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Wrestling: Preventing Unhealthy Weight Loss Activities

In 1997, when three collegiate wrestlers died because of unhealthy weight loss activities, the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA) sought a way to stop such tragedies, which have occurred over decades. 

The organization partnered with sports medicine experts to create the Optimal Performance Calculator (OPC) for wrestling.

The OPC weight management program safeguards wrestlers from the many harmful effects associated with rapid weight loss, such as:

  • Increases in:
    • Core body temperature
    • Rate of glycogen degradation lactate levels
    • Norepinephrine concentrations
  • Decreases in:
    • Strength
    • Power
    • Lactate threshold
    • Testosterone levels
    • Cardiac output

Calculating Lowest Acceptable Wrestling Weight

To ensure safety and optimize performance, wrestlers must have a preseason assessment — up to six weeks before their first practice — to calculate their lowest acceptable wrestling weight.

A certified athletic trainer or health care professional, with access to the NWCA OPC, measures the wrestler's:

  • Hydration status
  • Body composition
  • Body weight

The assessor then enters the data into the OPC, which generates the lowest allowable wrestling weight for each athlete.

For junior high and high school athletes, body fat may not be lower than:

  • 7 percent for males
  • 12 percent for females

Therefore, if a male high school athlete has 7 percent body fat, his current body weight is the lowest safe wrestling weight for him.

Weight Loss Programs

In addition to providing wrestlers with this valuable assessment, the NWCA also provides individualized weight loss programs that include:

  • Daily nutrient goals
  • Food options
  • Educational materials

These diet prescriptions allow wrestlers to decrease up to 1.5 percent of their alpha weight per week.

Failure of wrestlers to follow the NWCA's safe dieting plans may alter or delay their date of participation.

Meeting the Needs of Other Weight-Sensitive Sports

Although the NWCA and sports scientists originally developed this program for wrestlers, the NWCA modified the OPC to benefit other weight-sensitive sports, such as gymnastics and cross country.

This “all sport” version calculates the ideal competition weight for these athletes.


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