Missouri wrestling team turns losing weight into a science

Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | 7:55 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — The Missouri wrestling team leaves Thursday morning to compete in the quarterfinals of the Cliff Keen National Duals on Feb. 22 at the University of Minnesota.

The wrestling team will use the days leading up to the meet for preparation. The Tigers will lift weights, practice their techniques and devise strategy.

Unlike other collegiate athletes, the wrestlers must also consider their weight. Losing or “cutting” weight is as important to an athlete’s success as their wrestling ability.

An hour before meets, wrestlers competing in each of the 10 weight classes are weighed by event officials. If a wrestler is heavier than their designated weight class allows, they are disqualified from the meet.

Meeting weight requirements, however, can also have negative consequences.

“Cutting weight badly” can be detrimental to the wrestler’s performance. This crash dieting, where the athlete cuts too much weight in too short of a time span, leads to extreme loss of body fluids, and he becomes dehydrated. This dehydration leads to fatigue and low energy levels. With too little time to recover before competition, the wrestler’s performance suffers. 

For Missouri, cutting weight healthily has become a science in which the program and its wrestlers are partners. The program monitors the wrestlers’ weights and energy levels. The wrestlers maintain discipline in their diet and workout regimen. The process is thrown off if either fails to do their part.

Missouri trainer Shane Bishop says wrestlers try to begin the Monday before each meet six pounds above their wrestling weight. This allows the wrestlers enough energy to work out while forcing them to eat healthier in order to stay in the six-pound range.

If a wrestler enters the week outside of the six-pound range, there is a domino effect that changes the coaches’ workout strategies for the week. Coaches are forced to increase the intensity of practice for the wrestler to burn the excess calories. The increased intensity drains more of the wrestler’s energy. By the day of the meet, the wrestler’s body is no longer in peak shape.

“My freshman summer, I made (weight for a meet at) 121 pounds, and I was probably 20 pounds over (the limit) five days before,” junior Alan Waters said Tuesday. “I drained my body, and I was so exhausted.”

Many high school standouts also experience the same challenges as college freshmen that Waters experienced. Good weight loss habits must be learned at the college level where competitors are equally talented. The difference between winning and losing could depend on match readiness. Bad weight loss practices could be costly.

Missouri helps its freshmen transition the summer before their first season. The program holds education sessions to teach them the importance of losing weight in a healthy way. By the end of the sessions, the freshmen know the consequences of cutting weight badly and the benefits of doing it healthily.

“At this level, you just can’t (crash diet) because it shows up on the mat,” Bishop said. “When you cut your weight the wrong way, it’s really hard for you to wrestle at a high level.”

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