Urine specific gravity (USG) is the most commonly reported biochemical marker used in research and applied settings to detect fluid deficits in athletes, including those participating in combat sports. Despite the popularity of its use, there has been a growing debate regarding the diagnostic accuracy and the applicability of USG in characterizing whole-body fluid status and fluctuations. Moreover, recent investigations report universally high prevalence of hypohydration (∼90%) via USG assessment in combat sport athletes, often in spite of stable body-mass. Given the widespread use in both research and practice, and its use in a regulatory sense as a 'hydration test' in combat sports as a means to detect dehydration at the time of weigh-in; understanding the limitations and applicability of USG assessment is of paramount importance. Inconsistencies in findings of USG readings, possibly as a consequence of diverse methodological research approaches and/or overlooked confounding factors, preclude a conclusive position stand within current combat sports research and practice. Thus the primary aim of this paper is to critically review the literature regarding USG assessment of hydration status in combat sports research and practice. When taken on balance, the existing literature suggests: the use of laboratory derived benchmarks in applied settings, inconsistent sampling methodologies, the incomplete picture of how various confounding factors affect end-point readings, and the still poorly understood potential of renal adaptation to dehydration in combat athletes; make the utility of hydration assessment via USG measurement quite problematic, particularly when diet and training is not controlled.
Eur J Sport Sci. (2018) 18:920-929.