USADA's IV ban has come under fire ever since it came to light over the summer. Mike Dolce is the latest to question whether or not it is truly a wise thing for the well-being of UFC fighters.
Dolce, MMA's most notable nutrition guru, is worried that fighters will not be fully rehydrated following weigh-ins and before entering the Octagon, he told Ariel Helwani on the 300th episode of The MMA Hour.
Dolce has heard some, including UFC vice president of athlete health and performance Jeff Novitzky, say that rehydrating orally is actually better than using an IV. He's not too sure if that is the case.
"Not one single study has been ever done to prove that, because no study has ever been done on an athlete who is cutting weight, rehydrates and then gets kicked in the skull 24 hours later," Dolce said. "There's never been [any] research done on that. We don't know the impact of TBI, traumatic brain injury. We have no idea what will actually happen in this modern era of MMA with the IV ban."
The diet coach, who has worked with such fighters as Ronda Rousey, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort and Thiago Alves, said he has spoken to Novitzky and UFC vice president of regulatory affairs Marc Ratner about the potential problems with the IV ban. However, Dolce said he was told that the Oct. 1 date it was implemented was a hard deadline.
"These are scary issues and I think it's a much bigger conversation," Dolce said. "I don't believe the conversation has been had in depth and I don't know if it's truly protecting the health and safety of the athletes."
According to Dolce, studies have shown that even a small amount of dehydration can reduce cognitive ability, cardio and -- perhaps most frightening for a human being in a fight -- visiospatial awareness.
"We're not trying to change the rules," Dolce said. "We're trying to have a deeper conversation of, do these rules apply to mixed martial artists within the confines of what is healthy and safe for their sport? That's something that needs to be addressed."
The reasoning behind USADA's IV ban is that an IV can be used to mask the presence of performance-enhancing drugs in an athlete's system. Novitzky, a former drug enforcer for the FDA, admitted over the summer in a panel during the UFC Fan Expo that he was not aware of the prevalence of weight cuts in mixed martial arts.
There is a subset of people who think banning IVs could be a positive thing in the long run, because it could deter fighters from making steep, unhealthy weight cuts. The occurrence of injuries and mishaps during cuts has been prevalent in MMA recently.
However, Dolce said he knows a handful of fighters who don't cut much weight, but have trouble rehydrating fully because of nerves and adrenaline.
"They can't quite orally rehydrate up to optimal standards," Dolce said. "That athlete should also be banned from having an IV, because they have performance anxiety or stage fright? Not that they're not super tough. Everyone who fights is super tough. It's a normal biological reaction to times of stress such as that."
In a perfect world, Dolce thinks that a USADA official should be on hand after weigh-ins to implement IVs themselves, that way they can be sure a fighter is doing it the right way and not trying to dilute his or her system.
"Someone like that at the very least should be on hand at the venue," Dolce said. "The athlete shouldn't get shipped to the hospital and then kicked off the card, because the commission, probably in good conscience, won't allow the athlete to fight simply because they can't get some water down."
Mostly, though, Dolce is concerned that we just don't know enough about the effects of dehydration, rehydration and fighting. But it's safe to say those three things are not natural fits.
Dolce said UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier told him he lost 9 ½ pounds in his fight with Jon Jones and 6 ½ against Anthony Johnson -- a fight that ended inside the third round. That's water weight from someone who cut plenty of weight to hit the 205-pound light heavyweight limit. Dolce is apprehensive about not giving someone like that an IV to rehydrate after weigh-ins.
"Would an IV help preserve his health, help preserve the integrity of the fluid sack that protects the brain?" Dolce said. "Absolutely. Do all athletes need it? Absolutely not. Should it be an option that's on the table to protect the health and safety of the athlete? Absolutely, especially since we don't know right now."