When athletes, particularly wrestlers, use short-cut methods to lose weight fast, they both endanger their health and hurt their performance.
Severely restricting the intake of food and fluids can cause dehydration and the loss of minerals essential for metabolism, notes the June issue of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter.
High school and college wrestlers, as well as other athletes, commonly use a practice called "weight cutting" for rapid weight loss so they can meet requirements for competing in a particular weight class.
An American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) report says that many athletes not only decrease their consumption of foods and fluids but use diuretics, laxatives and saunas to shed pounds quickly. These methods can leave the athlete "ill prepared to compete," the report adds.
According to the ACSM, one-third of high school wrestlers go through a weight-cutting process more than 10 times in a season. College and high school wrestlers lose an average of 4.5 pounds during the week to "make weight." In 20 percent of the wrestlers, the weekly weight loss may exceed 5.9 pounds.
"From my experience as a high school and college wrestling coach, the average number of pounds lost is considerably more than 4.5 to 5.9 pounds," says William J. Kraemer, Ph.D., a member of the Penn State Sports Medicine Newsletter editorial board. "I would estimate that more than half of college wrestlers lose probably 8 to 10 pounds during the week before a match. I've seen some wrestlers lose as many as 15 pounds."
The ACSM makes a number of recommendations regarding rapid weight loss. First, coaches and athletes should be educated about the adverse effects of fasting and dehydration on performance and health. Athletes should be encouraged to consume foods and beverages that provide the proper balance of calories that come from carbohydrate (55 percent), fat (30 percent) and protein (15-20 percent).
Second, schools need to establish rules limiting weight loss in wrestlers. Coaches should schedule daily weigh-ins before and after practice to monitor weight loss and dehydration as well as body fat changes among wrestlers.
Third, wrestlers 16 years old and younger with body fat composition below 7 percent should obtain medical clearance before being allowed to compete. Wrestlers older than 16 years with body fat of less than 5 percent should also receive medical clearance.
"Schools should require weigh-ins on the mat immediately prior to the match," says Kraemer. "A wrestler would then have to be physiologically ready to compete at the time of competition. At present, weigh-ins are conducted several hours or even the day before competition. When coaches and athletes give wrestlers time to dehydrate, they are in effect promoting dehydration techniques. I once saw a wrestler weigh in at 118 pounds and win his match. Two days later, he weighed 137 pounds.
"By requiring weigh-ins at match time, athletes who are dehydrated should be physiologically weaker," Kraemer adds. "This weakness will be reflected in their performance. Those who don't dehydrate will be stronger and, in theory, should win."