Manage Your Weight
FIXX™ Your Body, Your Life, Your Experience
Cutting Weight in Wrestling
by Steve Fraser
U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist
November 27, 2006
Wrestling is one of the greatest sports there is. I think
most all wrestling people would agree. However, why is it
that a lot of wrestlers and coaches feel wrestlers must
lose weight to compete successfully? If there is one thing
that gives wrestling a bad name it is the idea that
wrestlers all starve themselves and lose weight to
Wouldn’t wrestling be even a better sport if everyone just
wrestled at their normal weight thus avoiding the drudgery
of losing weight in the last days before they are about to
compete? The fact is that the days and week prior to the
competition is when a wrestler should be relaxing and
recovering with light work-outs so as to get their mind
and body feeling hungry and refreshed for the competition.
Instead most wrestlers are still continuing to train hard,
and on top of that, eat less, which makes for a tired mind
The ironic thing is … most all wrestlers cut weight and
end up wrestling the same people they would wrestle if
everyone just wrestled their normal weight. This is a very
strange thing about our sport.
Now, I am not suggesting that wrestlers shouldn’t lose a
couple of pounds if they like. However, losing excessive
weight, when your body fat percentage is already normal to
low, is what I am considering a problem. It is my belief
that to be a great wrestler one must learn the techniques,
tactics and strategies of wrestling and then condition and
strengthen ones mind and body so you can execute those
techniques, tactics and strategies when needed. The weight
advantage or disadvantage is of minimal importance, in my
mind. I know a lot of people might argue this point.
That said, here is an article written by Janet
Walberg-Rankin, Ph.D. highlighting some very important
facts about weight loss in sport.
How Weight Loss Affects
Janet Walberg-Rankin, Ph.D.
Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Your coach has made comments about your weight and
suggests that your performance may improve if you lose a
few pounds. Is he right? What should you do?
Before pushing your next meal aside, consider these
Genetics and Sport? Influences on Body Weight
It is important to realize that genetics influence your
body weight and not everyone can attain a specific body
weight, based on a textbook value of body fatness. It is
possible, though never easy, to modify your activity and
diet to change body weight to some degree. The decision
whether to attempt to reduce body weight also depends on
the sport. For example, although a reduction in body
weight may help a long distance runner it may have less
obvious benefit to the performance of a baseball pitcher.
Does Fat Loss Benefit Athletes?
A low body fat and/or weight can reduce the energy cost of
moving your body. Just as strapping a backpack filled with
rocks onto your back would accelerate fatigue; extra body
fat can make any movement more difficult. Excess body fat
also reduces the ability to dissipate heat. Thus, an
overly fat athlete in football is more likely to overheat
during a practice on a hot and humid day than is the
leaner athlete doing the same workout. Some athletes are
judged partly on their low body fat (e.g. dancers,
gymnasts, bodybuilders) or compete in specified weight
Athletes most likely to benefit from body fat loss are
those involved in
Is Body Fat Ever Helpful to Athletes?
Some body fat aids buoyancy for swimmers (but excess will
cause resistance to forward movement in the water). Body
fat can also cushion bones and organs for athletes
involved in contact sports. Athletes who maximize body
mass for greater momentum might benefit from extra body
fat provided that they can generate the same speed and
power with the extra weight. A difficult decision is
defining the line between adequate and too much fat.
Determining Body Weight Goals
A goal body weight should be based on body weight history,
sport and position, current body composition, and time
remaining until competition. This decision should be made
with advice from a person with the health of the athlete
as primary concern (e.g. physician or nutritionist), with
input from athletic trainers or possibly coaches and with
an assessment of body composition. American College of
Sports Medicine recommends that male athletes should be no
lower than 5% and females no lower than 10-12% body fat.
Note that these values are for adults; weight loss in
teens should be attempted cautiously so as not to hurt
growth and development. With the exception of an obese
child, weight loss in the child-athlete should never
occur. The athlete should consult with a professional such
as an athletic trainer or dietitian regarding body weight
goals and the decision whether or not to attempt weight
Once the decision has been made to lose weight, the
athlete should be fully assessed (health, diet, and
activity) and a plan should be developed to reach the
goal. Relevant education and materials should be provided
to the athlete with frequent follow up meetings to modify
the plan as needed.
An acronym, GOADA, highlights the primary issues for
healthy weight loss for athletes:
Gradual - Rapid weight loss is more likely to cause
loss of muscle and bone tissue and carbohydrate fuel, and
promote undesirable changes in hormones, metabolic rate,
vigor and mood.
Off-Season - If possible, significant weight loss
should occur during the off-season to avoid an energy
drain that can compromise training and skill development
during the competitive season.
Activity - Some athletes may be able to increase
their calorie burning by adding aerobic conditioning.
Diet - For many, diet will be the focus of weight
loss efforts. Research shows that adequate carbohydrate
(6-8 g/kg), protein (1.5-2 g/kg), vitamins and minerals
(at least 100% of RDA), and a low fat (15-25% of energy)
diet of about 500-1000 kcal less than required for
maintaining body weight is best for weight loss.
Avoid - Although tempting for rapid results,
dehydration, fad diets, supplements, and drugs should
never be used for weight loss. The Center for Disease
Control has had reports of adverse health reactions and
even death from the use of ephedrine, a supplement in many
over the counter weight loss supplements. Dehydration
reduces performance, increases risk of heat injury and has
contributed to the death of athletes in weight class and
So, before acting on your coach's comments about your
weight, get advice from other professionals to decide if
you should lose weight. See your sports nutritionist or
athletic trainer to have your body fat and healthy maximal
weight estimated. Work with the nutritionist to develop an
eating plan that reduces your energy intake modestly while
you boost your daily activity. Weight loss can benefit the
performance of some athletes but can have the opposite
effect if used unwisely.