The practice, a serious problem in high schools throughout the nation, also extends into colleges, and now is surfacing in junior high schools. Nutritionists join responsible coaches and athletic trainers call for an end to this dangerous practice in student wrestlers.
Given the value of this sport, it is unfortunate that wrestling should be associated with hazardous health practices.
Before a match, opposing wrestlers are paired by weight. some wrestlers seek drastic ways to lower their body weight. They often lose weight to compete against opponents of smaller stature and less strength. This practice goes by many names but is commonly called "making weight".
Wrestling organizations and many coaches do not sanction the practice, but the problem is widespread. In one study, 41% of wrestlers reported weight fluctuations of 11-19 pounds every week of the season.
In essence, it is a yo-yo approach to weight control. Some wrestlers fast or drastically reduce food intake and refrain from drinking fluid for 12-24 hours before a match. They even spit out saliva rather than swallow it. Others might exercise in rubber suits and spend time in a sauna or steam room.
Some wrestlers use laxatives or diuretics. In extreme cases, they self-induce vomiting or donate blood. To lose weight, they risk dehydration, decreased strength and physical harm. Wrestlers may go on such programs 20 or 30 times during the four-month wrestling season. This can add up to numerous times throughout their wrestling careers. The effects can be dangerous: exhaustion and heat stroke, kidney problems, limited cardiovascular capacity, decreased strength and endurance
It is not clear whether making weight will diminish strength in every case, but there is evidence that premature fatigue is likely. Wrestling demands intense bursts of energy. The athlete who dehydrates himself to enter a lower weight class may have less stamina than an opponent who naturally belongs in that weight class. The Iowa Wrestling Study, a major research study, concluded that there is "unequivocal evidence that (athletic) performance will be impaired when athletes take extreme measure to drop weight.