Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

The battle of losing and maintaining weight for wrestling might be causing long-term problems for a short-term comittment.

The wrestling season is full of singlets, headgear, tournaments, sweaty mats, and lots of exercise. But the one aspect that never seems to be discussed is how wrestlers’ methods of cutting weight can lead to unhealthy lifestyles.

Before an athlete can wrestle in a meet, they must get certified. This process consists of getting body fat tested and passing a hydration test. Illinois High School Association rules state that a male wrestler must have 7 percent or more body fat, and a female must have 12 percent or more body fat in order to lose any weight during the season. If a wrestler is under these requirements, then they are not allowed to cut any weight simply because they don’t have the fat to lose.

Once a wrestler is certified, IHSA provides them with specific data on when they can lose a certain amount of weight; if they miss these benchmarks, then the wrestler must wrestle at their current weight class for the rest of the season. Along with this, if a wrestler wants to drop weight, then they can only lose a certain amount each week, which prevents wrestlers from dropping an excessive amount of weight in a short period of time.

Typically, in the beginning of the season, wrestlers try to cut weight before they get certified, which is when some of the negative ways to cut weight are seen. In theory, if someone is strong enough to beat another wrestler in a higher weight class, then they can beat someone in the lower weight class easier.

When cutting weight entails starving oneself, the person can develop tendencies of eating disorders including anorexia and bulimia. Some even take laxatives in order to flush out their body and lose as much weight as they can.

“[Cutting weight improperly] not only affects your high school years; these bad habits will follow you much later in life, too,” athletic trainer Bryn Nottoli said. “So, make sure when you’re [trying to lose weight], you’re doing it safely.”

If the body is unable to take in nutrients and distribute them properly, then it starts to store all of the nutrients it already has, which is counterintuitive—sometimes this leads to weight gain. The body shuts down when it is overworked and denied an adequate amount of rest and nutrients.

Without the normal caloric intake that a wrestler needs, the body has less energy to function properly, resulting in a lack of physical and mental strength. If one is cutting weight correctly with a balanced diet of protein, fruits and vegetables, then they will naturally drop weight, especially if they work hard at practice and don’t take cutting weight to the extreme on their own time.

“Students take [working out] to a new level, and they start doing it on their own,” Nottoli said. “They finish practice and they go home and run for another two hours.”

After a meet, many wrestlers eat a lot and gain back some weight; they then only have those couple of days before the next week to lose the weight again. This mentality can have negative effects on the body.

The body must have protein in order to function, so when the fat level decreases it starts to pull from the muscles. Not only is the athlete losing weight, but they are also losing muscle mass. Therefore, they are not able to perform to the best of their abilities because they have nothing left to give.

“If [wrestlers] are coming to practice, and all they are thinking about is cutting weight, then they will never learn; if I can’t teach them, then they can’t get better,” varsity wrestling coach Wilbur Borrero said. “Their health is much more important to me than wrestling.”

Diet, nutrition and hydration are key factors in the success of anyone, but especially in the sport of wrestling. If they cut weight properly and move down a weight class, then they will be stronger there; but if they don’t cut weight properly, then they will be weaker and it does them no good. Slowly getting down to an acceptable weight and maintaining that weight with healthy habits will result in success.

“We have got to promote wrestling in a healthier way,” Borrero said. “I am a firm believer that our kids should not be cutting that much weight.”