A well-known and unnerving aspect of wrestling for so many athletes is cutting weight. When done properly, shedding extra pounds before a match can give you a competitive advantage at a lower weight class. However, most wrestlers use unhealthy, sometimes dangerous techniques that end up harming their bodies as well as their performances.
Fortunately, times have changed, and student athletes are no longer pressured like they used to be to lose weight. Organizations like the NWCA and NCAA have weight and nutrition management guidelines to encourage students to pursue healthy weight classes. Before high school, wrestlers should not be expected to cut weight at all, and a student should never feel forced to compete in a weight class he or she is not comfortable in. If athletes are ever asked to shed more than a few pounds or to use unhealthy methods, they should report their coach to a parent or teacher.
There are advantages to competing at a lower weight class, and there are safe ways to make that happen.
Drink Water, Water and More Water
Rapid dehydration is common method of quick weight loss. Water weight is the easiest to shed off, so intentionally withholding liquids and sweating profusely before weigh-in are familiar tactics for wrestlers. However, studies show that dehydration critically impairs athletic performance and can lead to serious health concerns. Symptoms of dehydration can start to occur with as little as 2% water-volume loss. These symptoms include muscle cramps, fatigue, dizziness, and mental impairment. Severe cases of dehydration when combined with intense exercise have led to heat stroke, vomiting and seizures.
Studies have shown that consuming adequate amounts of water not only improves athletic performance but can actually assist in weight loss. Water acts as a natural appetite suppressant, it helps burn calories and fat, and it removes waste from the body. Wrestlers, and all athletes, should drink at least 2 liters of water per day.
A Balanced Diet vs Fasting
Fasting is another common yet dangerous method of quick weight loss among wrestlers. When wrestlers starve themselves before a match, they are depriving their bodies of essential nutrients and proteins needed to perform at optimal levels. Like dehydration, extreme calorie reduction in athletes can lead to muscle weakness, fatigue, loss of endurance and concentration. When done regularly, this type of chronic malnutrition can even lead to muscular atrophy, lowered testosterone and depression.
Morris Bird, program director for Beat the Streets Los Angeles, says the best way to make weight is to eat right. A balanced diet combined with proper training and weight management is much safer and more effective than fasting. His tips include:
- Eat 4-5 small meals throughout the day
- Never skip breakfast
- Cut out all fatty foods and sugary drinks
- Eat lots of protein, vegetables, fruits
- Increase water intake
Don’t Overdo Your Workouts
For those who don’t know, wrestlers are constantly working out / training. It is fine to add a few workouts to your regular schedule when trying to make weight, but it is important to know your limits. If you are feeling dizzy, cold, weak, nauseous, or any symptoms of exhaustion / malnutrition, stop right away. You are only doing more harm to your body and increasing risk of injury by over-training.
Forget Extreme Tactics
Every high school and collegiate wrestler has their own horror story about the far-fetched and dangerous things they did to try and make weight. One of these extreme tactics is a sauna suit or “rubber suit” that traps all of the sweat inside and causes the body to overheat very quickly. One high school wrestler’s traumatic tale consists of being dressed in one of these suits and rolled up in a wrestling mat with weights placed at both ends to seal in the heat; otherwise known as a “hot pocket.” This wrestler said, “Not only do I regret doing this, I didn’t even make weight. I definitely don’t recommend it to anyone.”
Other dangerous tactics include laxatives and weight loss pills which can lead to serious health complications if a doctor is not consulted first.
Set Realistic Expectations
Even though times have changed, cutting weight is still a sensitive topic for most wrestlers. However, the most recommended strategy by wrestlers for cutting weight starts with setting realistic goals for yourself. If you are shooting for a weight class significantly below your natural weight, odds are you won’t make it regardless of your tactics. Forget the extreme, unhealthy methods of making weight and compete at the weight class you feel most comfortable in. Wrestling is one of the most diverse, all-inclusive sports with a huge range of weight classes to choose from, so pick the one that’s right for you.
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