When talking about nutrition for wrestlers or planning meals, one thing constantly comes up is this:
Is it possible for wrestler to lose large amounts of weight quickly without hurting their performance in the process?
Assuming we're not talking about manipulating water weight for weigh-ins (more on this to come)
The answer is an astounding No.
This question usually comes up in the off-season as wrestlers start counting the weeks until weight certs come up.
In a perfect world, wrestlers would be maintaining their weight and eating a balanced diet when they're not in season so that come alpha weigh-in time, there's not much work to do before hopping on that scale.
The reality is though that many wrestlers sit about 5-10 pounds (or much more) over their scratch weight in the off-season.
Sometimes it's because they're multi-sport athletes (hello football) and have very different goals depending on the time of the year.
It could also be caused by wrestlers being a little more 'relaxed' about their nutrition in the off-season now that they're not preparing for matches.
Or maybe it's simply that they need to move down a weight class because someone else is taking the higher spot.
Whatever the reason, if weight loss is necessary before weight certs, it should be done in a way that isn't going to destroy a wrestler's performance during the season.
(and to clarify, we're talking about high school and college aged wrestlers here. If your wrestler is younger than this they're doing more harm than good trying to maintain their weight.)
If you're trying to drop weight too quickly:
All those hours that were spent at the gym or attending camps with the goal of getting stronger before the next season rolls around?
Probably a waste of time.
Large calorie deficits are required if a wrestler is trying to lose significant amounts of body weight in a short time. Whether that's from exercising more or eating less, a deficit is necessary in order to lose weight.
The problem comes with the type of weight that's being lost.
Unfortunately, our bodies aren't equipped to hold onto our muscle mass when we lose weight rapidly. The simple reason is that our bodies require a certain amount of calories and protein to be able to maintain muscle tissue properly. When weight loss happens too quickly, it's usually at the expense of strength and performance.
Think of it this way: Ideally a wrestler wants to be losing BODY FAT when shedding pounds, and KEEPING their muscle mass so that when they step on the mat they're as strong as possible going into their matches.
If weight loss happens too quickly though because the body wasn't fueled to preserve it's strength during the process, that wrestler is effectively causing the opposite outcome:
Losing muscle mass, retaining body fat and getting weaker with every pound lost.
So how can wrestlers who are looking to lose weight reach their goals without setting themselves up for failure at the beginning of the season?
First, determine if you actually need to lose weight.
If you naturally sit at 157 and are looking to jump down to 138, you may want to re-evaluate your goals because there's a good chance you would not only compete better at a higher weight class, but be healthier, have more energy for training and come in with a better mental game by aiming for a weight class closer to your 'natural weight'.
Chat with your coach and see what they suggest and what spots are available. If it's possible to sit at a higher class, discuss the pros and cons of how this would impact the season.
Assuming you do need to lose weight however, here's how to do it without flushing your performance down the drain at the same time.
Use the 1.5% percent rule to come up with a weight loss plan:
Research has shown that wrestlers who are looking to lose weight shouldn't be losing more than 1.5% of their total body weight in any given week.
If you're going over this number, there's a good chance that you're losing your muscle mass and holding onto body fat instead.
Following this simple rule can help calculate how long it will take to reach their goal weight without sacrificing their performance. To use the 1.5% rule, you can calculate your wrestlers current weight by 0.015% to come up with their maximum weight loss per week.
As an example, if your wrestler is sitting at 132, their maximum weight loss would be ~2 pounds per week. If they needed to lose 10 pounds, then the MINIMUM amount of time it would take is 5 weeks.
Don't want to do math? No worries.
I created a simple tool any wrestler or coach can use to calculate a weight loss plan that will determine a wrestler's max weight loss and a week-by-week plan to reach it.
[Click here to download the free weight plan calculator]
By coming up with an off-season weight loss plan, wrestlers can descend to their goal weight WITHOUT panicking during the pre-season.
Instead of trying to starve, dehydrate or do hours of cardio for days on end-- following a weight descent plan is the first step to preparing a wrestler to start their season right and get onto the mat stronger and more aggressive than ever.
P.S. If you're the parent or coach of a high school wrestler and want to learn more strategies on how to gain a competitive edge and effortlessly make weigh-ins WITHOUT having to skip meals, dehydrate or sacrifice performance, [click here] to register for a free training I'm hosting a few times this week.