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.