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Wrestlers cutting weight to compete in a weight class is nothing new. Unfortunately, many of these athletes take on unhealthy methods to lose weight. When weight loss is done in a healthy way, the wrestler can become stronger and more competitive in a lower weight class..
An estimated 25%-67% of wrestlers use techniques such as over exercise, calorie restriction, fasting, and different dehydration methods to lose weight. Wrestlers tend to believe this type of action will improve their performance, but in reality this usually only makes things worse.
Dehydration is a main health concern when losing weight quickly. It occurs when a wrestler cuts off their intake of fluids. Dehydration is the worst method of losing weight since it causes quick decline in strength, endurance and mental alertness.
Symptoms of dehydration can become noticeable after as little as 2% loss of normal water volume. Drinking too little water in combination with heavy exercise may cause cramps or, in extreme cases, heatstroke and swelling of the brain which causes seizures and hypovolemic shock.
A simple, efficient way of determining proper hydration is to check urine color. Dark urine (similar to apple juice) indicates dehydration and clear urine indicates adequate hydration.
Malnutrition is also pretty common among wrestlers trying to lose weight quickly. Dehydration combined with extreme calorie reduction can result in a loss of strength, muscular endurance, stamina, and concentration. Sudden unhealthy weight loss can mean that a wrestler is not getting essential nutrients like protein, calories, B vitamins, iron, and zinc; this can cause depression, muscle atrophy and lower testosterone levels. Many wrestlers have gone as far as vomiting before weigh-ins in order to make a specific weight class for a wrestling match.
Every high school wrestling program in American is required to use the national hydration assessment tests to determine if a wrestler is fit to wrestle. These tests are intended to analyze body fat percentages at the alpha weight and establish how much weight a wrestler can lose each week. When a wrestler reaches the minimum body fat percentage of 7% for boys or 12% for girls of their alpha fat composition, the wrestler cannot lose any more weight due to competition rules.
This system was put in place to ensure healthy weight loss and to minimize the harmful side effects of rapid weight loss. In Colorado, for health and safety reasons, the state’s weight control program requires hydration testing with a specific gravity not greater than 1.025, which is tested immediately prior to the body fat assessment. Any wrestler’s assessment that is below 7% for boys and 12% for girls must have a release form signed by a healthcare professional to participate in an upcoming event. This release won’t allow a wrestler to participate at a weight class below that for which the initial assessment allows. A 2 lb. variance above the scratch weight is permitted at the time of certification if signed by the parent and a physician.
Written by the Sports Medicine team at Children's Hospital Colorado.