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Supplement Savvy - 9/15/05.

Today I am going to talk about the effects of a competitive wrestling season on body composition, strength, and power in NCAA Division III college wrestlers.

As the colder months quickly approach us, it's time to start thinking about winter sports: wrestling, swimming, basketball. It's not quite time to lose site of football, soccer and the like, as their competitive seasons just started, but the other sports are around the corner.

Those of you who wrestle know that competitive wrestling often involves drastic weight reduction to wrestle at different weight limits. All too often these practices are not healthy and involve starvation, extreme sweating and weight losses that are inappropriate for a person's height and body type.

Outsiders view these practices as unhealthy, but wrestlers and wrestling coaches (who did the same thing when they wrestled) many times feel it comes with the nature of the sport. The NCAA has particular rules and regulations about cutting weight to help with the safety of the athletes, which was of concern after a few wrestlers died several years back because of dehydration.

This mandatory weight certification program requires certified athletic trainers or team physicians to measure body mass, body composition, and specific gravity of urine (a measure of hydration status). These measures then provide information so health professionals can establish a "minimum wrestling weight" of which the wrestler can not wrestle below.

However, despite these efforts, the basis of weight class sports, like wrestling, still makes it difficult for athletes to maintain lean body mass. The key would be for athletes to lose body mass, but not fat free mass (if there was body mass to lose).

I'm preaching to the choir here, but it goes without saying that a solid strength program would be ideal in this situation to maintain as much mass as possible. This is where the services of a competent strength and conditioning coach and sports dietitian come into play.

Effects Of A Competitive Wrestling Season On Body Composition, Strength, & Power In National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III College Wrestlers

The purpose of this study was to measure the effects of a competitive wrestling season on body composition, muscular strength, and muscular power in NCAA Division III college wrestlers. Previous studies have demonstrated that fat-free mass, power and strength all declined from pre-post season.

Severe dieting practices lead to rapid weight loss and dehydration, which can have negative implications for the health of wrestlers. Ten collegiate wrestlers participated in this study who all had at least seven years of wrestling experience under their belt, so to speak. The wrestlers included in this study were not heavyweight wrestlers and had a combined record of 131-122, so just over 500.

The Athletes Were Assessed On Three Separate Occasions During The Wrestling Season:

  • One in October (pre season)
  • One in January (mid-season)
  • One in March and early April (post season)

A Number Of Outcome Variables Were Assessed:

  • Weight
  • Body composition (using skinfold calipers)
  • Muscular strength
  • Power
  • Vertical jump

Calipers: Are They Effective For Measuring Body-fat?
What kinds of calipers are there for measuring fat? Get the facts here and some feedback from the pros.
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    Wrestler's lost an average of about 5 pounds in the five days prior to a match. There were no significant differences in muscular power, but a significant decrease in muscular strength as back squat and bench press measures were lower at mid-season than pre or post-season.

    The authors speculated on why the athletes did not lose power, but did lose strength during the season. All of the athletes were encouraged to train, but by mid-December, none of them were weight training.

    Similarly, during mid-season, the athletes may have just been very fatigued; the overall weight losses were not tremendously high compared to the practices of many wrestlers.

    I would venture a guess that if an athlete were to lose a significantly greater amount of weight than they did, strength and power would have both decreased over the course of the season.

Take Home Test:

    Without drastic weight losses, power can be maintained over a wrestling season. Strength did decline significantly, which to me suggests that athletes were fatigued because they were not consuming sufficient calories to meet their energy demands.

    With additional nutrient dense foods, and regular prompting/coaching about proper weight training, the athletes could have maintained their strength throughout the season.

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    The goal is to be as strong as possible and as fit as possible to help one overcome his/her opponent. It is impossible to make blanket dietary recommendations because a wrestler who is 130 lbs will be much different than one who is in the heavyweight class.

    I think a solid weight training program, though, will definitely complement the in season wrestling training.

    It is easy to overtrain with the seemingly endless hours of sport-specific training in addition to weight training. Therefore, while weight training is crucial, it should not be overdone.

    It is most important to focus on compound movements that include large muscle groups and many different muscles with one movement (squats, cleans, bench, etc).

A Sample Program For Athletes May Look Like This.