Daily Archives: January 30, 2012

Wrestling’s Unhealthy Habits?


Here is my response to the aforementioned post, containing an article in a local high school’s newspaper about cutting weight in wrestling:

While RRRR did bring attention to an issue with some wrestlers, I’d like to bring some balance to the discussion.

First, some wrestlers do choose to “cut weight,” but a majority, at least on the Capo team, do not, and they eat perfectly healthy. 32 out of Capo’s 42 wrestlers don’t have to lose a single pound. Most of our upper weight wrestlers are undersized, so I actually tell them to gain weight, not by eating everything in sight, but by lifting hard and eating healthy. For some of the 10 left, simply eating healthy and working out hard does the trick.

Secondly, for those that do lose weight, realize there is a healthy, productive way to do it, and an unproductive way. I tell the athletes to work out more, not eat less. In addition, the high protein/vegetable/fruit/nuts/fats, few-grains diet that RRR mentioned in the article is a lifestyle that many competitive athletes even outside of wrestling have adopted because they have found it helps them compete at a more elite level of fitness. The basic idea is that processed grains, which tend to be high glycemic, unduly raise the body’s insulin levels and thus contribute to lower quality of performance. The aforementioned foods keep the body’s insulin levels more stable and body fat at manageable levels.

Not only does that lifestyle help athletic performance; it also helps athletes avoid many of the pitfalls of the typical American diet, which has led to record high levels of obesity and other diseases in this country.

Some, admittedly, still choose to cut corners. It is a problem. Anywhere you have competition, some will go to extremes, and though the particulars may be different, it is like this in every sport. Most wrestlers, like many young people and even adults, often don’t see the problem until they actually get in a match, and their performance suffers. Then they “get it.”

Third, there were some things that RRR presented as problematic that actually are common outside of wrestling and are perfectly ok. Many serious Crossfitters and other athletes, for instance, measure their food. This is normal. Likewise with practicing, lifting, then running for “an hour.” One of my assistants, who competes in MMA, jumps rope for an hour, boxes for two hours, spars in jiu jitsu, wrestles in our freshman practice, then wrestles in the varsity practice…and he does all this just about every day, not because he has to make weight, but because he’s in shape.

These habits can become unhealthy, especially when combined with an obsession with weight and appearance. That needs to be showcased. However, those sorts of habits are not shocking or automatically strange. It’s what fit people do!

Fourth, realize that wrestling is not alone when it comes to athletes cutting corners and doing foolish things about their weight. How many sports deal with steroid abuse? Quite a few, and although discussions about those issues sometimes come up and those issues need to be dealt with, they never overshadow the many benefits that athletes in those sports get by competing. It should be the same with wrestling.

There are so many benefits to wrestling that many who are outside the wrestling community easily miss. For one, wrestling skills easily transfer over to other sports. There is a reason why wrestlers make great MMA fighters, Crossfitters, football players, and the like.

Next, the habits forged in the wrestling room and on the mat stick with the wrestlers their whole lives, and that is good. Due to their participation in the sport, they develop the discipline, confidence, and self-knowledge it takes to succeed in anything outside of the mat. Once a wrestler has mastered his own body and mind, the rest of life becomes mere details.

Perhaps the greatest gift wrestling gives is mental toughness! Look at men who have spent their lives wrestling; what you’ll see is a depth of soul, character, and mental toughness that , while it is found in other places, is a rare thing indeed. So much of the success I’ve had in my own life can be attributed to my years on the mat!

There are even benefits for athletes when it comes to managing their weight. Through the process, they master themselves. What’s more, they know how to eat healthy. They know how to stay in shape. They have the self-discipline to avoid all the junk food out there. Along with this comes an incredible amount of confidence.

In conclusion, I applaud RRR for tackling a controversial topic that needs to be discussed. However, there is still every reason in the world to wrestle, even given the existence of weight classes. The way I look at it, while cutting weight should be avoided, managing weight is not a wholly bad thing.


Wrestling Unhealthy?

Whenever you bring up wrestling to a non-wrestler, nine times out of ten, what is their response? Is it positive, or negative?

Overwhelmingly negative.  They usually bring up one of two things.  Either a) wrestlers roll around with other guys and touch their butts, or b) “aren’t you the guys who run around school in garbage bags, spitting in cups?”

Regardless of the respect that is actually due the sport, you usually won’t get much of it from an outsider.  Wrestling is widely misunderstood by those who have never directly experienced its discipline.

This week, the school newspaper at the school at which I coach published a negative article about wrestling, focusing on weight cutting, titled “Wrestling Unhealthy Habits.”  While she did bring up a problem in the sport, she got some facts wrong and missed another way of looking at it.

I’m going to quote her article here (editing out parts that would ID certain individuals), and then I will post my response in the next post:


Imagine weighing your food prior to each meal.  Imagine practicing every day, then lifting weights, and after all of this physical exertion, running for an hour in order to make your weigh-in.  Some of the wrestling boys strictly follow this routine in order to compete.

At the beginning of the school year, each of the boys on the wrestling team choose what they think would be a manageable weight class.  Once they choose this weight, they have to maintain it throughout the season.  There are fourteen weight classes that the boys are allowed to choose from, ranging from 106 to 220 lbs.  These weight classes are made by the National Federation of State High School Associations, a system that creates the rules for most high school sports.  In this system, each weight class may only be occupied by one boy per team.

Wrestler XXXX considers his natural weight to be yyy.  At the beginning of the season he chose the zzz weight class, fourteen pounds below his starting weight, knowing that he’d be able to maintain this weight from previous wrestling years, but also knowing that this weight wasn’t innate.

“I’m never going to weigh zzz naturally,” XXXX said.

When XXXX needs to lose weight, he’ll go on runs.  The amount of time that he runs for depends on the amount of weight he needs to lose.

According to XXXX, when the wrestlers need to maintain their weight they consume fish and chicken, two lean proteins, and veggies and fruit as sides.  Carbs are virtually nonexistent in a wrestler’s diet.  “The food’s not very good taste-wise,” XXXX said.

XXXX explained that in order to make their weigh-in, the wrestlers hardly drink or eat anything the day before their match.

“My first tournament this year I weighed zzz lbs.  an hour before the match.  That night and the following day I just ate.  That next day I weighed twelve pounds heavier,” XXXX said.

While Coach Bordner discourages these, “yo-yo diets,” at times the wrestlers find themselves adhering to these unhealthy habits.  Sometimes a wrestler of a lower weight class will challenge a teammate of a higher weight class in order to  move up a weight class.  While the implications are good for the teammate moving up a weight class, allowing the wrestler to gain weight, they aren’t too healthy for the teammate moving down one, forcing the wrestler to lose weight.

Wrestler AAAA experienced this.  He originally competed in the bbb weight class, but after a challenge had to drop down to ccc, ten pounds lighter, which was a difficult weight to maintain given that he considers his natural weight to be twenty five pounds heavier.  In order to lose weight, he has cut out all bread, potatoes, rice, and mainly munches on proteins, fruits, and veggies, much like his teammate above.

On Friday Jan 6, he weighed bbb lbs.  In order to compete in the match the following Tuesday he had to drop ten pounds.  That’s about two pounds per day.  In order to reach this weight AAAA weighed himself about five times a day.  He finds himself visiting the scale frequently in order to monitor his weight and weigh his food.

Wrestlers’ diets can come with consequences.

One day in December while trying to lose weight for a competition and not drinking enough water, AAAA stood upo too quickly, and as a result fainted.  While he wasn’t bruised or externally hurt, his fainting probably resulted from a detrimental diet and rigorous excercise schedule.

“(Eating less) makes it harder to stay awake in class, but I had a problem with that before,” AAAA said.  He also noted that he gets angrier than he used to.

Wrestler DDDD, has used binge eating as a last resort to losing weight in his years of wrestling.  As a sophomore, he wrestled in the vvv weight class.  This year, he competes two weight classes lower.  Throughout his yeasr in wrestling he has struggled with gaining weight immediately after a match and then having to lose it in order to  make his weigh in a few days later.

“I’ve struggled with after weigh-in binge eating.  When I’m six to nine pounds overweight the day after a match you have to starve yourself or run it out,” he said.

Although he knows that eating five small meals throughout the day is ideal, when he has to lose this weight ina  day or two it’s not realistic.

“It’s been accepted by wrestling society that you have to lose weight in order to get results,” VVVV said.

UUUU considers himself to be a healthy wrestler.

“Basically I just don’t eat anything artificial.  I eat natural foods and watch my sugar intake, but I don’t feel like I’m restricting myself,” UUUU said.

UUUU firmly believes his disciplined eating will help him with the rest of his life; he does however, admit that he sometimes feels pressured to lose weight and perform well.

“It’s all about controlling your food intake and for the most part I’m happy, but sometimes I do feel pressure from my parents to lose weight,” UUUU said.

The wrestling lifestyle can become unhealthy when circumstances demand that competitors maintain unnaturally low body weights.  While Coach Bordner stresses healthy dieting and discusses nutrition frequently, he ultimately can’t alter the competitive system set up by the NFHS that has so many wrestlers striving to maintain unrealistic weights.  A dire consequence of this system can result when wrestlers believe that this way of eating is quotidian.