Journal Logo

ACSM Position Stand: The Female Athlete Triad

ACSM Position Stand: Weight Loss in Wrestlers

Oppliger, Robert A. Ph.D., FACSM, (Chair); Case, H. Samuel Ph.D., FACSM; Horswill, Craig A. Ph.D.; Landry, Gregory L. M.D.; Shelter, Ann C. M.A., R.D.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 1996 - Volume 28 - Issue 10 - p 135-138
  • Free



For more than half a century, rapid weight loss, “weight cutting” as practiced by wrestlers, has remained a concern among educators, health professionals, exercise scientists, and parents(14,28,55,63). Since the American College of Sports Medicine first published the position statement Weight Loss in Wrestlers (3) in 1976, a plethora of research articles has been published on this topic. On a weekly basis, rapid weight loss in high school and collegiate wrestlers has been shown to average 2 kg and may exceed 2.7 kg among 20% of the wrestlers(41,55,61). One-third of high school wrestlers have reported repeating this process more than 10 times in a season(41,61). These practices have been documented over the past 25 years (61,62), and during that time their prevalence appears to have changed little(41,55,61).


While wrestlers may believe they have excess fat, studies show that in the off-season high school wrestlers have 8%-11% body fat, well below their high school peers who average 15%(6,21,24,60). Estimates made during the season have found body fat to be as low as 3% and average 6%-7%(17,23,27,38,42,43,58). Consequently, loss of fat contributes minimally to weight reduction while the primary methods for weight loss (e.g., exercise, food restriction, fasting, and various dehydration methods) affect body water, glycogen content, and lean body mass (23,51,56,67,69). These weight loss techniques are used by 25%-67% of wrestlers(32,41,61,69). Use of pharmacological agents, including diuretics, stimulants, and laxatives to reduce weight has been reported among a few of these athletes(32,41,55). The weight loss techniques have been passed down from wrestler to wrestler, or coach to wrestler, and have changed little over the past 25 yr. Seldom do parents and health professionals provide input on how to lose weight appropriately(32,41,61). Recently, a small but growing number of females have begun to participate in wrestling. No data exist on the weight control behaviors of this select group of wrestlers. If these females also practice “weight cutting,” the same health and performance concerns apply to them as to their male counterparts.

Wrestlers practice these weight loss techniques believing their chances of competitive success will increase. Ironically, “weight cutting” may impair performance and endanger the wrestler's health. Weight loss in wrestlers can be attributed to reductions in body water, glycogen, lean tissue, and only a small amount of fat. The combination of food restriction and fluid deprivation creates a synergistic, adverse physiologic effect on the body leaving the wrestler ill-prepared to compete. In addition, most forms of dehydration, e.g., sweating and catharsis, contribute to the loss of electrolytes as well as water (5,9). Wrestlers hope to replenish body fluids, electrolytes, and glycogen in the brief period (30 min-20 h) between the weigh-in and competition. However, reestablishing fluid homeostasis may take 24-48 h (10); replenishing muscle glycogen may take as long as 72 h (11,25), and replacing lean tissue might take even longer. In short, weight cutting appears to adversely influence the wrestler's energy reserves and fluid and electrolyte balances.

The singular or combined effects of “weight cutting” on physiological function and performance are presented inTable 1. These functions are indicators of performance on the mat; however, no research to date has investigated the relationship between wrestling performance and weight loss. Although the scientific data are not conclusive, these “weight cutting” practices may also alter hormonal status (59), diminish protein nutritional status (20), impede normal growth and development(18), affect psychological state(19,32,37,41,55), impair academic performance (8,13,64), and have severe consequences such as pulmonary emboli (12), pancreatitis (34), and reduce immune function(30). Use of diuretics may result in more profound effects on the cardiovascular systems and electrolyte balance than other forms of weight loss (5,7).

For these reasons, the National Federation of State High School Associations supports the opinion that each state implement rules that include an effective weight control program (39). Several states have successfully instituted programs that require body composition assessment and nutrition education (personal communications, 40), and more states appear poised to follow. Scientists, physicians, dieticians, coaches, athletic administrators, trainers, and other health professionals should work towards implementation of these recommended changes nationwide.


Because of the equivocal benefits and the potential health risks created by the procedures used for “weight cutting” by wrestlers(particularly adolescents), the ACSM makes the following recommendations:

  1. Educate coaches and wrestlers about the adverse consequences of prolonged fasting and dehydration on physical performance and physical health.
  2. Discourage the use of rubber suits, steam rooms, hot boxes, saunas, laxatives, and diuretics for “making weight.”
  3. Adopt new state or national governing body legislation that schedules weigh-ins immediately prior to competition.
  4. Schedule daily weigh-ins before and after practice to monitor weight loss and dehydration. Weight lost during practice should be regained through adequate food and fluid intake.
  5. Assess the body composition of each wrestler prior to the season using valid methods for this population (42,60). Males 16 yr and younger with a body fat below 7% or those over 16 yr with a body fat below 5% need medical clearance before being allowed to compete. Female wrestlers need a minimal body fat of 12%-14% (33).
  6. Emphasize the need for daily caloric intake obtained from a balanced diet high in carbohydrates (>55% of calories), low in fat (<30% of calories) with adequate protein (15%-20% of calories, 1.0-1.5 g·kg-1 body weight) determined on the basis of RDA guidelines and physical activity levels(16,22,54). The minimal caloric intake for wrestlers of high school and college age should range from 1700 to 2500 kcal·d-1, and rigorous training may increase the requirement up to an additional 1000 calories per day (16). Wrestlers should be discouraged by coaches, parents, school officials, and physicians from consuming less than their minimal daily needs. Combined with exercise, this minimal caloric intake will allow for gradual weight loss. After the minimal weight has been attained, caloric intake should be increased sufficiently to support the normal developmental needs of the young wrestler(16).

The ACSM encourages:

Permitting more participants per team to compete by adding weight classes between 119 lbs. and 151 lbs. or by allowing more than one representative at a given weight class just as swimming and track teams do in competition.

Standardization of regulations concerning the eligibility rules at championship tournaments so that severe and rapid weight loss is discouraged at the end of the season (e.g., a wrestler dropping one or more weight classes).

Cooperative efforts between coaches, exercise scientists, physicians, dietitians, and wrestlers to systematically collect data on the body composition, hydration state, energy and nutritional demands, growth, maturation, and psychological development of wrestlers.

Through this position statement, the ACSM hopes to further the sport of wrestling by providing a positive educational environment for the primary, secondary, or collegiate wrestler. The ACSM believes these recommendations will enable the athlete to better focus on skill acquisition, fitness enhancement, psychological preparation, and the social interactions offered by the sport.


This position stand replaces the 1976 ACSM position paper, “Weight Loss in Wrestlers.”

This pronouncement was reviewed for the American College of Sports Medicine by members-at-large, the Pronouncements Committee, and by: Jack Harvey, M.D., FACSM, Michael Sharratt, Ph.D., FACSM, Suzanne Steen, Ph.D., and Charles Tipton, Ph.D., FACSM.


1. Ahlman, K. and M. J. Karvonen. Weight reduction by sweating in wrestlers and its effect on physical fitness. J. Sports Med. 1:58-62, 1961.
    2. Allen, T. E., D. P. Smith, and D. K. Miller. Hemodynamic response to submaximal exercise after dehydration and rehydration in high school wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 9:159-163, 1977.
      3. American College of Sports Medicine. Position statement: weight loss in wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports 8:xi-xiii, 1976.
      4. Cahill, G. F. Starvation in man. N. Engl. J. Med. 282:668-675, 1970.
      5. Caldwell, J. E., E. Ahonen, and U. Nousiainen. Differential effects of sauna-, diuretic-, and exercise-induced hypohydration.J. Appl. Physiol. 57:1018-1023, 1984.
      6. Cisar, C. J., G. O. Johnson, A. C. Fry, et al. Preseason body composition, build, and strength as predictors of high school wrestling success. J. Appl. Sports Sci. Res. 1:66-70, 1987.
      7. Claremont, A. D., D. L. Costill, W. J. Fink, and P. Vanhandel. Heat tolerance following diuretic induced dehydration. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 8:239-243, 1976.
      8. Conners, C. K. and A. G. Bouin Nutritional effects on behavior of children. Psychiatry Res. 17:193-201, 1982.
      9. Costill, D. L., P. Cote, and W. J. Fink. Muscle water and electrolytes following varied levels of dehydration in man. J. Appl. Physiol. 40:6-11, 1976.
      10. Costill, D. L. and K. E. Sparks. Rapid fluid replacement following thermal dehydration. J. Appl. Physiol. 34:299-303, 1973.
      11. Coyle, E. F. and E. Coyle. Carbohydrates that speed recovery from training. Physician Sportsmed. 21:111-123, 1993.
      12. Croyle, P. H., R. A. Place, and A. D. Hilgenberg Massive pulmonary embolism in a high school wrestler. J.A.M.A. 241:827-828, 1979.
      13. DeFeo, P., V. Gallia, and G. Mazzotta. Modest decrements in plasma glucose concentration cause early impairment in cognitive function and later activation in glucose counterregulation in absence of hypoglycemic symptoms in normal man. J. Clin. Invest. 82:436-444, 1988.
      14. Doshner, N. The effect of rapid weight loss upon the performance of wrestlers and boxers and upon the physical proficiency of college students. Res. Q. 15:317-324, 1944.
      15. Felig, P., O. E. Owen, J. Wahren, and G. F. Cahill. Amino acid metabolism during prolonged starvation. J. Clin. Invest. 48:584-594, 1969.
      16. Food and Nutrition Board. Recommended Dietary Allowances, 10th Ed. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1989, pp. 24-37, 65, 66.
      17. Freischlag, J. Weight loss, body composition, and health of high school wrestlers. Physician Sportsmed. 12:121-126, 1984.
      18. Hansen, N. C. Wrestling with “making weight.” Physician Sportsmed. 6:106-111, 1978.
      19. Horswill, C. A., R. C. Hickner, J. R. Scott, D. L. Costill, and D. Gould. Weight loss, dietary carbohydrate modifications and high intensity physical performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 22:470-476, 1990.
      20. Horswill, C. A., S. H. Park, and J. N. Roemmich. Changes in the protein nutrition status of adolescent wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 22:599-604, 1990.
      21. Horswill, C. A., J. Scott, P. Galea, and S. H. Park. Physiological profile of elite junior wrestlers. Res. Q. Exerc. Sports 59:257-261, 1988.
      22. Houck, J. and J. Slavin. Protein nutrition in the athlete. In: Sports Nutrition for the 90s: The Health Profession's Handbook. J. R. Berning and S. N. Steen (Eds.). Gaitherburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1991, pp. 1-12.
      23. Houston, M. E., D. A. Marrin, H. J. Green, and J. A. Thomson. The effect of rapid weight reduction on physiological functions in wrestlers. Physician Sportsmed. 9:73-78, 1981.
      24. Hughes, R. A., T. J. Housh, and G. O. Johnson. Anthropometric estimations of body composition across a season. J. Appl. Sports Sci. Res. 5:71-76, 1992.
      25. Hultman, E. and L. Nilsson. Liver glycogen as glucose-supplying source during exercise. Limiting Factors of Physical Performance. 1973, pp. 179-189.
      26. Jacobs, I. The effects of thermal dehydration on performance of the Wingate anaerobic test. Int. J. Sports Med. 1:21-24, 1980.
      27. Kelly, J. M., B. A. Gorney, and K. K. Kalm. The effect of a collegiate wrestling season on body composition, cardiovascular fitness, and muscular strength, and endurance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 10:119-124, 1978.
      28. Kenny, H. E. The problem of making weight for wrestling meets. J. Health Phys. Ed. 1:24, 1930.
      29. Klinzing, J. E. and W. Karpowicz. The effect of rapid weight loss and rehydration on a wrestling performance test. J. Sports Med. 26:149-145, 1986.
        30. Kono, I., H. Kitao, M. Matsuda, S. Haga, and H. Fukushmia. Weight reduction in athletes may adversely affect phagocytic function of monocytes. Physician Sportsmed. 16:56-65, 1988.
        31. Kozlowski, S. and B. Saltin. Effects of sweat loss on body fluids. J. Appl. Physiol. 19:1119-1124, 1964.
        32. Lakin, J. A., S. N. Steen, and R. A. Oppliger. Eating behaviors, weight loss methods, and nutritional practices of high school wrestlers. J. Community Health Nurs. 7:223-234, 1990.
        33. McArdle, W. D., F. I. Katch, and V. L. Katch.Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance, 3rd Ed. Malvern, PA: Lea & Febiger, 1991, p. 488.
        34. McDermott, W. V., M. K. Bartlett, and P. J. Culver. Acute pancreatitis after prolonged fast and subsequent surfeit. N. Engl. J. Med. 254:379-80, 1956.
        35. McMurray, R. G., C. R. Proctor, and W. L. Wilson. Effects of caloric deficit and dietary manipulation on aerobic and anaerobic exercise. Int. J. Sports Med. 12:167-172, 1991.
        36. Melby, C. L., W. D. Schmidt, and D. Corrigan. Resting metabolic rate in weight-cycling collegiate wrestlers compared with physically active, noncycling control subjects. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 52:409-414, 1990.
        37. Morgan, W. P. Psychological effects of weight reduction in the college wrestler. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 2:24-27, 1970.
        38. Nagle, F. J., W. P. Morgan, R. O. Hellickson, R. C. Serfass, and J. F. Alexander. Spotting success traits in Olympic contenders.Physician Sportsmed. 3:31-34, 1975.
        39. National Federation of High School Associations.Wrestling Rules 1992-93. Kansas City, MO: National Federation of High School Associations, 1992.
        40. Oppliger, R. A., R. D. Harms, D. L. Herrmann, C. M. Streich, and R. R. Clark. The Wisconsin wrestling minimal weight project: a model for wrestling weight control. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 27:1220-1224, 1995.
        41. Oppliger, R. A., G. L. Landry, S. A. Foster, and A. C. Lambrecht. Bulimic behaviors among high school wrestler: a statewide survey.Pediatr. Res. 94:826-831, 1993.
        42. Oppliger, R. A., D. H. Neilsen, and C. G. Thompson. Minimal weight predicted by bioelectrical impedance and anthropometric equations. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 23:247-253, 1991.
        43. Oppliger, R. A. and C. M. Tipton. Weight prediction equation tested and available. Iowa Med. 75:449-452, 1985.
        44. S. H., Park, J. N. Roemmich, and C. A. Horswill. A season of wrestling and weight loss by adolescent wrestlers: effect on anaerobic arm power. J. Appl. Sports Sci. Res. 4:1-4, 1990.
          45. Ribisl, P. M. and W. G. Herbert. Effect of rapid weight reduction and subsequent rehydration upon the physical working capacity of wrestlers. Res. Q. 41:536-541, 1970.
          46. Roemmich, J. N., W. E. Sinning. Sport seasonal changes in body composition, growth, power, and strength of adolescent wrestlers.Int. J. Sports Med. 17:92-99, 1996.
          47. Saltin, B. Aerobic and anaerobic work capacity after dehydration. J. Appl. Physiol. 19:1114-1118, 1964.
          48. Saltin, B. Circulatory response to submaximal and maximal exercise after thermal dehydration. J. Appl. Physiol. 19:1125-1132, 1964.
          49. Sawka, M. N., R. P. Francesconi, K. B. Pandolf, and A. J. Young. Influence of hydration level and body fluids on exercise performance in the heat. J.A.M.A. 252:1165-1169, 1984.
          50. Serfass, R. C., G. A. Stull, J. F. Alexander, and J. L. Ewing. The effects of rapid weight loss and attempted rehydration on strength and endurance of the hand muscle in college wrestlers. Res. Q. Exerc. Sports 55:46-52, 1984.
            51. Sherman, W. M., D. L. Costill, W. J. Fink, F. C. Hagerman, L. E. Armstrong, and T. S. Murray. Effect of 42.2 m footrace and subsequent rest or exercise on muscle glycogen and enzymes. J. Appl. Physiol. 55:1219-1224, 1983.
            52. Short, S. H. and W. R. Short. Four year study of university athletes' dietary intake. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 82:632-645, 1983.
            53. Singer, R. N. and S. A. Weiss. Effects of weight reduction on selected anthropometric, physical, and performance measures of wrestlers. Res. Q. 39:361-369, 1968.
            54. Steen, S. N. Nutritional considerations for the low body-weight athlete. In: Sports Nutrition for the 90s: The Health Profession's Handbook, J. R. Berning and S. N. Steen (Eds.). Gaitherburg, MD: Aspen Publishers: 1991, pp. 160-164.
            55. Steen, S. N. and K. D. Brownell. Patterns of weight loss and regain in wrestlers: has the tradition changed? Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 22:762-768, 1990.
            56. Steen, S. N. and S. McKinney. Nutritional assessment of college wrestlers. Physician Sportsmed. 14:100-116, 1986.
            57. Steen, S. N., R. A. Oppliger, and K. D. Brownell. Metabolic effects of repeated weight loss and regain in adolescent wrestlers.J.A.M.A. 260:47-50, 1988.
            58. Stine, G., R. Ratliff, G. Shierman, and W. A. Grana. Physical profile of the wrestlers at the 1977 NCAA Championships.Physician Sportsmed. 7:98-105, 1979.
            59. Strauss, R. H., R. R. Lanese, and W. B. Malarkey. Weight loss in amateur wrestlers and its effect on serum testosterone.J.A.M.A. 254:3337-3338, 1985.
            60. Thorland, W. G., C. M. Tipton, R. W. Bowers, et al. Midwest wrestling study: prediction of minimal weight for high school wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 23:1102-1110, 1991.
            61. Tipton, C. M. and T. K. Tcheng. Iowa wrestling study: weight loss in high school students. J.A.M.A. 214:1269-1274, 1970.
            62. Tipton, C. M., T. K. Tcheng, and W. D. Paul. Evaluation of the Hall method for determining minimum wrestling weights. J. Iowa Med. Soc. 59:571-574, 1969.
            63. Tuttle, W. W. The effects of weight loss by dehydration and witholding of food on the physiologic response of wrestlers. Res. Q. 14:158-166, 1943.
            64. Tuttle, W. W., K. Daum, L. Myers, and C. Martin. Effect of omitting breakfast on the physiologic response of men. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 26:332-335, 1950.
            65. Vaccaro, P., C. W. Zauner, and J. R. Cade. Changes in body weight, hematocrit, and plasma protein concentration due to dehydration and rehydration in wrestlers. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fitness 16:45-53, 1976.
            66. Webster, S., R. Rutt, and A. Weltman. Physiological effects of a weight loss regimen practiced by college wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 22:229-234, 1990.
            67. Weissinger, E., T. J. Housh, G. O. Johnson, and S. A. Evans. Weight loss behavior in high school wrestling: wrestler and parent perception. Pediatr. Exerc. Sci. 3:64-73, 1991.
            68. Widerman, P. M. and R. D. Hagen. Body weight loss in a wrestler preparing for competition: a case report. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 14:413-418, 1982.
            69. Woods, E. R., C. D. Wilson, and R. P. Masland. Weight control methods in high school wrestlers. J. Adolesc. Health Care 9:394-397, 1988.
            70. Zambraski, E. J., D. T. Foster, P. M. Gross, and C. M. Tipton. Iowa wrestling study: weight loss and urinary profiles of collegiate wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports 8:105-108, 1976.
            71. Zambraski, E. J., C. M. Tipton, H. R. Jordan, W. K. Palmer, and T. K. Tcheng. Iowa wrestling study: urinary profiles of state finalists prior to competition. Med. Sci. Sports 6:129-132, 1974.
            72. Zambraski, E. J., C. M. Tipton, T. K. Tcheng, H. R. Jordan, A. C. Vailas, and A. K. Callahan. Iowa wrestling study: changes in urinary profiles of wrestlers prior to and after competition. Med. Sci. Sports 7:217-220, 1975.
            ©1996The American College of Sports Medicine