Before you blow off the title of this article the following ideas presented are rooted in two (Maclean, 2011; Dulloo, 2012) scientific systematic reviews (scientific publications overviewing a series of studies).
This article aims to shed light on some of the long term metabolism implications to weight cutting. First we need to understand that cutting weight does not necessarily mean losing fat and for this article fatness and body composition should be considered interchangeable. As we know wrestlers will drop pounds of water weight hours within weigh-ins; however, even though they just lost 5-6 pounds they did not necessary lose body fat.
So what happens when you drop 20 pounds from the start of the season and 5-6 pounds in a matter of hours?
-As previously mentioned in another article, weight loss or weight gain (independent of fluid intake) is always a product of undereating calories or overeating calories; respectively. 3500 calories = 1 pound of fat, so if you under-eat your calories 500/day you will have lost 1 pound of fat/week.
If an athlete comes in straight from football to wrestling and has less than a month to drop 20lbs (let’s say 180 to 160), he is likely wrestling/running for close to 3 hours/day while eating let’s say 600 calories/day (because that’s what Louden Swain did). A young male athlete weighing 180lbs will burn 2300 calories just going to class, add 3 hours of wrestling training on top of that and he will be burning 5000 calories/day putting him in a negative energy balance of -4400 calories/day. If an athlete keeps this plan up for a month he will have lost mostly water, muscle, carbohydrates and lastly fat. We know why muscle and water are important but carbohydrates are important because they allow you to train harder. When you lose fat from cutting the fat cells shrink. This is important because full fat cells release leptin hormone which makes you full, when the fat cells are shrunk they do not release leptin making you feel hungry. Lastly, your mitochondria become very efficient in producing energy. Usually when we think of efficiency it’s a good thing; however, in regards to body composition efficiency is a bad thing. This efficiency is a decrease in metabolism and is the difference between floating 0.4lbs/day to 3lbs/day.
It is inevitable that this wrestler will “cheat” on his diet and when it happens it sows the seeds of a long term fat storage system. When you excessively overeat calories very fast, instead filling the fat cells back up, you can create new fat cells (Jackman, 2008). Now because you have more fat cells it takes more calories to fill them up and therefore, more eating before you feel the fullness effects of leptin. When this cycle repeats, a wrestler creates the opportunity to create more and more fat cells.
This effect may not manifest in a four-year high school career but plays a role in body composition later in life. Think about how many old wrestlers who say it’s harder to get lean or lose weight in their 30’s or 40’s even if they still workout. We see this effect in the general population in response to dieting. How often do individuals go on a diet only to come off and gain more weight than they had when they started the diet?
So is there a strategy that helps ward off the bad long term effects of weight cutting?
Yes there is.
- Because weight cutting is on the decline this effect will be less menacing.
- If you are cutting weight take as much time as possible. This might be obvious, but it cannot be emphasized enough. When you take a gradual approach your metabolic hormones (only leptin discussed in this article) will not fight you as much later in the season (and later in life for that matter).
- Continue lifting weights. Muscle is the body tissue that burns the most calories (Zurlo, 1990). If you have more muscle you will simply burn more calories doing anything.
- Focus your diet around protein. Protein needs are inversely related to calorie needs, meaning if you are eating less calories you need to eat higher protein (Phillips, 2016).
- If you are really able to focus on training, take an integrated approach (listed below). The two days of positive energy balance in combination with weight training may allow your metabolic regulation to “forget” you are in a long term catabolic state.