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Weight Management for Jockeys

Jockeys are required to perform under certain weight categories. There is often considerable effort to make the weight class, which can be challenging and sometimes dangerous to their health if not done correctly. There can be long-term damage to the health of jockeys, and event physical damage from falling off a 500kg horse galloping at 60km/hr!

The Problem

Racetracks set the riding weight requirements for each race depending on the horse's age and sex, skill level and race distances. Unfortunately, the predominant weight scale in use has remained largely unchanged from the original outline set in the mid 1850s, when humans were generally smaller.

Minimum weights in Victoria, Australia (and similarly elsewhere) are 50kg for the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups, 51kg for group one races, 52kg for group 2 and 53kg for others. There is hope that changes will be made. Racing Victoria is looking to increase the minimum riding weight to a standard minimum of 53.9kg, including the Melbourne Cup. They are also looking at increasing the participation of women, as their generally smaller frame size will make it easier for them to make weight.

Meanwhile, jockeys continue to struggle to keep their weight down so that they can race at these levels, and consequently are involved in high-risk activities to control their weight. A study of riders by the Chicago Rehabilitation Institute (1995) found that 69 percent skipped meals, 34 percent used diuretics, 67 percent sweated off in the sauna, 30 percent "flipped" (self-induced vomiting) and 14 percent took laxatives. In many jockey rooms of racecourses around the world, you will actually find "heaving bowls", large toilets adapted to facilitate the frequent vomiting.

horse riding jockeyhorse riding is very demanding

Making Weight

There are some right ways and some wrong ways to reduce weight and maintain adequate bodyweight levels. A common way of dropping weight for jockeys, particularly in the short term, is to reduce body fluid levels. Jockeys can restrict fluid intake by drinking less volumes of fluid, and can get rid of extra fluids by using diuretics and increasing sweating using a sauna. There are health risks to using fluid restriction methods to drop weight. In particular, sauna use can cause dehydration, heat stress illness, low blood pressure (fainting), blood clotting changes, heart attack, stroke and thrombosis. Fluid restriction is used too often in the racing industry. While it may be effective to get their weight down adequately, their body will not be in peak condition for performance. Sauna-induced dehydration can cause any of the above symptoms, therefore affecting your physiological and psychological performance. The symptoms are also magnified on hot days.

A better way of approaching bodyweight reduction is through food restriction. Ideally, this is done through dietary manipulation over a longer time. However, there are other ways, unfortunately too common in the horse racing industry. Jockeys can reduce nutrient intake in many ways, such as fasting (food avoidance), skipping meals, appetite suppressants, induced vomiting and the use of laxatives. Long-term food restriction (starvation) can result in unhealthy body changes including osteoporosis, blood disorders, kidney and nerve damage, abnormal heart rhythms, fainting spells, muscle weakness and cramps. In extreme cases and with prolonged vomiting, the stomach can develop lacerations and the esophagus can rupture.

The Role of a Dietitian

The sources of nutrition information often come from within the horse racing industry, such as trainers, fellow jockeys and retired jockeys, and are often based on hearsay and historical techniques. Other information sources may be publications, the media, physicians and apprentice training programs. Dietitians can provide professional nutritional advice on safer alternative weight management options. They can provide an unbiased view from outside the racing fraternity, and can debunk long-standing myths and provide viable alternative methods.

A dietitian can advise about appropriate weight-loss strategies, such as:

Race Day Nutrition

Some of the keys to effective management of weight on race day hinge on the following;

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