A: Hey Y.R., thanks for the interesting question. Although rapid weight loss such as Cutler's isn't a good idea, the fact is that it's a fairly common practice in a number of sports. The rapid drop in weight is known as "making weight," and athletes such as wrestlers, boxers, mixed martial artists and Olympic Weightlifters, among others, will normally lose weight quickly and then gain it back almost as quickly before their events as a tool to gain a competitive edge.
Making weight stems from the use of weight classes, such as those used in boxing, which separates fighters into 17 different classes and weight divisions. In contrast, the UFC, which is the premiere Mixed Martial Arts promotion, uses five distinct weight divisions, although there are nine official divisions according to the state athletic commissions where MMA is sanctioned. In order to compete, an athlete must weigh no more than the pre-determined upper limit (normally within a pound) of the given weight class that the competition is set to occur.
In theory, this improves the competition and safety of sports where a larger athlete would have a distinct advantage over a smaller athlete. However, there is a loophole: by qualifying for a lower weight class through rapid water loss and dehydration techniques and then regaining some or all of that weight by the time of the competition, the athlete can enjoy an exceptional advantage over his/her opponent.
Gina Carano had difficulty making weight
While this certainly presents itself as a potentially dangerous practice for an athlete about to compete in a vigorous and demanding sport, when done under the supervision of a knowledgeable coach and doctor, the risks to the athlete's health can be minimized (but not eliminated). Obviously, the more weight that must be dropped, the more dangerous cutting weight can be. As you might expect, there have been a number of attempts to curb this practice, especially with younger athletes.
However, Jay Cutler certainly didn't drop his weight in order to make a weight limit. Although bodybuilding also has weight classes, Jay's reasons were more directly related to his performance on the stage: by dropping as much water weight as possible, a bodybuilder will appear to be leaner with more visible definition, helping his/her chances in the contest.
However, this still raises a good point, and one that I think that a lot of people miss out on: Bodybuilding is about attaining a certain look, nothing else. Not health, not performance at a sport, and not even strength...just large, proportionate muscles at a low body-fat level. Which means that, just like any athlete in any sport, some things that bodybuilders do will be healthy while other things will be anything but healthy.
Unfortunately, I think this point escapes many of the people that not only enter the sport of bodybuilding, but for those that try to "look like a bodybuilder" without understanding just what goes into that process or in turn what the process might do to his/her body. Especially for women, attaining such low levels of body-fat is impossible to maintain for long periods of time without serious health consequences including detrimental effects on a female's hormonal/menstrual cycles. The pictures that you see in magazines and from the stage are quite literally "snapshots" of that individual at the peak of their weight loss and physical appearance. Unfortunately, many of the fans of the sport who aspire to look like their favorite fitness model(s) year-round don't understand how difficult this can actually be without causing serious health issues.
I have worked with and consulted a number of individuals who have competed in the sport of bodybuilding/fitness, as well as individuals that have simply wanted to look like they did. I have always been careful to try and make them aware of the difficulties that may be ahead of them and the reality of what they think that they are seeing when they thumb through their favorite magazines.
Thanks for the letter, Y.R., and for reminding us that seeing isn't always believing!