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Healthy Weight Center

Is This Too Much For a Wrestling Regimen?

03/11/2009

Question:

This is my son`s first year in wrestling. He has performed quite well. He started in the 160 weight class as a 14 year old (8th grade). He had some baby fat on him, but is tall has quite a  bit of muscle mass. He dropped to 152 in the first few weeks of practice; he slimmed down and remained quite strong and competitive. He won several top five positions among experienced wrestlers. Then he dropped to 142 weight class and weighed in at 139. In order to do this he starved and dehydrated his body. He says that his coach encourages each team member to reduce below their weight class on the day of the match. When I was in high school I remember wrestlers doing this to their bodies. I am curious why this is directed and of what benefit it has to an athletic competition? He seems weaker than when he started competing in November. Should I accept this as acceptable behavior as he progresses through the high school training periods?

Answer:

This question is a relatively common, it is one that we hear far too often. Parts of it I can address, others you will have to address with the school system and/or coach.

The first comment that I feel required to make is that sports participation is, in general, a very positive thing for teens and young adults as it provides exercise and socialization both of which are beneficial.

The thought that he is dehydrating/starving to meet weight is considered by experts in the field to be extremely dangerous (see below). This backs up your feeling that he is weaker, it seems like he is increasing the risk of short term injury and potentially long term consequences by his behavior. As a parent, you may need to advocate for your child's long term health, if you (and your primary care provider) feel that his health is in danger.

The final consideration, based upon his health, height, weight and physical wellbeing, is how is his current weight and nutrition affecting his long term health. Certainly if he is 6' 6" and 142 pounds, he is likely very poorly nourished but if he is 5' 6" then it may well be that he is of normal and healthy weight. In order to assess this, please discuss your concerns with your son's primary care provider.

The American Academy of Pediatrics

Nutrition and appropriate minimal wrestling weight (7% body fat for males and 12% for females) are essential. Weight loss should be limited to 2 to 3 lb or 1.5% of body weight per week. Excessive weight loss by dehydration or use of laxatives or diuretics must be condemned.

Components of the American College of Sports Medicine Weight Control Program for Wrestlers

1. Educate coaches and wrestlers about adverse consequences of prolonged fasting and dehydration on physical performance and health.

2. Discourage the use of rubber suits, steam rooms, hot boxes, saunas, laxatives, and diuretics for making weight.

3. Adopt new state or national governing body legislation that schedules weigh-ins immediately prior to competition.

4. Schedule daily weigh-ins before and after practice to monitor weight loss and dehydration.

5. Assess body composition: Boys age 16 years and younger with a body fat of less than 7% or those older than age 16 years with a body fat of less than 5% need medical clearance before being allowed to compete.

6. Emphasize proper nutrition on a daily basis.

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Response by:

Michael Spigarelli, MD, PhD
Formerly, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Internal Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati