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Marsh: Weight loss can be dangerous

Q: Why are those skinny guys weighing themselves all the time in your office?
A: All I can say, it is wrestling season. It brings back old memories. No, I didnít wrestle, I judoed. It has similarities to wrestling. We throw people down, pin them, but we can also attempt to break their arms and strangle them (until they tap out).
Another common goal is ěmaking the weight class.î
Now that brings back memories, and not all good ones. My weight class was 137 to 148 pounds. Typically, I had to lose 4.5 to 10 pounds.
Most athletes need to lose weight to make their weight class. The way we did it was to exercise hard, eat little and not drink enough fluids. Easy way to lose a couple pounds in a few days. You heard me right: A couple of days.
When fight day came, with no breakfast and a little fluid (if you were lucky) before weigh-in, and you made your weight class, then you could eat! If you didnít make your weight class, you had a second chance, depending on what time the weigh-in closed.
With a plastic bag under my thick warm-up suit, a hoodie over my head, Iíd go run (indoors) and sweat off whatever weight I needed to lose.
The judo matches typically lasted four minutes, unless you had an ěipon,î a full point that is an immediate win.
Judo, like wrestling, has more than one match in a day. The better you are, the more matches you perform to become champion. It was common to have four to six matches in one day.
So there I was, with no food intake to speak of for two or three days, drinking little fluids, and engaging in intense exercise. Needless to say, there were challenging moments in each match. But I persevered. Hard work, dedicatio, and heart would pull me through.
Now, was I at the top of my game? Actually, I was. I won many matches and was in the top three in almost all competitions.
Did I use the best method to make a weight class? Not really. I was robbing my body of important nutrients and definitely not giving it the calories it needed.
Was 146 pounds too low for me? Not really. I was a strong muscular girl who comfortably carried an average of 150 pounds. My eating habits were OK. I ate more junk than I should, but I was very active. However, I wish now that I was smarter about eating and making my weight class.
Iíd like to use this weekís column to educate athletes, parents and coaches about ěmaking their weight class.î
To make a weight class by losing some weight is OK when you have some real weight to lose. If you need to lose weight, and all you have to lose is water and muscle, you need to reconsider your weight class.
If you wait ( like I did in the í70s and í80s) until a couple of days before weigh-in to lose all that weight, you really are harming your body.
On the other hand, when you carry a little bit of extra weight and take two to four weeks to make your weight class, you will be strong, fit, and you are taking care of your body. In return your body will be ready to hit it hard on tournament day.
Stay within a couple of pounds within that weight throughout the season. Slowly and safely losing the weight is the way to go.
I ended up with an eating disorder at one point in my life because of my crash method, but I will dedicate next weekís column to talk about that.
For now, coaches and athletes, no matter what sport you compete in, proper nutrition is essential to success. Drastic weight loss in a short amount of time is disastrous to the body, especially a young, growing body.
If you, as a coach, suspect unhealthy weight loss measures, talk to your athlete. Teach them the right way to do it. Get professional help if necessary.
If you are the athlete who is made to lose weight to ěmake the weight class,î when you only muscles and water weight to lose, talk to your parents and doctor.
Ask them what would be a healthy weight class for you wrestle in.
When you eat right, train hard and stay within a couple of pounds of your weight class you already have won half the match. You will be stronger, faster and able to hold on longer. Trust me, I know.
Ester H. Marsh, ACSM Cpt

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