Journal Title (Medline/Pubmed accepted abbreviation): Int J Sports Med
Page numbers: 523-528
doi (if applicable):
Article type: Review
The authors of this article acknowledge the widespread nature of weight cutting among US wrestlers in high school and college and that dehydration is a common strategy that wrestlers use to “make weight”. They further note the detrimental effects on performance of dehydration equivalent to a loss of 3-4% of body weight. Often, wrestlers engage in weight cutting to gain an advantage over an opponent via improved power:weight ration. However, given the adverse effects of rapid weight loss and dehydration on wrestling performance, the authors suggest three alternative strategies for wrestlers to gain and maintain the explosive power and endurance needed in this sport.
The first strategy is tapering. The authors described several studies in events such as running, cycling, strength training, and swimming that showed benefits associated with high intensity, low volume tapering for 1-3 weeks before the event. One study in swimmers was discussed in which there were significant improvements in swimming power (~15%) and performance (4%). In that study, the fast twitch, mixed oxidative and glycolytic fibers (type IIa) increased in size by 11% and power was elevated 2.5 fold. Type I fibers shortened 32% faster, while type IIa fibers shortened 67% faster. No studies have yet been conducted on tapering for wrestling performance, but evidence from these studies is suggestive of benefits.
The second strategy was maintenance of normal hydration. The authors reviewed a number of studies showing that varying degrees of dehydration (1-3% loss of body mass) generally do not affect strength and peak anaerobic power in athletes, but can negatively impact endurance. Most specifically, a study in wrestlers showed that dehydration via the use of rubberized suits sufficient to cause a weight loss of 4.9% of body mass had the following consequences: 1) no effect on strength; 2) a 21.5% reduction in anaerobic power and a 9.7% decrease in anaerobic capacity during a 40 s Wingate test; and 3) a significant 6.6% reduction in VO2 peak. From this study, it was not possible to determine whether it was the magnitude of the weight loss or the rapidity of the weight loss that was primarily responsible for the performance effects. Other studies, though, indicated that perhaps the rapidity of the weight loss was the more influential factor.
The third strategy was to emphasis a high carbohydrate diet consisting of about 8-10 g carbohydrate/kg body weight/day. The authors emphasized the importance not only of strength and high peak power output, but also the endurance to maintain power output for the full 6-7 min of a match. This is especially important in matches with evenly matched opponents that do not end quickly by a pin. It was noted that wrestlers achieve blood lactate levels similar to those observed in cyclists exercising to fatigue at 95% VO2 max. At such high exercise intensities and typical durations of a full-length wrestling match, carbohydrate will be the primary fuel source. As such, the authors stress the importance of adequate carbohydrate, especially in situations where an athlete may wrestle several times in a given day.
The authors stress 3 main points as alternatives to rapid weight loss in wrestlers:
1) high-intensity, low volume training in the tapering process
2) maintenance of euhydration
3) a high carbohydrate diet containing 8-10 g/kg body weight.
Another key point was that wrestlers must balance what they perceive as potential benefits of weight cutting (e.g., improved power:weight ratio) with the possible adverse effects associated with dehydration and the lower carbohydrate intake required to achieve the “desired” weight. The authors suggest that scientific evidence supports the benefits of these 3 key strategies as opposed to weight cutting. A key challenge for athletes who opt for higher carbohydrate intakes is to be able to achieve these high carbohydrate intakes given the food choices often available to wrestlers, especially those who are traveling away from home.