Prevention and Wellness

Cutting Weight 

Ashley Jewell, MS AT ATC, Premier Health Athletic Trainer, answers Frequently Asked Questions about cutting weight.

What does “cutting weight” mean? Is it the same as dieting? 

Cutting weight for a sport such as wrestling is not the same thing as dieting.  Wrestlers are trying to rapidly lose weight in an attempt to compete in a specific weight class. Dieting refers to people who are adjusting their eating habits to lose weight and to feel better about themselves.

On wrestling assessment day, wrestlers have to do a urine analysis to determine their hydration level. If they are hydrated, they go through the next step. If they are not hydrated, then they basically fail the test and have to get retested within 24 to 48 hours. Once they pass the hydration test, they are weighed, and the weight goes to the actual decimal. After that they receive a Body Mass Index (BMI) assessment, which is logged into a database that assigns that wrestler to a specific weight class for the year.

Wrestlers are then weighed prior to every wrestling match to ensure that they are able to wrestle within that weight class. If wrestlers have an upcoming match and are a few pounds over the designated limit, they will do whatever they can to lose that extra weight to allow them to wrestle.

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Wrestlers and boxers often cut weight. Why would they use this method of weight loss?

Wrestlers can be placed in a higher or lower weight class depending upon their weight from match to match, so they want to basically cut their weight to stay in a lower weight class. For example, if you're in a weight class of 150 but you weigh in at 157 pounds, you will likely be placed in a higher class and the person that you're going to be wrestling might have a different body mass than what you have, and perhaps be a little stronger.  

Staying within a designated weight class for wrestlers or boxers ensures that everyone they face will be almost the same size and build as them. The higher you go in weight, the greater the risk of competing against someone who is physically larger and a little more muscular.

What are common methods of cutting weight? 

Wrestlers often wear multiple layers of heavy clothing such as sweatshirts, sweatpants, and even trash bags to induce sweating while they exercise. They may even tape around their wrists and ankles to maximize this effect and keep the heat from escaping. Sometimes the temperature of a wrestling room is set to a higher degree to cause sweating so they lose that weight a little bit faster. Boxers will sometimes even sit in saunas.

What makes up the rapid weight reduction when cutting weight? Are you losing fat?

When athletes use heat and sweat to cut weight, this causes them to lose fat, along with a lot of fluids. Maintaining proper hydration is always a concern since a person loses key amounts of potassium and sodium when they sweat. 

What are the dangers of cutting weight? Are there cognitive or long-term health effects? 

The danger is that if you lose too much weight at one time, you could first be put into a smaller weight class, but you will be physically weaker since your body has been depleted of key nutrients, which is harmful to your body. It can also cause dehydration, fatigue and even insomnia. In addition, it may alter a person’s body growth because they aren’t getting the right nutrients into the body from a balanced diet.

As far as the long-term impact, many wrestlers find themselves at risk for developing eating disorders as they become overly concerned about body image.  The growth of social media has played a big role in this issue, as people observe how others are cutting weight and they begin to measure their own worth or performance against another person.

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Does cutting weight affect performance?

Yes, it definitely can affect performance, since if you’re losing weight, you may become weak and not physically up to par. 

A number of things can happen. You risk being weak or dehydrated. A lack of sleep can impair your mental and physical status and even cognitive function to maintain your focus in the classroom, do homework and drive. 

Is cutting weight more dangerous in children/teens than it is in adults? 

From a physical standpoint, cutting weight isn’t necessarily more dangerous for children and teens than adults, though it can play a role in altering a young person’s growth.

A lack of maturity in younger people can also make it more difficult to cope with the pressure as they observe what others are doing on social media.

Are there any healthier ways than cutting weight to achieve the same results?

Yes. Maintaining a correct diet that places the right nutrients into the body, along with exercise, is important. It’s helpful to consult a nutritionist who can help set up a diet that can be maintained throughout the season. A nutritionist can also help you make sure you’re staying hydrated, which will keep you from becoming fatigued on your wrestling match day. 

It’s also good to acclimate yourself with a steady workout routine long before the start of the season. This can help prepare your body for the challenges ahead. If you prepare earlier, you’re going to be better off instead of trying to rush into it two weeks before wrestling season.

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Source: Ashley Jewell MS AT ATC, Premier Health Athletic Trainer

Content Updated: December 14, 2018

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