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How To Cut Weight For Wrestling: 8 Safety Tips For Wrestlers In 2023

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Medically reviewed by Kimberly Langdon, MD

how to cut weight for wrestling

Are you a wrestler looking for ways to shift weight so you can compete in a lower-weight class? Perhaps you want to cut a few pounds while maintaining your muscle mass and strength in the process.   

Losing body weight gradually to get into a lower class weight can make you stronger and more competitive. But many wrestlers tackle weight loss by using unhealthy methods that can leave them feeling weak and tired.

Read on to find out common ways wrestlers try to cut weight, how to diet safely, and what methods you should avoid.

How To Lose Weight For Wrestling

Many wrestlers believe that rapid weight loss enables them to be more competitive[1] at a lower weight class during significant weigh-ins. But they often use unhealthy methods to cut weight that can actually reduce their strength and negatively affect their performance[2].

  1. Start slowly
  2. Stay hydrated
  3. Reduce fat intake
  4. Eat more frequently throughout the day
  5. Eat a balanced and healthy diet
  6. Snack on healthy foods
  7. Continue gym training
  8. Rest and Sleep well

Weight Class Requirements

A weigh-in is usually held at least an hour before a wrestling match to ensure that each wrestler is in the appropriate weight class. Most wrestlers gain a little more weight during their off-season and typically gain a few extra pounds compared to their scratch weight (the weight at the start of a season).

Every young wrestler performing in high school wrestling programs in America must undergo tests[3] regulated by the National Federation of State High School Associations. These tests analyze body fat composition and hydration to determine the fitness level of the athlete. 

The federation can ban a wrestler from cutting any more weight than the calculated percentage at weigh-ins. This system helps to prevent the adverse harmful effects of rapid weight loss amongst high school wrestlers. 

Losing Body Weight Through Dehydration

Studies show up to 67%[2] of athletes who participate in weight class sports, such as wrestlers, limit water consumption as an attempt to shift pounds quickly. This method involves restricting large amounts of fluid during exercise and throughout the day. 

Yes, if you cut water, it might help you lose water weight. Still, you ultimately pay the price with a mediocre performance on the mat, accompanied by reduced mental performance, strength, and endurance[4].

Symptoms of dehydration can present quickly and can make you feel tired and groggy[2]. Mild dehydration symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling sick or nauseous

If you are severely restricting your fluid intake, you may suffer more severe symptoms[4], including:

  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Brain swelling
  • Heat illness (from exhaustion)

If you are unsure if you are dehydrated, you can check the color of your urine. Your urine should be light-colored or clear for adequate hydration and dark and apple juice-like urine indicates dehydration.

Losing Body Fat Through Extreme Calorie Restriction

Many wrestlers try to lose weight quickly by severely restricting their calorie intake, which ultimately results in malnutrition. A wrestler typically needs to consume more calories than non-athletes due to the physicality of their sport, the energy is required for building, and repairing muscle tissue[2].

Some even go to the extreme to make themselves vomit before a weigh-in so that they can compete in that particular weight class category. 

Malnutrition that causes sudden weight loss may waste away the muscles and cause anxiety and depression. Any wrestler attempting weight loss should make sure they have adequate essential vitamins and minerals. 

Extreme calorie restriction and dehydration at the same time are a recipe for disaster. Wrestlers who attempt both these weight loss methods simultaneously can expect a decline in muscle strength, stamina, endurance, and mental capacity[2]

8 Tips On Cutting Weight Safely For Wrestlers

Here are eight tips to help high school wrestlers safely shift a few pounds and maintain the ability to win on the mat in the process.

Start Slowly

Many wrestlers are doomed from the get-go as they set their sights far too high, making it intensely difficult to achieve. Start by aiming to lose 1-2 pounds per week, then gradually 2-3 pounds per week.

Studies show that gradual weight loss[5] is associated with increased lean body mass and strength compared to those who cut weight rapidly.

Aim to make weight a week or so before your scheduled weigh-in and calculate how many weeks this will take you. If you start by cutting too much weight, it might not only be fat mass you are losing but lean mass too (including your muscles).

Stay Hydrated

Losing water weight by limiting the intake of fluids and through sweat is a common mistake many athletes and wrestlers make. Dehydration causes headaches and muscle fatigue, so drink plenty of water to optimally keep your brain and body functioning. 

Try to drink water every 10-15 minutes while at the gym and at least every few hours throughout the day. Avoid caffeinated drinks like coffee and tea as they are diuretics and will further dehydrate you. 

It would help if you started drinking more water in the weeks leading up to a weigh-in as it helps curb hunger by keeping your stomach full for longer. 

Reduce Fat Intake

Similar to wrestling matches and practices, wrestlers require lots of energy and burn lots of calories intensely. So ideally, you want to cut down on fatty foods in your meals but maintain a high-calorie intake. 

Try to consume most of the calories in your meals from high carbohydrate and high protein foods. Carbohydrates and proteins restore glycogen in your muscles[6] and help to heal and build tissue and fibers.  

Eat More Frequently Throughout The Day

Eating each meal at similar times each day can help to curb hunger and increase metabolism. It might also prevent you from overeating. 

Consuming a snack within a half-hour of finishing wrestling practice or competition helps with muscle repair and growth. These refueling snacks should provide between 100-200 calories and ideally contain protein, carbohydrates, and fat. 

Good snacks include a small portion of unsweetened cereal with skimmed milk or ten whole-grain crackers topped with a bit of cheese. Power bars and protein shakes are also ideal at these times or if you are suddenly feeling low in energy.  

Eat A Balanced And Healthy Diet

Consume three balanced meals each day. Start your day with a high-carbohydrate breakfast containing whole-grain cereals, a banana, whole-wheat toast with a bit of peanut butter, washed down with some low-fat milk, and fresh orange juice.  

A balanced lunch may include whole-wheat bread or pita, some lean meat, then packed with various vegetables, such as lettuce and tomatoes. It would be best if you also ate a portion of fruit and low-fat yogurt. 

A good dinner could include high-protein lean meat or shrimp cooked with vegetable oils, mixed vegetables, and a cup of brown rice. You can add a splash of low-sodium soy sauce for taste. 

Snack On Healthy Foods

These snacks are different from those you eat after a workout or practice and only be high-carb, low-fat foods or fruit. If you can, choose pretzels over sugary snacks like candy or chips. 

Be aware of sodium content in snacks. Sodium makes the body retain[7] excess water, so avoid foods containing sodium at least a few days before a weigh-in. 

Continue Gym Training

Try to maintain strength training; you want to keep in shape and prevent muscle loss, particularly if you have added muscle mass during the off-season. By maintaining or adding to your workout alongside cutting fat should lower your weight over time. 

Pre-season and off-the-mat workouts should help you to grow in strength and build stamina. Remember to maximize your exercise sessions to your diet changes to ensure you are cutting weight gradually. 

After working out with another wrestler, drink enough fluids to replace the water lost during practice. 

Rest And Sleep Well

Remember to allow yourself time to rest in between workouts. Try to schedule a rest day each week, giving your muscles a chance to relax, recover, repair and rebuild.

Maintaining an optimum sleep cycle is good for your health, getting at least 7-8 hours of rest per night. Ensure your wrestling practices are not too close to bedtime, as it can affect our levels of deep and REM sleep[8]

So if you want to sleep better, letting your body recuperate and support muscle recovery, make sure you leave enough recovery time before going to bed. 

Here are some other ways if you decide to lose weight for good or if you are concerned about the loss of fat in your feet

Do Not Try These For Losing Weight

Sometimes, a wrestler may hit a point when they are stuck at a certain weight. However, following harmful practices for weight loss can detriment your health and affect your performance negatively. 

Studies show that the long-term use of unhealthy methods for cutting weight can result in many medical problems[2]. These health problems include reduced muscle strength and performance, reduced mental and cognitive performance, mood swings, and changes in our immune system. Inappropriate methods to cut weight include:

Using Excessive Sweating Methods

Wearing non-porous suits, such as sauna suits or garbage bag shirts, relies on water loss and is not a healthy way to cut weight. This method causes you to sweat bucketloads and overheat, and yes, you lose weight quickly but only water weight, making you more dehydrated. 

Starving Yourself

A diet that involves starving yourself to minimal calories a day is unhealthy. Try to stick to a well-balanced diet, eating sensible portion sizes evenly throughout the day. If you fast for too long, you may feel sick, extreme tiredness, or lightheadedness. 

Using Laxatives Or Diuretics

Laxatives and diuretics are not intended for use in weight loss. Their abuse may cause significant medical problems[9] affecting health, such as electrolyte imbalance, irritable bowel syndrome, and damage to the kidneys and liver.  

Eliminating Carbohydrates And Protein

Some wrestlers might not eat carbohydrates and protein in a bid to send the body into ketosis so that it burns fat as fuel instead of glucose. But eating healthy amounts of both protein and carbohydrates helps to maintain strength and endurance[7]


  • Finding the correct balance between diet and exercise is vital to losing pounds yet maintaining muscle mass.
  • You need proper hydration, so drink plenty of water during your practice and throughout the day.
  • Choose to eat three balanced meals with high protein, high carbohydrate, and low-fat foods. Make sure to replenish energy by eating a good snack after a workout.
  • Plan weight loss gradually over time and do not attempt to lose more than 2-3 pounds per week. Aim to make weight a week before weigh-ins as rapid weight loss can negatively impact your health. 
  • Maintain your training to help you lose weight and build strength and stamina.
  • Avoid quick weight loss methods that rely on water loss or cutting entire food groups from your diet. 
  • Shedding pounds to get into a lower class weight might enhance your performance by giving you a better weight to strength ratio, but only if you attempt gradually and healthily. 

+ 9 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Reale, R., Slater, G. and Burke, L.M. (2017). Acute-Weight-Loss Strategies for Combat Sports and Applications to Olympic Success. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, [online] 12(2), pp.142–151. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27347784/
  2. ‌Carl, R.L., Johnson, M.D. and Martin, T.J. (2017). Promotion of Healthy Weight-Control Practices in Young Athletes. Pediatrics, [online] 140(3), p.e20171871. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28827381/
  3. ‌Woodroffe, L., Donnenwerth, J.J. and Peterson, A.R. (2016). Weight Management Counseling for Wrestling Athletes. Pediatric Annals, [online] 45(3). Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27031316/
  4. Evans, G.H., James, L.J., Shirreffs, S.M. and Maughan, R.J. (2017). Optimizing the restoration and maintenance of fluid balance after exercise-induced dehydration. Journal of Applied Physiology, [online] 122(4), pp.945–951. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28126906/
  5. ‌Garthe, I., Raastad, T. and Sundgot-Borgen, J. (2011). Long-Term Effect of Weight Loss on Body Composition and Performance in Elite Athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, [online] 21(5), pp.426–435. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21896944/
  6. ‌Alghannam, A., Gonzalez, J. and Betts, J. (2018). Restoration of Muscle Glycogen and Functional Capacity: Role of Post-Exercise Carbohydrate and Protein Co-Ingestion. Nutrients, [online] 10(2), p.253. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29473893/
  7. ‌Grillo, Salvi, Coruzzi, Salvi and Parati (2019). Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Nutrients, [online] 11(9), p.1970. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31438636/
  8. ‌Saidi, O., Davenne, D., Lehorgne, C. and Duché, P. (2020). Effects of timing of moderate exercise in the evening on sleep and subsequent dietary intake in lean, young, healthy adults: randomized crossover study. European Journal of Applied Physiology, [online] 120(7), pp.1551–1562. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32372217/
  9. Laxative Abuse (2017). Laxative Abuse. [online] National Eating Disorders Association. Available at: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/general-information/laxative-abuse

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

Christina Cheung holds a Master’s of Pharmacy from the University of Bath (UK) and is a freelance writer specializing in medicine and science. With over a decade of experience as a community and hospital pharmacist both in the UK and abroad, she has dealt first-hand with patients facing medical difficulties and decisions. She now writes to promote medical health and wellness to better the community. Christina also has a published science blog with a passion for inspiring and encouraging medicine and science for kids and students. While not writing, she can be found strolling through the country parks with her family and pet dog.

Medically reviewed by:

Kimberly Langdon

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