European Sports Doctors Tackle Weight Issue

An eminent European doctor contends that jockey weights should be raised by a stone (14 pounds) if racing is to effectively tackle the problems associated with rapid weight loss.

Dr. Adrian McGoldrick of the Irish Turf Club gave his views at a world-first seminar on weight management in sport that looked at dehydration and dietary considerations.

The Curragh-based McGoldrick, who was involved in the recent Irish Turf Club study into the problems associated with dehydration, commented: "I personally would raise weights by a stone across the board. All that it would do is reduce race times by two or three seconds."

The seminar, held at the Royal Society of Medicine in London on Nov. 23, addressed the physical and psychological effects of weight loss in sport, with the Irish Turf Club research data providing informative insights into the issue of wasting among jockeys.

Presentations were made by some of the foremost European sports scientists and dehydration experts. It was attended by racing doctors from around the world and university academics.

They were seeking to answer two questions:
1) How do athletes control their weight and what does this do to their metabolism?
2) Does dehydration affect immediate performance and long-term health?

McGoldrick and his colleague Dr. Giles Warrington, head of player/athlete services at the National Coaching and Training Centre in Limerick, presented the findings of the research team which found alarming levels of dehydration among Irish jockeys.

The Turf Club research also found that, of six apprentice jockeys in the study, two had abnormal bone density that left them prone to fractures, a problem that could be linked to constant dieting and dehydration at a young age.

The research put forward several recommendations to address the issues, including an annual screening program, hydration monitoring on race days, specialist nutritional guidance, physiotherapy, psychology and lifestyle management, with education forming an integral part of any support structure.

While the average weight of jockeys in Ireland have risen 20 pounds over a 30-year period, Warrington agreed that there is a need for the weights to rise.

"The weights issue in itself isn't the answer as there needs to be a continuing program of education and monitoring," he said. "The minimum weight needs to rise but the median weight is perhaps more important."

Warrington offered a sobering prophecy when he said, "I do believe that unless there is a weight change, then in the not too distant future, we'll see few male Irish jockeys because they simply won't be able to do the weight.

"We'll see more female riders alongside jockeys from regions such as South and Central America, like we're seeing in the United States. The mutterings from the Turf Club are very positive, with the stewards very supportive of our findings."

Dr. Michael Turner, chief medical adviser of the British Jockey Club, supported the opinion that the weights should rise in light of the research.

"The Irish findings clearly show that dehydration among jockeys is a significant problem across the wide range of racing, both over jumps and on the flat," he said, "but much more seriously affected are apprentice jockeys.

"We have made a number of recommendations including raising the minimum weight, but that by itself is not a cure for dehydration. It does, however, allow modern-day teenagers to come into the sport as opposed to being excluded because they can't claim 10 pounds below an already very low weight."

The British Jockey Club already carries out cognitive testing on jockeys and Turner is keen to take that further with mobile units deployed to test jockeys at the races when the effects of dehydration will be most acute.

"Any further studies we undertake here in Britain would look at issues of bone density and cognitive function," Turner said. "We will take the work they have done in Ireland and move forward in collaboration. The effects on cognitive function is something we can easily look at."

Turner pointed to the progress that has already been made in the way of nutritional guidance thanks to the Jockeys' Nutrition Service in England headed by coordinator Julia Scott-Douglas. But he acknowledged that it is a constant battle to reverse age old practices.

"The problem is getting young riders to understand the science rather than adhere to racing folklore," he said. "We have a team of seven world class nutritionists that has made great strides in the past five years. France and Ireland are very envious of what we have achieved with our nutritional service.

"We have got the jockeys and the racecourse caterers listening, now we need to get to the trainers. Hopefully, we can work through the British National Trainers' Federation to do that."