A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Wrestlers: Scale back on extreme weight-cutting methods

Two wrestlers in the ring, Illustration - Dangers of cutting weight in wrestling

Cutting weight for wrestling seasons should be done gradually to avoid serious health problems like dehydration.

Wrestlers spend the off-season trying to build muscle and get stronger.

The muscle-building process involves adding some body fat. Wrestlers often want to lose that extra body fat to compete in a lower weight class with as much muscle as possible.

The desire to win can lead wrestlers to adopt unhealthy and dangerous weight-loss practices. However, it is possible for wrestlers to cut weight safely. Staying healthy and performing well should be top priorities for wrestlers trying to lose weight.

Quick weight loss methods can be dangerous

“Ideally, wrestlers who want to cut weight should think about it before the season starts,” said Samuel Joswiak, a Marshfield Clinic athletic trainer. “The healthy guideline is losing about one to two pounds per week.”

Not all wrestlers take the gradual approach. It’s common for wrestlers to try to cut weight quickly at the beginning of the season or a few days before a meet. Their weight loss methods often are dangerous.

Some wrestlers eat very little food until they reach their desired weight. Their athletic performance often suffers. Others try to eliminate water weight by spitting in a cup or running in layers of heavy clothing, including plastic clothes, to keep body heat in and make them sweat more.

These quick weight-loss methods can cause serious dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. They can result in poor mental and physical performance, unconsciousness and even death.

Cut weight the safer way

Instead of trying to lose a lot of weight at once, come up with a plan to build muscle, minimize fat gain during the off-season and cut weight as competition season approaches.

If an athlete must lose a few pounds quickly, Joswiak recommends following these safety tips:

  • Don’t use extreme measures to shed water weight, like wearing a plastic suit while running.
  • Listen to your body. Stop training, drink water and eat something if you start to feel sick or light-headed.
  • Use sports drinks to rehydrate and boost energy before a match.
  • Don’t eat fewer than 1,200 calories per day. Your body needs at least that much fuel to perform.
  • Check your weight daily so you can make changes as needed rather than one or two days before a meet.

Sports are important, but health outside of sports is more important,” Joswiak said.

Stay healthy to prevent other wrestling injuries

Dehydration and sudden weight loss decrease performance and set athletes up for injuries.

“Wrestling puts athletes in positions that are stressful on their joints,” Joswiak said. “I see a lot of knee injuries, including MCL and meniscus tears, and shoulder injuries.”

Concussions are a concern in sports that put athletes in direct physical contact. Wrestlers can get a concussion when they’re slammed down on the mat or hit heads directly with another wrestler. If the impact is near the ears, wrestlers are at risk for painful fluid buildup in the external portion of the ears.

Athletes who maintain a healthy weight and good nutrition throughout the season are less likely to get injured.

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