Weighing the Consequences

Jamie Tanata

Jamie Tanata

In 1998, the NCAA established a weight management program to eliminate wrestlers from weight control practices that could potentially risk their health or even cause death.

According to the NCAA, in a span of 33 days, three wrestlers died while engaging in rapid weight loss practices in late 1997, by wearing rubber suits and exercising vigorously in saunas.

All of them were attempting to lose an average of eight pounds over a three to 12 hour period, after cutting a significant amount of weight over the past two to three months.

Since the NCAA created a weight management program, many coaches and even athletes are more comfortable with maintaining weight classes at a healthy level.

“It’s one of the best things I’ve seen them (NCAA) ever do,” SDSU Wrestling coach Jason Liles said. “Kids don’t cut as much water weight … it’s not even close.”

Liles said even with the new weight standards wrestlers are a lot happier because they are a better fit according to their body composition.

“It’s much more safe and enjoyable for them as well,” Liles said.

The NCAA’s weight management program requires wrestlers to weigh in before the first official practice and then later reassessed in the middle of December.

A body composition test measures the body fat percentage by a skin-fold test.

The second part of the assessment is a urine test that measures the hydration level. Wrestlers need to be at least in the middle of a normal hydration level.

The second weigh-in during the middle of the season is to verify that the correct weight was assessed in the beginning.

With the results recorded from the program, wrestlers are only allowed to move up two weight classes but can never move down a class.

“It has made our sport a lot safer, before it was a lot more of an open field,” Liles said. “The format we have now makes it harder to lose weight improperly.”

Liles said in the past when the NCAA had no regulations on weight loss, it wasn’t uncommon for wrestlers to lose 15 pounds.

Coach Liles says SDSU wrestlers are never pressured to lose weight to make a certain weight class.

“We will recommend them to a weight class based on our experience with working with wrestlers,” he said.

“We’re not going to makes them change,” he said. “We told our kids if you don’t want to do it, then don’t.”

Liles said much of the unhealthy eating habits and weight loss practices stem from the high school level.

“You want to stay away from the double digits when it comes to weight loss,” he said.

“Basically we want them to eat and drink liquids, but we’re fighting years of improper weight loss from high school.”

He said competing at a collegiate level for wrestlers is a different ball game compared to high school because you are up against people at the same skill level or better, and eating properly is vital to ensure strength.

“At college, you can’t go up against it the same way,” he said. “You don’t have the same energy and strength.”

In an extreme case of eminent unhealthy eating, he will make a wrestler write down everything they ate in day before practicing.

“We can tell in the beginning of the season which kids are and not eating based on their performance at practice,” he said.

“Overall your most successful kids have a better handle on weight loss,” Liles concluded.

SDSU’s two-time national wrestling qualifier, Jeremy Roe, decided to move up a weight class this year because he thought he was cutting too much weight after wrestling at 141 pounds.

“The main reason I switched was to be a lot more healthy and to make wrestling a lot more fun,” he said.

Roe’s decision to move up a weight class has, in some ways, changed his wrestling career.

“I had to almost completely switch my style,” he said.

Roe said he lost a lot of close matches because of the different style the 149- weight class entailed.

His senior year in high school, he was wrestling at 135 pounds.

“In high school, I didn’t know how to cut weight,” Roe said. “It helps to have a trainer there to tell you how much weight to lose, making it healthier on your body.”

Even with the pressures of competing at a national level, Roe has never been pressured from coaches to be at a certain weight.

“He (coach) has never forced anyone to be at a certain weight class,” he said.

“It’s up to how the wrestler feels. He just tells us where he thinks we could be wrestling well at.”

Roe compliments the efforts the NCAA has made in regulating wrestlers’ weight by requiring weigh-ins an hour before a match.

In the past, weigh-ins were done in 8-12 hour time span, making it possible for wrestlers to lose abnormal amounts of water weight.

“It keeps people from cutting too much weight in an hour,” he said.

He also credits the efforts of the coaches and athletic trainers in making sure wrestlers are staying healthy and being smart about weight loss.

“They do a great job on keeping an eye on people with weight loss,” Roe said.