Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cutting Weight

Wrestlers cut weight. They don't reduce weight. They don't lose weight. Wrestlers sure as heck don't diet! Wrestlers cut weight.

I'm not sure where the term "cutting weight" originated. A wrestler wouldn't say, "I need to lose ten pounds." He'd say, "I need to cut ten pounds."

I had a certain image of what "cutting weight" was when I began the sport of wrestling. It seemed to usually involve guys wearing many layers of clothing so they would sweat a lot. And, it seemed to involve eating less or not eating at all. I knew that some times wrestlers at tournaments would have to run in the hall to sweat off some weight because they showed up over their weight class limit.

I only weighed about 100 lbs. when I was a freshman in high school. So, making weight for the 98 pound class was no problem at all. I think there was one evening before a meet where I was a little worried that I might be over my weight so I decided to skip dinner. I thought skipping dinner was going to kill me. What made me think I would be able to cut 12 lbs. the next season?

I weighed about 110 lbs. when my sophomore wrestling season began. I guess I thought it would be easy to cut weight. I just thought I'd wear a lot of layers of clothing in practice and simply stop eating. Not very smart, huh?

After a few days of not eating and of limiting my water intake I was totally exhausted. I was hungry and thirsty. I was weak. I was getting thrown around by guys in practice that I should have been throwing around. I was like a rag doll.

I went to a local motel to use the hot tub and sauna a few times. I put a blanket over myself and a space heater once and burned a hole in the blanket.

When my coach handed me the uniform for the 98 pound wrestler I thought, "Why are you giving me this uniform, coach? I'll never make weight." But, I did make weight some how.

After making weight the first time, my mother took me to The Grill for breakfast. I ordered two eggs, sausage, and toast. I also ordered two bakery rolls and two large orange juices. The waitress didn't bat an eye. She was used to wrestlers coming in and eating after weigh-in. I'm not sure what my mother was thinking. I ate every bit of it.

During my junior season I continued to cut weight by starving. I would look forward to a can of diet pop after practice each night. I became a little more aware of calories. I would eat carrots or green beans some times.

I usually tried to actually get a few pounds below my weight class the night before a meet or tournament so that I could eat and drink something. Then I would play the "ounces game". For example, if I was two pounds under my competition weight then I knew I could eat and drink two pounds of food/liquid. I usually lost a pound overnight so actually I could probably consume three pounds of food/liquid in that scenario.
The night before a meet I wouldn't have been concerned about calories. I would have only been concerned about the actual weight of the food itself. So, I might drink 16 oz. of water, 16 oz. of pop, two 2 oz. candy bars, an 8 oz. container of yogurt, and 4 oz. of meat for a total of 48 oz. - 3 lbs.

I liked starving for a few days just so I could enjoy eating and drinking the night before a meet or tournament. It wasn't a great system but at least I never had to go to bed thirsty like I had often done the year before.

During my senior season I finally figured out how to cut weight in a smarter way. I know I said that wrestlers don't diet, but I guess that's what I did. I started off at 1500 calories a day and then cut back a little more as time went on. I never went a single day without drinking or eating. I was able to eat more and more toward the end of the season and kept feeling stronger and stronger as the season was nearing its end. I became conference, sectional, and district champion that season and having a smart diet instead of starving had a lot to do with that.

I had two main books that were sort of my bibles. One book I believe was published by some magazine like Good Housekeeping. It must have been a special gift or something with a subscription. I found it on a shelf in our home's office. The other book was a tiny calorie-counter book like one would find at the checkouts in a supermarket or discount store. Both of these books had sample diets and calorie listings for many foods. The books also suggested that when a person got to his target weight that he could eat a certain number of maintenance calories each day and still remain at that weight. I learned that a pound was equal to approximately 3,500 calories. That's why if one cuts 500 calories a day from his diet he can lose a pound per week - 500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories or one pound.

Wrestlers back in my day - the 1980's - were crazy and foolish when it came to cutting weight. They would starve. They would sweat under many layers of clothing. They would spit in cups. They would sit in hot tubs and saunas. I once saw a wrestler stand on his head a few minutes before weigh-in because he'd heard that would make a person weigh less. What a bunch of garbage. Cutting weight became a real morale buster at times. During my senior year, one of my fellow seniors got kicked off of the team because he tried to rig the scale. I wasn't really mad or disappointed in him. Even though it's something I would never have done myself, I did understand how hard cutting weight could be physically and mentally.

When a person drastically cuts calories - starves - his body has no fuel. Therefore, the body will begin to use its own muscle tissue as fuel. The glycogen stores in one's muscles that provide energy are quickly depleted. The brain works best when supplied with glucose (blood sugar) and doesn't work so well when it's deprived of glucose. The body thinks that a famine is occurring during starvation. Therefore, when the body is fed again it wants to hold on to the nutrition it's getting. The body's metabolism slows down when starvation occurs. When the body is given food again the metabolism is still slow and a person will end up gaining weight and then some. And, it won't be muscular weight either. Starvation is just a bad deal all around.

Of course, if a wrestlers skips a few meals here and there he isn't going to go into famine mode. That depends on how many days he goes without eating and on how low his body fat percentage falls and other factors. Google "starvation response" or "famine mode" and read up on it. There are plenty of articles. You might also be interested in reading about the Ancel Keys Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

A bigger threat related to a wrestler's well being is probably the dehydration many wrestlers resort to for cutting weight. Dehydration can be very dangerous and even fatal. Some deaths of wrestlers have been connected at least partly to dehydration. Losing water weight can be a dangerous strategy.

Here's an interesting article on how to lose a lot of water weight in a short amount of time if that is the choice you decide to make:

Here's another article on cutting weight:

Check out my page on wrestling nutrition to see how to properly feed and take care of yourself during the wrestling season.

If I were going to cut weight knowing what I now know here's how I would do it. I would take my body weight x 10 to find out the number of calories I'd need to eat per day to lose weight. If I weighed 140 pounds, that would be 1,400 calories a day. Assuming I would lose about a pound a week, it would take me 15 weeks to get down to 125 pounds. I realize that sounds like a damn long time - three, almost four months. Then I would take 125 x 15 to figure out how many calories I could eat to maintain 125 pounds. So, 125 x 15 = 1,875 calories per day. But, on competition days I would probably not count calories and just make sure I ate well to have abundant energy.

To a lot of wrestlers this would sound too hard or perhaps even foolish. But, on this regimen I would never have to go a single day without eating or drinking. If you are one of those guys who can lose ten pounds in one practice and find that sweating weight off works well for you then go for it. But, I was never one of those guys. I couldn't sweat off a lot of water weight. I always ended up starved and dehydrated. It killed my performance and morale. But, when I counted calories all throughout my senior season I finished the season by becoming a conference champion and qualifying for the state tournament.

Before you decide to cut weight for wrestling be sure to read up on it. Read about proper nutrition. Adequate nutrition and hydration can have a huge impact on your wrestling performance.

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