Rapid weight loss is dangerous for athletes

Historically, wrestling is one of the first competitive sports. It dates back to the first Olympic Games in Greece. Millions of amateur athletes are drawn to wrestling because it matches competitors of similar weight and size. It requires strength, coordination and endurance.

There is a very dangerous side to wrestling and other weight-based sports like boxing. The danger is the tendency for competitors to “cut weight.” Cutting weight is the practice of losing large amounts of weight in a short period of time so that the athlete qualifies to compete in a lower weight class. Athletes generally weigh-in 24 hours before a match, then try to replenish fluids prior to their match. This results in large fluid shifts.

Common techniques for cutting weight include exercising in a sauna while wearing an impermeable plastic suit and sweats. This causes hyperthermia and, in three well-publicized cases, has lead to the death of athletes. Some will use laxatives and diuretics in addition to sweating off fluid.

Vigorous exercise at high temperatures will result in muscle breakdown called rhabdomyolysis. As muscle breaks down, the athlete becomes weaker.

In boxing, the pre-fight weigh-in includes a physical exam. It is often during the exam that the ringside physician can detect signs of cutting weight like a rapid heart rate and low blood pressure. This can lead to disqualification.

USA Boxing and the NCAA now require athletes to weigh-in shortly before the event so that there is no time to replenish fluid and anyone who has cut an extreme amount of weight will be physically unable to compete at peak performance.

This unfortunately has not discouraged these dangerous practices and there are internet websites advising young athletes how to rapidly lose weight.

Athletes often feel invincible and it becomes the job of coaches, athletic trainers and parents to monitor their weight.

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