Want to lose weight quickly? Forget Slimfast. South Beach Diet? Don’t need it. Weight Watchers? Too complicated.
If you’re looking to lose weight in a hurry, there is no one more experienced than your average collegiate wrestler. Wrestlers at all levels lose weight in order to compete at a lower weight class and theoretically have an advantage over their opponents. Sophomore wrestler Adam Frey, the 2007 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, can lose weight in less time than it takes most people to figure out how many Weight Watchers points they just ate. Frey estimates that the average collegiate wrestler loses between six and ten pounds per week.
“How you do that is put on the sweats; get your heart rate up and break a sweat,” Frey said. “Get your sweat going by doing as little as you can; you don’t want to burn your energy reserves out.”
Wrestlers can lose weight quickly by dehydrating, or “cutting water.” This method is effective to a certain extent, but it can also turn dangerous. Wrestlers who have needed to lose a lot of weight quickly have turned to extreme measures such as diuretics, laxatives, plastic suits and enemas, many of which are outlawed by the NCAA.
In 1997, three collegiate wrestlers died within a six-week span because of extreme weight-loss techniques. All three were trying to lose weight by riding stationary bikes and refusing liquids; two were wearing rubber suits. As a result, the NCAA changed its rules regarding weigh-ins. Previously wrestlers weighed in the day before the tournament started; now they weigh in just a few hours before competing, giving them less time to recover from any extreme dehydration methods they may have taken to make weight.
Part of Chris Scarlata’s job as trainer for the wrestling team is making sure that the Red wrestlers maintain weight but don’t do anything dangerous in their never-ending quest to make weight. But he says that extreme measures are rarely used among Cornell’s wrestlers.
“I’ll spot-check their weight; if I think they’re high, I’ll make sure they’re coming down, ask what they’ve been eating,” Scarlata said. “These are college kids; most of them have been cutting weight for 15 years — they know how to do it. For me it’s just reminding them not to be silly.”
Diet and exercise, the two pillars of weight loss, apply to wrestlers as much as they do to everyone else; wrestlers just have more riding on their weights than the average person.
“When it’s time to make weight again, you don’t restrict what you eat,” Scarlata said. “You eat simpler. You eat less starches, less sugars and you work out and it brings your weight down the right way and doesn’t shock the body.”
Frey has developed guidelines for his diet that, while rigorous, are ideal for maintaining weight. He aims to drink one gallon of water per day, avoid carbohydrates at night, eat protein after workouts and, most importantly, eat power-rich snacks such as PowerBars because of their high calorie-to-mass ratios.
“We watch our weight very closely,” Frey said. “I probably step on a scale about six times a day. I can tell you exactly how much this apple or that orange weighs just by looking at it. We really monitor our intake pretty closely.”
Once wrestlers get into the grind of the season and making weight week after week, it becomes easier for the body to adapt.
“Once you start making that weight two or three times, your body adjusts to it,” Scarlata said. “So that becomes your body’s weight for that period of time.”
Scarlata believes that frequent pre-weigh-in dehydration is not only unhealthy, but an ineffective strategy for wrestlers.
“When you dehydrate, you don’t have the energy,” Scarlata said. “Unless you win the match in the first two minutes you just run out of gas.”
Regardless of long-term health implications, weight management is an integral part of wrestling, from junior levels all the way to the Olympics.
“Cutting weight is just a way to bend the rules to someone’s advantage, and it’s just an accepted part of the sport,” Frey said. “It’s almost a tradition of the sport; a lot of wrestlers pride themselves on being mentally tough and being able to cut the weight, being disciplined. It’s just the nature of the beast. You sign up to wrestle and you want to be good and compete at the highest levels; you’re going to have to cut the weight.”