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Fluid and Diet Patterns Associated with Weight Cycling and Changes in Body Composition Assessed by Continuous Monitoring Throughout a College Wrestling Season

Lingor, Ryan J1; Olson, Amy2

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Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: July 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 7 - p 1763-1772
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181db22fb
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The 1997 deaths of 3 collegiate wrestlers within 1 month increased concern about the methods wrestlers use to lose weight (35). Potentially dangerous techniques are employed “cut weight” to a lower weight classification to achieve a perceived competitive advantage (16,17,51). In response to these deaths, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) implemented a minimum weight (MW) program in which wrestlers must now be weight certified 1-2 hours before competition, which is intended to discourage the excessive amount of weight wrestlers attempt to lose because this reduced time interval also limits the recovery from extreme weight loss practices (4,30). Before the MW program, wrestlers often regained from 2.7 to 7.7 kg within 18 hours of the competition (34,43,45,47,55).

The MW program appears to have reduced the magnitude of weight change in the cycles of loss and regain by collegiate wrestlers, but weight cycling (WC) still continues and may occur up to 15-30 times over a 5-month period (7,41,44,54,55). Rapid weight loss is typically accomplished by the restriction of fluids and food and may include heat (saunas) and exercise to induce sweating. The immediate effects may include symptoms of increased heart rate, dizziness, headache, nausea, and decreased anaerobic capacity, but repeated cycles may cause loss of fat-free mass (FFM) and ultimately compromise performance (1,7,8,33,39). The purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to quantify the acute weight loss that occurs as college wrestlers prepare for competition and (b) to examine the patterns and subsequent effects of WC by measuring weight loss, body composition, and nutritional intake over the course of 1 16-week season.


Experimental Approach to the Problem

An observational study was designed to examine the methods used in WC and cutting weight to determine their subsequent effects on body composition and fluid compartments in the body. Body composition was measured at regular intervals throughout the wrestling season along with daily weights; nutritional intake was determined by food and fluid records, and hydration status was assessed by urine osmolality (Uosm) and urine specific gravity (Usg). Multifrequency bioelectrical impedance (MF-BIA) was used to measure body composition, and its accuracy was evaluated by comparing it with hydrodensitometry, or underwater weighing (UWW).


Thirteen volunteers from a Division III wrestling team provided informed, written consent to participate in this study, which was approved by the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University Institutional Review Board before the start of data collection in 2002. Of the 13 subjects who began the study, only 9 subjects completed it because 3 were injured and 1 withdrew from the team for personal reasons. Subjects in this study wrestled in weight classes from 60.3 to 83.5 kg. Data were collected on all 13 subjects; final data analysis was performed for the 9 subjects who were actively competing every week and whose data was complete in all phases of the research. Of the 9 subjects who completed the study, 6 were NCAA Division III National Tournament Participants, 2 were NCAA All-Americans, and 2 were Conference Champions. The preseason mean subject profile values include all 13 original subjects (Table 1). Subjects averaged 11.8 years of wrestling experience. A questionnaire completed before the beginning of the season by all 13 volunteers who began the study identified methods the wrestlers have used in the past to achieve weight loss (Table 2).

Table 1
Table 1:
Subject characteristics.*
Table 2
Table 2:
Preseason survey results.*†

Subjects were directly observed daily by one of the researchers who was a student athletic trainer with the team throughout the entire 2-year period of data collection for both the pilot and primary studies. Even though this researcher worked extensively with the team on a daily basis, all data were coded at the time of collection and reviewed and analyzed at a later date to maintain confidentiality of the subjects and preserve blinding.


Weight Measurements

Baseline measurements of body weight and body composition were conducted approximately 7 weeks before the start of the organized practice schedule. Each subject's dry weight was recorded daily throughout the season (except Sunday) to the nearest 0.1 kg using an electronic scale. Subjects were weighed immediately before practice wearing a t-shirt and shorts, but no shoes. The weight of the wrestling apparel was recorded (∼0.1 kg) and subtracted from each subject's weight on noncompetition days. The weight measurement for competition days was the certification weight recorded at the meet; the official weigh-in was conducted with subjects in the nude.

Body Composition Analysis

Body composition was measured every month throughout the season using MF-BIA (Bodystat QuadScan 4000, Douglas, Isle of Man, British Isles) for a total of 6 measurements, and values were compared with 2 UWW measurements taken at the beginning and end of the season. Bioelectrical impedance is a rapid, portable, inexpensive, and noninvasive method to assess body composition, but the accuracy of measurements may be influenced by hydration status (25).

The Bodystat QuadScan 4000 measures at frequencies of 5, 50, 100, and 200 kHz, which permits the assessment of both intra and extracellular fluids (ICFs and ECFs) allowing measures of total body water, ECF, ICF, fat mass (FM), and FFM (14,32,42). Multifrequency bioelectrical impedance theoretically has the potential to assess changes in fluid compartments and hydration status and is reportedly more accurate and precise than the traditional BIA instruments (34). Consequently, if changes in hydration status associated with exercise or fluid restriction can be accurately assessed using MF-BIA, this tool would be very useful.

Body composition measurements were conducted typically on Mondays, 2 days after the last competition when it was presumed that subjects would be fully rehydrated from the previous attempt to cut weight, but before the next weight loss cycle. Body composition measurements were taken after a 2-hour fast and before exercise to avoid the effects of food or liquids in the stomach and the acute increases in body temperature and fluid loss associated with exercise. Urine samples were collected immediately before each body composition measurement to verify hydration status through Uosm and Usg.

Subjects' underwater weights were measured and repeated until 3 consistent weights were obtained (within 0.1 kg). Residual lung volumes were estimated using the oxygen dilution technique. Percent body fat (BF%) was calculated using Brozek's equation: BF% = (4.57/Db − 4.142) × 100 (15).

Nutritional Intake

The subjects recorded their food and fluid intake for 2 1-week periods. Week 1 was before the first meet and week 2 preceded the conference meet at the end of the season. Subjects recorded everything they ate and drank, including snacks, nutritional supplements, medications, and alcohol for 7 consecutive days. Subjects were given instructions for recording food and a visual guide for estimating portion sizes and were encouraged to read labels and record foods as they ate, rather than relying on memory. Subjects were also given reminders and extra opportunities to ask questions of the investigator who was a student athletic trainer with the team and have their food records briefly checked for completion during the record-keeping period to enhance accuracy.

Diets were analyzed using NutriQuest Diet Analysis Program, which estimates the macronutrients and 21 vitamins and minerals for approximately 4,000 foods obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) database. The program was written by Dr. Virginia Lee Mermel and produced by McGraw Hill Publishers.

Urine Analysis

Hydration status was determined for 5 days during the food recording periods to appreciate the contribution of dehydration to making weight. Urine samples were collected before each practice from Monday through Friday and analyzed by Uosm and Usg. The Uosm is determined by the number of osmotically active particles in the solution, whereas Usg is a measure of the density of the solution compared to that of an equal volume of distilled water and is therefore determined by both the number and size of particles in the solution. Samples were not collected on Saturday to avoid interfering with the routine of competition days.

Urine samples were also collected immediately before each body composition measurement using the MF-BIA instrument; samples were frozen at −80°C until the analysis was performed within 8 weeks of collection. Urinalyses of frozen samples were consistent (±2 mOsm by Uosm and ±0.003 by Usg) with fresh urine samples during trial testing indicating the freezing process did not alter the results. Previous research demonstrates stability of urinary particles for urine analysis when samples are stored at −270°C for 22 weeks (26) (A), Uosm and Usg were measured using the Fiske Model 110 freezing point osmometer (Fiske Associates, Norwood, MA, USA) and the Misco Digital Fiberoptic Refractometer (Misco, Cleveland, OH, USA).

Statistical Analyses

Standard statistical methods were used for the calculation of means, SDs, and Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.


Weight Loss

Many wrestlers strive to lose weight to wrestle at a classification below their “natural” body weight. Therefore, body weights and composition were recorded 7 weeks before the first competition to determine baseline values before this anticipated weight loss practice. Subjects lost an average of 5.3% of their initial weight to achieve their wrestling weight class for the first meet and lost an average of 4.7% of their weight each cycle throughout the season. Wrestlers intending to compete on Saturday decreased their weight from Monday to Saturday on average by 3.4 ± 0.3 kg. Eight weight loss cycles were measured during the season. A weight loss cycle is defined as a minimum of 5 days between competitions that resulted in weight gain that had to be subsequently lost to achieve competition weight for the upcoming match. Each weight loss cycle is plotted as a separate line, and the patterns over time are very consistent (Figure 1). There were 65 incidences among the 9 subjects that qualified as WC. Of these 65 cycles, 77.4% (48/65) reflected a greater loss than 2.3 kg and 24.2% (15/65) of the cycles recorded a loss of more than 4.5 kg. The most dramatic change for an individual was a loss of 7.6 kg (8.8% of body weight) within 4 days, with an average fluctuation of 6.5 kg per cycle. The lowest amount of weight lost for 1 wrestler was an average of 2.3 kg per cycle. This amount of weight loss is comparable to the reported practices before the MW program (53). The MW program may have reduced extreme weight loss practices by some wrestlers, but the current program does not prevent extreme dehydration attempts by all wrestlers. The weight loss recorded by these subjects was also similar to that reported by other investigators at the NCAA Division I level (7,41,44).

Figure 1
Figure 1:
Average weight loss per cycle before Saturday meets. Weight of 0 represents the average competition weight for the wrestlers competing in the meet. Significant weight loss occurred from Wednesday to Thursday (p < 0.05), and from Thursday to Friday and Friday to Saturday (p < 0.01). *Denotes statistical significance (p ≤ 0.05). †Denotes statistical significance (p ≤ 0.01).

Body weights and fluid intakes were fairly uniform from Sunday through Wednesday. The fluid intake reported for Thursday was on average 19% less than the mean daily value for Sunday through Wednesday, but on Friday, fluid intake on average was 50% less than the mean value for earlier in the week (Figure 2). The average body weight on Thursday was 73.3 kg, 72.1 kg on Friday, and to achieve target weight (70.9 kg) on Saturday, an additional 1.2 kg of weight loss was necessary, which is consistent with previous research (37). Subjects were asked to report fluid consumption during the 2-hour period after completing the weigh-in until competition; fluid intake averaged 1.3 L (range of 0.5-2.4 L) of fluid during week 1 and 1.8 L (range of 0.2-3.0 L) of fluid during week 2, both of which exceeded the total intake from the previous day.

Figure 2
Figure 2:
Average fluid intake before competition. Significant reduction of fluid consumption occurred from Wednesday to Thursday and Thursday to Friday for both weeks (p < 0.01). *Denotes statistical significance (p ≤ 0.01). †Based on current recommendations (9,37).

Average Uosm steadily increased from Tuesday to Friday during the first week, with a significant change occurring between Thursday and Friday (Figure 3). Uosm and Usg were highly correlated (r2 = 0.938), which was consistent with but slightly lower than previous research (3) (Figure 4).

Figure 3
Figure 3:
Average urine osmolality (Uosm) before competition. *Based on significant dehydration is urine specific gravity (Usg) = 1.021-1.030 (9) and Figure 4, Usg = 1.021 correlates with Uosm 860 mOsm.
Figure 4
Figure 4:
Correlation of urine osmolality and urine specific gravity.

Body Composition

Compared with UWW, MF-BIA gave parallel but consistently lower mean changes for FFM and FM. Subjects significantly (p < 0.05) decreased their FM 2.2 kg as measured by UWW and recorded a nonsignificant decrease of 0.9 kg by MF-BIA from the beginning to the end of the season. The change in BF% represents an average decrease of 2.9 ± 2.1% estimated by UWW and 1.1 ± 0.7% by MF-BIA. Fat-free mass increased significantly by UWW, 1.8 ± 1.5 kg (p < 0.05), whereas MF-BIA revealed a nonsignificant increase in FFM by 0.3 kg. The urine samples taken before body composition measurements indicated only 19% of subjects were well hydrated, defined as Usg less than 1.010 (corresponding to Usom less than 410 mOsm in Figure 4), and 14% were significantly dehydrated, as defined by a Usg greater than or equal to 1.021 (corresponding to Usom greater than 860 mOsm) (2,3,9). The 5-day Usom and Usg patterns also suggest that most wrestlers were less than optimally hydrated at the beginning of the week and some were perhaps chronically dehydrated. This extent of dehydration may have affected the results obtained with the MF-BIA compared with UWW, despite the claims that MF-BIA is able to assess for hydration status (21).

Dietary Intake

The average self-reported caloric consumption during the first week of diet and fluid records was 2,000 kcal·d−1 (ranging from 924 kcal the day before and 4,082 kcal the day of the competition) and during the second week was 2,387 kcal·d−1 (ranging from 874 kcal the day before and 3,361 kcal the day of the competition) (Figure 5). The average daily protein intake for week 1 was 60.5 ± 15.6 g protein·d−1 and 87 ± 20.7 g·d−1 for week 2. The overall mean protein intake was 1.0 g·kg−1·d−1 body weight. All but 2 subjects consumed at least an average of 0.7 g·kg−1·d−1 protein, the lowest was 0.53 g·kg−1·d−1. Carbohydrate intake for the first week was 334 ± 107 g·d−1 and for the second week was 343 ± 90 g·d−1; fat intake for week 1 was 50 ± 15 g·d−1 and week 2, 70.5 ± 21.7 g·d−1. Energy expenditures for each subject were estimated using the Brozek-Grande formula to calculate basal metabolic rate (BMR), which was multiplied by an activity factor of 1.5 to determine total energy expenditure. Subjects' average BMR was estimated to be 2,064 kcal·d−1, and the average total daily energy expenditure was estimated to be approximately 3,140 kcal·d−1 (range 2,706-3,476 kcal·d−1).

Figure 5
Figure 5:
Average caloric intake before competition. Significant reduction of caloric consumption occurred from Wednesday to Thursday and Thursday to Friday for both weeks (p < 0.01). *Denotes statistical significance (p ≤ 0.01) for weeks 1 and 2. †Est. Cal. Intake based on Brozek-Grande formula multiplied by an activity factor of 1.5.

The mean Uosm and Usg for urine samples taken before each MF-BIA measurement were at or below 860 mOsm and Usg ≤ 1.021 on all occasions, signifying minimal dehydration (9). The overall mean Uosm was 787 ± 76 mOsm and Usg was 1.019 ± 0.004, although the range is large (82-1158 mOsm, Usg 1.001-1.031) indicating that some wrestlers were in fact significantly dehydrated at the time of measurement.

Thermal dehydration disrupts the assumptions that are used to determine body composition by bioelectrical impedance (5,34). Subjects restricted fluids to achieve their target body weight, but some may have also used other techniques to induce sweating, thus changing their electroconductivity. The details of how subjects made weight during this season were not solicited; rather, information about weight loss methods used in prior seasons was gathered (Table 2). Comparative tests with the MF-BIA relative to other measures of body composition will be continued.


Subjects in this study lost an average of 5.3% of their preseason weight to achieve their desired weight class and 4.7% of their weight with each WC throughout the season, which is comparable to other reports in the literature (36,50). Subjects in practice lost more weight per weight loss cycle than they predicted based on the preseason survey. On the preseason survey, only 62% (8/13) of subjects indicated a typical weight loss of more than 2.3 kg per cycle; however, during the study, all of the subjects experienced an average weight loss greater than or equal to 2.3 kg. Only 8% (1/13) reported on the survey a typical weight loss of more than 4.5 kg each cycle, but 33% (3/9) of subjects' average weight loss was more than this amount. One individual lost more than 7 kg on 4 occasions, and each time 80% of the loss was accomplished between Thursday and Saturday. Furthermore, it appears many subjects feel that fluctuations of 2.3 kg constitute “maintaining a consistent weight” because 69% of subjects reported on the preseason survey they maintain a consistent weight throughout the season and 62% reported variations of more than 2.3 kg.

Wrestlers in this study reported that their typical methods for losing weight were a combination of exercise (92%), calorie restriction (92%), and dehydration (77%). These approaches for weight loss are commonly practiced among wrestlers; less commonly used techniques in this study and others include the use of diuretics, laxatives, spitting, fasting, and forced vomiting (10,16,22,35). Two individuals in this study fasted for more than 24 hours and 1 individual reported having only 0.18 L of fluid during a 24-hour period in order to make weight during the weeks when diet was recorded.

The weight loss cycle for these subjects typically began on Thursday. Body weights on average remained fairly steady from Monday through Thursday with most of the weight loss accomplished in the 48 hours before weigh-in. The change in body weight closely paralleled the change in fluid and calorie intake. Subjects on average consumed less than 1.34 L on the day before competition. After weigh-in, the average fluid consumption before wrestling was 1.55 L, but the total fluid consumed for the day was 4.9 L, which does not reach the recommended intake (9,38). A total of 6.5 L might be recommended, assuming the following: (a) prepractice: 0.5 L 2 hours before and 0.3 L 20 minutes before exercise, (b) practice: 2 L per 2-hour practice, (c) postpractice: (If weight is lost during practice, replace with fluid (L) totaling 125-150% times the number of kilograms lost.), and (d) baseline: 3.7 L.

If the complete weight loss was accomplished via dehydration, this would represent as much as an average of 4.7% level of dehydration per wrestler, which is considered serious dehydration (2,3,9). Furthermore, 4.7% is the mean value; consequently, some wrestlers were more seriously dehydrated. The subject who lost more than 7 kg on multiple occasions had a loss of more than 8.6% of his body weight during those 4 cycles, putting him at severe risk for heat-related illness.

Subjects' self-reported caloric intake also sharply decreased during the last 48 hours before weigh-in. The average intake for Thursday was 1,526 and 900 kcal on Friday. The average intake on Saturday, post-weigh-in, was 3,722 kcal.

The average self-reported daily caloric intake (2,192 kcal) is below the estimated daily caloric requirement (3,140 kcal) but is similar to the values reported by others for collegiate wrestlers engaged in cutting weight (7,45,48,51). An energy deficit of 1,000 kcal·d−1 is expected to result in a weight loss of slightly less than 1 kg·wk−1; however, accumulating weight loss did not occur in these subjects over the course of the season. In fact, weight fluctuations (loss and subsequent regain) remained surprisingly steady from one cycle to another. Individuals cannot consume calories substantially below their estimated requirements without adverse effects on body weight and composition. However, body composition over the course of the season did not appear to be undesirably affected; in fact, FFM increased slightly in this study. One possible explanation is that there may be as much as a 35-40% margin of error in self-reported food records even with proper training and motivated subjects (6,11). Another explanation is that WC lowers the BMR and increases food efficiency (7,12,28). Horswill and Melby measured a 17% decrease in BMR in collegiate wrestlers who lost weight during the season (17,28). The depressed BMR may be an adaptive process to conserve energy by decreasing protein metabolism (19). Steen found a 14% lower mean BMR in wrestlers who cycled their weight (49). Consequently, energy requirements during the season may be lower than formulas predict and this effect appears to be greatest in those who are well below their “natural” weight or who cycle their weight frequently (7). The decrease in BMR may depend on changes in body composition, the amount of weight lost, and the effects of acute dehydration. Both the amount of weight lost per cycle and the number of cycles were similar to what is commonly reported by other investigators (7,41,44). It appears that most subjects functioned at a minimal level of dehydration at baseline and accomplished further weight loss rapidly through dehydration (53-55). This practice of achieving rapid weight loss through dehydration may have minimized the impact on lean body mass. BMR was not measured in this study; however, if BMR does decline, energy expenditures would be overestimated. Likewise, energy expenditure independent of training sessions, that is, during the rest of the day, may be reduced during weight loss cycles, which would also reduce the total energy expenditure below the predicted values.

The variations in weight loss that occurred during each cycle and the caloric and fluid intakes are more easily studied when averages are compared, but this may obscure some observations. The mean caloric intake was approximately 950 kcal below the estimated energy needs, but individually caloric intakes ranged from 0 to 6,130 kcal. Some wrestlers maintain their weight close to their target, whereas others accomplish a more dramatic weight loss each cycle to make weight. Furthermore, the substantially lower caloric and fluid intakes are limited to a short period, typically 48 hours, suggesting that fluid loss, as opposed to FFM, accounts for the weight change.

Self-reported diet records are associated with some error; even dietitians may underestimate their own intakes by about 10% (11). The mere act of recording food may alter one's intake, and not all foods consumed are included in the database, requiring substitute foods to be chosen during the analysis. Furthermore, these diet records represent only 2 weeks out of a long season and may not accurately reflect the true average intake for these subjects. However, the subjects were highly motivated to learn more about their diets, and methods to encourage accurate food records were employed. Frequent contact with subjects to monitor the record-keeping process and answer questions should have reduced unintentional errors in records.

Carbohydrates provided on average 62% of calories, protein 13%, and fat 25%. The results of the dietary analyses in the current study indicate a diet that is higher in carbohydrate and lower in fat than reported by others (44,47). This higher carbohydrate intake may protect anaerobic performance while on a weight reducing diet (17,40). The average carbohydrate intake during the 2 weeks of diet records was 338 ± 97 g·d−1 or about 4.5 g·kg−1·d−1, but on Fridays dropped to 1.9 g·kg−1. Carbohydrate consumption necessary to optimize and restore glycogen stores is a minimum of 5 g of carbohydrate per kilogram body weight per day for athletes like wrestlers and even higher for male endurance athletes (27,52). A 75-kg wrestler (approximately the mean weight of the subjects) would require 375 g (75 kg × 5 g) of carbohydrate per day before competition based on recommendations, but at the rate of 1.9 g kg−1 only 143 g would be consumed. It is not known if an average intake of 4.5g kg−1 of carbohydrate is sufficient for adequate glycogen stores to support wrestling; however, the very low consumption in the 48 hours preceding competitions is expected to deplete stores (13,17). The calories consumed on Friday in fact account for only 5.8% of the total calories for the entire week making it impossible to fill glycogen stores (46).

Continuous monitoring of body composition using MF-BIA can accurately reflect trends in body composition and can be a practical tool to track changes in lean body mass. However, the absolute values obtained by MF-BIA may be slightly inaccurate as the population may be chronically dehydrated.

Glycogen is a primary fuel for wrestling as evidenced by a significant reduction in pre and postmuscle glycogen levels after wrestling bouts (19,40). The impact of weight loss on performance is related to diet composition and total energy intake. Muscle glycogen levels are significantly depleted after weight loss procedures typically used by wrestlers (20,51). Before the MW rules, wrestlers commonly had 12-18 hours to refuel after weigh-in before the competition, but even this amount of time did not completely replace stores (51). The process for complete rehydration and replenishment of glycogen stores may require 24-48 hours (19,34). The MW practice of weighing-in 1-2 hours before the match drastically reduces the potential to rehydrate and replace glycogen stores.

Wrestlers in this study consumed an average of 1.0 g protein·kg1 body weight · per day, which is comparable to the levels of protein intake reported by others (45). This level of protein intake, however, is considered suboptimal for weight-restricting athletes who are estimated to need between 1.4 and 1.8 g protein per kilogram (24,39). If protein intake was optimal, the gains in FFM that occurred during the season may have been even greater.

The present investigation suggests that weight fluctuations in these subjects did not result in a loss of FFM during the wrestling season. In fact, a slight increase in FFM and a decrease in FM occurred in the present study. Although somewhat surprising given the reported caloric intakes, these findings are consistent with previous research. Wrestlers who cycled their weight while regularly exercising did not lose FFM over the season; in fact, they gained modest amounts of FFM while losing FM from the beginning of the season to peak season (40,49,50). Individuals who strength train while restricting calories may preserve FFM by a release of testosterone accompanying acute exercise (23). The subjects in the present study performed resistance training about twice a week as part of the conditioning with the team, and 9 of the 13 subjects who began the study reported they performed independent weight training during the season.

The restriction of fluids alone may hinder performance even without the loss of muscle mass. Friday's fluid intake accounted for 7.3% of the week's total fluid. Subjects were still more than 1 kg away from competition weight on Friday; Uosm averaged 916 mOsm suggesting a level of dehydration of about 3% (9). At weigh-in, the level of dehydration would be about 4-4.5% to achieve the additional weight loss (9). Rapid weight loss achieved through dehydration can adversely affect the cardiovascular and the nervous systems, impair renal and thermoregulatory functions, alter electrolyte balance, and decrease muscular strength and endurance, all of which will adversely affect performance and can possibly lead to serious health consequences (35,39,54).

The volume of fluid consumed by wrestlers from weigh-in until they wrestled was between 1.3 and 1.8 L of fluid. This volume is insufficient to correct the fluid deficit. A level of dehydration of just 2-2.5% can significantly compromise the ability to perform high-intensity exercise (31). Furthermore, the negative effects of dehydration will occur at a lower level of exercise intensity if the athlete is not well hydrated at the onset of exercise (9,29). Assuming the entire loss of weight is because of fluid loss from Wednesday to Saturday, this represents an average of 4.2% loss in body weight during this time period and a 4.7% loss in weight throughout the entire week. Because complete rehydration and restoration of glycogen takes 24-48 hours, and wrestlers have less than 2 hours after weighing-in before competition, they are not optimally prepared for maximal performance (9,17,18,33,51).

Practical Applications

The MW program has not completely eliminated the dangerous practice of making weight by dehydration. Once wrestlers establish their certifying weight at the beginning of the season, they are restricted in how much they can reduce their weight each week. However, the MW program does not track weight gain and loss, and large fluctuations can occur. Individuals should be monitored after achieving a weight class to encourage wrestlers to minimize the magnitude of their WC, especially because some wrestlers may lose more weight than they anticipate as garnered by the preseason surveys compared with wrestlers' actual weight loss.

The wrestlers in this study were able to achieve their goal weight primarily by dehydration and caloric restriction beginning 3 days before competition. The average carbohydrate intake on Friday of 1.9 g·kg−1 was far below the recommended minimum intake of 5 g of carbohydrate per kilogram for athletes (27). Wrestling is an anaerobic sport that uses glycogen as the primary fuel. Wrestlers who are restricting fluid and fasting to make weight will not have adequate glycogen stores and will be dehydrated, both leading to less than optimal performance.

Even with the increased awareness of the implications of dehydration, wrestlers are still reluctant to change their routine of wrestling at lower body weights because they believe this practice gives them a competitive advantage. Wrestlers and their coaches should be given more information from their strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers about the benefits of wrestling in a well-hydrated state with an adequate carbohydrate intake. This instruction should include the physiological consequences of dehydration (headaches, dizziness, higher perceived exertion, and increased heart rate) that lead to decreased performance and an increased risk of heat-related illness. In addition, athletes should be encouraged to maintain an adequate diet (5 g carbohydrate·per kilogram) to help maintain optimal glycogen stores.

The MW rules reduced but did not completely eliminate risks associated with making weight through dehydration because weight loss practices of wrestlers are frequently not monitored during the season. The only way to completely eliminate the practice of making weight through dehydration is to conduct urine testing at the time wrestlers weigh-in for competition. A “safe level” of dehydration should be established as a minimum to be allowed to wrestle. Wrestlers can safely (although not optimally) compete at a dehydration level of less than 3% (Usg < 1.020, Uosm < 815) ([2,3,9,29,31], Figure 4). Wrestlers that exceed these values (being more dehydrated) should not be permitted to wrestle even if they successfully “make weight.” A urine analysis at the time of weigh-in would level the playing field and could ultimately prevent the risky practices that are still used by some wrestlers.


This study was supported by an undergraduate student research grant from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University Undergraduate Research Foundation. Special thanks to Coach John Elton, Saint John's University, for his team's cooperation, to Dr. Dave Bacharach, Human Performance Laboratory, Saint Cloud State University, for use of the underwater weighing facilities and also to Dr. Michael Gass, Saint John's University, for statistical consulting.


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dehydration; carbohydrate; hydrodensitometry; bioelectrical impedance

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