Athletic Training Column

Cutting weight safely

By Jenn Mroz | Nov 14, 2013
Photo by: File Jenn Mroz

We live in a weight-conscious society.  In the sports world, one of the most weight-conscious groups is wrestling.  This article is being written with wrestlers in mind, but the information isn’t limited to just this sport.  You can use these tips in your everyday life to maintain a healthy weight.
There’s a general belief that in order to lose weight, you must consume less calories than you burn.  This statement is partly correct; you need those calories to be the right ones at the right time.  Eating healthy and drinking fluids are very important.
Wrestlers are notorious for “cutting weight.” In the past, these athletes have taken some extreme measures to lose weight and make their weight class.  Skipping meals, not drinking water, exercising excessively in hot, humid environments while wearing garbage bags or multiple layers of clothing, and taking laxatives or diuretics are just some of the methods used.  By skipping meals, your body will start to store energy as a fat reserve.  
Losing water weight leads to dehydration.  These are not healthy ways to reduce weight.  They can not only cause muscle fatigue and loss of strength, but they can also cause more serious health problems such as seizures or heart failure.
Early in my career, there weren’t any regulations placed on the athletes.  Any wrestler could wrestle at any weight class they wanted as long as they made that weight.  I once had a wrestler who was trying to compete at a low weight class (then it was 103 pounds).  I heard stories of how he was cutting weight and despite my efforts to educate him, he wouldn’t listen.  He continued to skip meals, take laxatives and make himself vomit.  When he didn’t make weight, he would eat an entire pizza, a bag of chips, cookies and drink a 2-liter bottle of soda; basically, he filled back up with junk food or “bad” calories.  
Then the next day the process would start all over in order to try and lose weight.  He only made his weight class once that season and when he wrestled in that match, he was so weak he was pinned in 10 seconds.
One day I got called into the wrestling room because he was unresponsive and shaking on the mat.  Fortunately, it wasn’t his heart, but he was so severely dehydrated and undernourished, his body went into convulsions.  As soon as he was given some sugar, he slowly returned to normal.  It was a scary sight for everyone involved, and something that was preventable.
Over the years, steps have been taken by wrestling associations to improve the safety of the athletes.  The National Wrestling Coaches Association has been instrumental in developing such regulations.  Restrictions are placed on the minimum wrestling weight and weight class at which a wrestler can compete, as well as the amount of weight wrestlers are allowed to lose per week.  
Minimum weights are established using skin-fold measurements which are then computed in an equation to determine the athlete’s percent body fat.  The minimum wrestling weight and weight class are based on the athlete maintaining at least 7 percent body fat for males and 12 percent for females, the lowest amount of fat necessary for normal body function.  Wrestlers are also only allowed to lose 1.5 percent of their initial weight per week.  Losing larger amounts of weight too quickly is very unhealthy.
For wrestlers trying to lose weight during the season, it’s very important that they still consume enough calories to get through their training and competitions.  The goal is to lose weight, not strength.  Wrestlers should take in 5-8 grams/kg of their body weight of carbohydrates.  Good sources are granola, oatmeal, fruit, rice, spaghetti, sweet potatoes, pancakes, or bagels.  Their protein in-take should be between 1.2-1.8 grams/kg (at the higher end when they’re cutting weight).  Egg whites, chicken, lean red meat, beans, fish and seafood all contain healthy protein.  Their diet still needs to contain some fat, but in minimal amounts.
In order to shave some pounds off, here are some helpful tips to do it safely.  Eat regularly; don’t skip meals.  Eat smaller meals throughout the day as opposed to a few large meals.  It’s okay to snack, just eat healthy snacks such as granola and yogurt, a banana and peanut butter, raw vegetables, or fruit.  Drink plenty of water, especially before eating; this way your stomach will fill faster and your body will feel full with less food.  Avoid foods high in saturated fat (butter, cream, bacon, whole milk) and choose monounsaturated (avocados, olive oil, peanuts, most nuts) or polyunsaturated fats (fish, walnuts, flaxseed) instead.  It can be as easy as choosing grilled chicken over fried chicken, skim milk over whole milk, or fish over spare ribs.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.