Fasting, severe calorie restriction, excessive exercise and dehydration may help you get into a lower wrestling weight class, but you'll pay a steep price. You may feel fatigued, unfocused, weak and downright sick as a result of such extreme, unhealthy tactics. None of these side effects help you win a match. You can drop weight classes if you're aiming for a weight that's still healthy, but lean for you. But, if you have to sacrifice smart nutrition or performance, re-evaluate your goals to determine a safe weight for competition.
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Unhealthy Weight-Loss Tactics
When a wrestler has his mind set on the notion that competing in a lower weight class will give him an advantage, he'll do almost anything to cut weight. This deprivation usually backfires, however. Dropping to a lower weight class doesn't make you a better athlete -- focusing on training does. When you fast or severely deplete calories to lose weight quickly, you rapidly lose muscle tissue and water. Your body senses the extreme deficit and uses your lean tissue for energy. This is the muscle you need for strength and endurance in a match.
Denying yourself calories means denying your body nutrients that are critical to proper growth and energy. Extreme exercise to lose weight overly fatigues you so that you're not 100-percent ready for a match. Laxatives, sauna suits and cutting out entire nutrient categories -- such as all carbohydrates -- are strategies that are downright dangerous and you should avoid these tactics at all costs.
If you're not careful, you may even diet yourself out of competition. American wrestling programs institute the national hydration assessment test to make sure wrestlers are healthy enough to wrestle. When a boy dips below a body fat of 7 percent -- or a girl below 12 percent -- the wrestler is deemed unfit to compete.
The Perils of Dehydration for Wrestlers
Wrestlers often use dehydration as another weight-cutting tactic. Weight in the form of water leaves your body quickly, but leaves you fatigued, lacking in strength, potentially dizzy and without focus. Dehydration can result in cramping, heatstroke and -- in rare situations -- swelling of the brain. Symptoms of dehydration appear with as little as a 2-percent loss of your normal water volume.
To dehydrate, wrestlers force excessive sweat by exercising in heavy clothes or garbage bags; they may sit in saunas and limit the intake of fluid. Some take diuretic medications, which force water loss but can endanger the health of their heart and kidneys. Use of these methods are also banned at the high school and collegiate levels, and could get you disqualified from competition.
Cut Calories to Drop Weight
A restricted, but healthy, diet helps you lose weight more gradually, at a healthy rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Some wrestlers can safely lose 3 pounds per week, but weight loss that's faster than this results in muscle loss. Good nutrition is part of proper training.
Losing a pound of fat requires a calorie deficit of 3,500 calories. Talk to your coach or a school dietitian to determine your daily calorie burn, based on your size and activity level, and create a daily deficit of about 500 to 1,000 calories to lose 1 to 2 pounds in a week. It is likely that you already train a significant amount, so consider how you can increase your calorie burn with simple tactics, such as walking more, fidgeting as you study or by engaging in an additional, moderate-intensity 30-minute cardio session that won't leave you depleted for wrestling training. Reducing your intake of fried foods, sugar, processed snacks and soda also helps you create a deficit without losing nutrients.
Creating Meals for Wrestler Weight Loss
Aim for a balanced diet that contains about 55 to 65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 12 to 15 percent protein and 20 to 30 percent from healthy fats. You need carbohydrates for energy, protein for muscle repair, and growth and fats to absorb nutrients and support your brain.
Focus on eating only healthy foods such as grilled meats, fresh vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and fruit. Typical meals might be eggs scrambled with spinach and peppers with whole wheat toast for breakfast; beef fajitas with corn tortillas, salsa and guacamole at lunch; and a dinner of roast chicken, sweet potatoes and a green salad. Snack options include fresh fruit, low-fat cheese, cut-up vegetables with hummus, low-fat Greek yogurt and a handful of nuts.