clarity and continued clean energy.
Sam: Let’s back track a little. How did your interest in MMA begin? What’s your background how did that lead you to the UFC?
Anthony: I’ve been a wrestler since I was five years old. I wrestled in middle school, high school which got me a scholarship to wrestle in college. When I was in college I was teammates with Efrain Escudero and he and Drew Thicket were all doing martial arts and I knew what they were doing. At that time I would never do that crap, like I would think, how can you guys go in there and get punched?!
Sam: What made you change your mind?
Anthony: Efrain and myself wrestled at Pima Community College together here in Tucson and we both ended getting a scholarship to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix. While we were there in college together he got called to enter into the Ultimate Fighter house. At the time my major was Marketing Visual Communications with an emphasis in Graphic Design. I also did a little videography and photography. So, I could edit the video and do a lot of graphics for him. I ended up doing his video resume in order to get him into the Ultimate Fighter house. During this whole time we are wresting together, I did the video resume for him, then I started looking at his training to see what he does as far as being a mixed martial artist, doing Jiu Jitsu and kickboxing. I was like, “man, I can do this.” I ended up having a baby with my girlfriend at the time and I ended up leaving college. When I came back to Tucson I saw this gym that was run by a former UFC guy named Drew Thicket. He told me under his wing and taught me Jiu Jitsu. They didn’t have any really great boxing or kickboxing at the time. I was just a really good submission wrestler at the time. I would take them down or choke them out.
Sam: When did you debut and start to get really serious about what you do?
Anthony: My MMA debut was July 4th, 2009 in Nogales, Az behind a movie theater in a parking lot. I don’t know if you ever have seen the movie, Here Comes the Boom, but like that scene where the chickens are running around and guys are fighting in the cage. That’s pretty much what I can associate that to. It was outside and when I was in the cage I just remember looking at the mat and thinking, “God, there are a lot of bugs all over this place!” It was horrendous. I ended up winning with a submission in that fight. I thought it would be just once or twice. But that once or twice has now turned into 15 times as a professional and I absolutely love it.
Sam: I was looking over your UFC profile and I saw that you had a fight against Thomas Almeda and lost. You came back in July and won the next fight after that loss against Almeda. How did you overcome that loss against someone like that who was receiving a lot of hype?
Anthony: I asked for Thomas Almeda. I think if I fight him, 3 out of 5 times I win, for sure. Especially fighting him in the West where the drug tests are a lot more stringent and they are a little bit more cognizant of what the fighter is putting into his body. My biggest thing was when USADA stepped into the UFC and started the IV ban, my biggest concern was fighter dehydration. We are still going to have to weigh-in and still have to dehydrate ourselves and they expect us now to replenish and hydrate without IVs. I was very passionate about this because I had a brother Fred Lux who fought and it resulted in a KO due to lack of hydration. Literally, a year to the day he committed suicide.
We did a lot of research and 85% of suicides the person had a traumatic brain injury in under a year from their death. We attributed his lack of hydration to his concussion and cranial bleeding. That was a big thing with me. I told the UFC this is a slippery slope. If someone is willing to do the research since the IV ban has been in place of October of last year, you will see that there have been more knock outs in the UFC than there were ever before.
Some of the top guys in the industry have been knocked out with a one punch knock out, including myself. Thomas Almeda is a very excellent proficient accurate striker and that is what he does. He knocks people out. But for me, after 15 fights to not have and IV that fight and me to get knocked out that cold. That’s when I told them. You are now putting fighters at risk because of the hydration level. Doctors will say that oral hydration is the best way to hydrate and I understand that, but I had another physician say that oral hydration is the best way to hydrate when time is not an issue. When time is of an issue, intravenously is the fastest way to get it to the brain.
Sam: Which would result in further desire to look into hydration products such as ORAL I.V. to help assist getting hydrated faster. (Shameless plug)
Anthony: Step in ORAL I.V. I hate the IV ban, but I have my own fail safe and I use ORAL I.V. I put it on Periscope and it ended up being picked up by two big MMA journal websites, MMA Junkie and MMA Weekly. I was just talking about how dangerous it is to have fighters going into a fight mildly hydrated because there isn’t any cushion on the brain. The punches that we would normally walk through are now putting us out cold. Throughout this whole thing I have been really pushing to have ORAL I.V. to be put into the UFC as far as one of the official products they need to be handing to the fighters.
Sam: How does that work?
Anthony: After weigh-ins they bring us into a room and they have this whole spread for us in there. They have coconut water and bottles of water and fruit. Food that we can start replenishing ourselves with and I told them, this is something you guys should have in the back. They should be giving us a 4 pack or 20 pack for us to be taking over the next 24-30 hours; that way we are re-hydrating properly, orally.
Sam: Was it a big jolt to the system going into a fight without an IV to hydrate beforehand?
Anthony: Now, I have my hydration down to a little bit more of a science. This last fight, I took a lot of punches, but I felt a lot better than I did against Thomas. That is the big point I was trying to make was…I have fought a lot of knock out punchers: Ryan Benoit, Matt Leyva, Tido Jones who is an amazing boxer. I have fought a lot of guys who have one punch power and I have never been put down. The one time I don’t have an IV and Thomas Almeda cracks my chin and I go limp.
While researching re-hydration techniques and the effects of dehydration on the brain, I found that the information was limited due to more research needing to be done. Re-hydration, according to most, says it is unique to the individual. If that’s the case having a buffet of hydration productions wouldn’t exactly address the science behind that particular athlete’s need of fluid intake. Banning IVs is a mistake when athletes are expected to put their bodies into an extreme situation so soon after a weigh-in. It’s not okay to use performance enhancing drugs, but when trying to fix that problem, find a solution that doesn’t put the athletes at risk for something that is preventable.
While reading over through the USADA’s website I could not find any information about re-hydration. I could not find information about their research and why it’s okay to re-hydrate orally over the use of IVs. When companies such as UFC make the decision to spend the money and partner up with an organization such as USADA it is important they know they have fully researched and are keeping the athletes safe rather than just stating they are. It must be backed up with true scientific research. Yes, they know anti-doping. Yes, they know how athletes can dope up before a fight, but they opened up risk to the athletes in other ways.
With prevention of one problem they exposed other health risks involved in the sport. Is it okay to drop 20-30 pounds in the weeks before a fight? It’s a time honored tradition for wrestling. It’s the way it has always been. But, should it be? Starvation and dehydration can have detrimental effects of the body. PED’s have a detrimental effect on the body. Okay, you solved one problem. What about the other two? Stop weight cutting and re-hydration is no longer a problem?
“I love the new PED and IV ban in the UFC. I never took an IV in my life after a weigh-in. IV’s are for wimps.” – BJ Penn July 5th, 2015 (He is now suspended for six months for using an IV.)
Obviously, re-hydration is an issue. It wouldn’t be an issue if the athletes didn’t do through such extreme weight loss. Further research led me to Tim Ferris. With the aid of two physicians he cut 20 pounds in five days.
According to Tim Ferris’ study if an athlete can get the pounds back on in the next 24 hours, game changer! “Done right, it can significantly increase a fighter’s chances of winning. An athlete will artificially lower his weight for pre-fight weigh-ins, then show up to the actual fight 10, 20, or even 30 pounds heavier than his opponent. It’s a game changer.” Acceptable cheating? It’s just food and water. Nobody is going to tell them not to eat.
What’s the solution? Not every athlete can afford a personal physician to help them through the weight cutting and weight gaining process. I am not sure putting the athletes at risk of brain injury is worth the learning process. How many knock outs should an athlete experience while getting their re-hydration and weight gain down to a science? PEDs give an unfair advantage. If done right, putting the pounds back on gives the athlete an advantage. Unfair comparison? Maybe, but it is something to think about.
Written by ORAL I.V. blog contributor: SAMANTHA WISHNER
"Joe Rogan's Interesting Stance on Cutting Weight." Reddit MMA. N.p., 2014. Web. 3 Sept. 2016. <https://www.reddit.com/r/MMA/comments/27hvye/joe_rogans_interesting_stance_on _cutting_weight/>.
Ferriss, Tim. "How To Lose 20-30 Pounds In 5 Days: The Extreme Weight Cutting and Rehydration Secrets of UFC Fighters." The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Sept. 2016.