BANGOR, Maine (WABI) - Healthy Living - November 6, 2018
Losing weight before bouts is common practice for many high school wrestlers.
More of them admit to using unhealthy ways to do that.
Weight Management in Wrestling
J.P. Stowe, ATC, CSCS, Program Manager, Certified Athletic Trainer, Northern Light Sports Health
Wrestling is known to be one of the toughest and most physically demanding sports that high school athletes are able to participate in. Weight management is a concern for all athletes, but in particular, wrestlers are categorized into weight classes and must be closely monitored. Losing weight prior to meets and tournaments has become part of the culture, and about 85%-93% of wrestlers admit to using unhealthy methods to lose weight. The thought is that if you weigh less you will wrestle lighter opponents; which is very true, but this mentality is pushing high school aged athletes to malnourish and dehydrate themselves during the most crucial physical development stage of their lives. Wrestlers are athletes, and it is scientifically proven that athletes perform better when they are adequately nourished and well hydrated.
Dangers of cutting weight associated with the sport of wrestling include decreased muscle strength and endurance, decreased cardiovascular function, reduced energy utilization, heat illness, decreased kidney function, electrolyte dysfunction, and mood swings.
To combat this, the Maine Principals Association (MPA) adopted a wrestling committee in 2004 to help wrestlers, coaches, parents, Athletic Trainers and Athletic Administrators understand the importance of weight management and to ensure that healthy weight loss practices are being conducted. The MPA has created a weight management program that helps recognize the minimum weight class that is safe for individual wrestlers.
Wrestlers complete an alpha weigh-in at the beginning of the season to set a benchmark of safe weight loss throughout the season. For alpha weigh-ins, wrestlers must first pass a hydration test (urine specific gravity) and then they get weighed and body calipered to calculate body fat. If an athlete fails the urine specific gravity test, the alpha weigh-in does not continue and must be reattempted after 48 hours. Most medical professions recognize the minimum healthy body fat percentage for the average person to be at 7% for males and 12% for females. Understanding these numbers allows medical professionals to estimate the amount of maximum allowable body fat an athlete may lose per week until the 7% or 12% mark has been reached.
The minimum body weight mark is in place for wrestlers who are striving to wrestle at lower weight classes. This does not mean that wrestlers are encouraged to attain the 7% or 12% body fat. Wrestlers should attempt to compete at a weight class that allows them to adequately nourish themselves and as a result perform at an optimal level.
With the wrestling season on the rise we must all be prepared and be aware of wrestlers who may be dropping weight in unhealthy ways. Teammates, coaches, parents, Athletic Trainers, Athletic Administrators and referees should be looking for signs and symptoms of dehydration, malnourishment, hyperthermia and eating disorders.
Some methods of weight loss wrestlers will use include:
• Increase cardiovascular exertion (Often with multiple layers, heavy and or plastic clothing)
• Spending extended periods of time in saunas or steam rooms
• Purging (using methods such as: laxatives, spitting and vomiting)
• Limiting fluid and calorie intake
• Appetite suppression (thermogenic weight loss pills)
Weight loss in the sport of wrestling can and should be done in a healthful way. Wrestlers who are attempting to lose weight should let their coaches and Athletic Trainer know what their plan is. Wrestlers should be planning their diet and exercise well ahead of the season. The health and safety of the athlete is the main priority, and alpha weigh-ins should be completed before the season in a healthy ultra-hydrated state. If you are suspicious of a wrestler or any other athlete attempting to lose weight in an unhealthy manor, advise the athlete to seek help.