Health: Weight Loss - Dying to Make It

What do Billy Saylor (19 years old) at Campbell University in North Carolina, Joseph LaRosa (22) at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and Jeff Reese (21) at the University of Michigan all have in common?

Unfortunately, they’re all dead now; victims of one of the ghastly secrets of college wrestling.

All three young men were engaged in dehydrating practices - trying to lose weight in order to qualify for their first college wrestling matches. Reese was trying to lose 17 pounds so he could wrestle in the 150-pound weight class. His two-hour workout in a rubber suit in a 92-degree room cost him his life. He died of rhabdomyolysis -- a cellular breakdown of skeletal muscle under conditions of excessive exercise, which, combined with dehydration, resulted in kidney failure and heart malfunction. LaRosa was also riding a stationary bike and wearing a rubber suit when he collapsed and died. Saylor was riding a stationary bike in a predawn workout when he suffered a heart attack.

What do their stories have to do with this book?

Well, let me take you on a trip to the not-so distant past of my own grappling career.

When I was in high school, I wrestled for one of the top teams in the state of Michigan. It was a school with a reputation. When a wrestler from this high school stepped on the mat to compete, everyone knew what the outcome was going to be. We were going to beat you and beat you bad. We were a team that had not lost in over 4 years and were riding a 15yr conference winning streak.

And, of course, if you’re on a team like this, especially on the varsity team, you do what you need to do. You keep your spot - regardless of how bad it hurts.

One night, during my sophomore year, we were to wrestle a team from the other side of the city. This team was of lesser talent than us and I had taken practice light during the week. As we were getting ready to board the bus, my coach pulled me aside and asked me how my weight was. I told him “Under by 2 pounds…Not a problem coach!” This is where the nightmare began.

I arrived at the host school and stepped onto the scale to find myself over by ½ pound. I remember how I felt – it was panic – “this can’t be happening!” And, like all “dedicated” wrestlers of my era, I was off to the bathroom to try to vomit, urinate, and/or defecate my way to a half pound weight loss.

The problem – I hadn’t eaten anything all day and, with nothing in my gut, bowels, or bladder to lose, I caught the worst butt-chewing of my career. My coach chided me for “letting the team down,” “not taking care of my responsibilities,” and more. He sent me to the gym to exercise off that ½ a pound. Unfortunately, I failed to make weight. Even more unfortunately, I vowed to myself that I’d do whatever it took to never again miss making weight.

Fast forward to last summer. I had just returned from training in Brazil and was beginning preparations for the Connecticut Nutmeg State Games. The scales in Brazil told me I was 6lbs over – no problem for the last few days of preparation, right? Well unfortunately, as I returned to the US, just 3 days before my matches, I realized that I wasn’t 6lbs over – I was 6kg, or 13 lbs over. I misread the scale and confused kilograms for pounds. And I was screwed!

Even though I knew better; even though I knew the stories of Billy, Joseph, and Jeff, I remembered my promise to my high school coach. I had vowed to do whatever it took to never again miss making weight. So, foolishly, I began a ridiculous (and life endangering) program of starvation, dehydration, and overwork. Yes, I knew better. Yes, I knew the consequences of rapid dehydration and starvation diets. Yes, I knew I was risking my life. But I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to win!

For the next 3 days, I spent between 4-6 hours each day in the 95 degree heat with a trash bag and sweat suit, playing football and soccer. I would then run home, shower, drink a protein shake and go to bed.

The last night before weigh-ins came, I went to the gym one last time for some high intensity cardio. After, I sat in a hot tub to increase my body’s core temperature, jumped out, toweled off, put on a trash bag and sweats, and went to bed. Of course, I didn’t really sleep. I woke up numerous times during the night with massive cramping in my legs due to dehydration.

Crazy, isn’t it? You bet! So crazy that I woke up the next day (having made weight) and vowed to NEVER, EVER risk my performance, my family, my job, and my life again. I vowed to contact the right people, the best experts in the world, and figure out how to make weight – the right way.

Now, a year later, I know the right way. With the help of Dr John Berardi and his cutting-edge nutrition expertise, I know how to make weight safely and effectively. I also know how to make weight while keeping all the strength and endurance I’ve built up during my training season. And this knowledge allows me to dominate on the mat; no more struggling to make weight, no more staying up all night.

Believe me; I know that grappling is a sport that requires its athletes to make sacrifices on a daily basis. But if anyone tells you that you have to sacrifice your nutrition, your health, and possibly your life to make weight, run away – they’re ignorant and dangerous. Extreme practices of weight-cutting aren’t hard-core and they aren’t necessary (nor are they “manly” or the domain of “real” athletes). They’re simply what the ignorant do. They’re what those who don’t know any better do.

Listen, I wish Dr. John and I didn’t need to write this book. I wish that all grapplers were healthy, well nourished, and fully hydrated. Most of all, I wish they got the right advice from coaches, teammates, and parents. But they don’t. And that’s why Dr. John and I are making this book available. That’s why this book is necessary. Until the right nutrition information gets out there, until the right weight-cutting information gets out there, athletes will continue to hurt themselves.

Do you want to dominate on the mat?

Then use this book and learn how to lose weight in the most hard-core way of all – the way that helps you step onto the mat at your leanest, most muscular, and strongest; not to mention healthiest. Follow the strategies in this book and you can be confident that while your opponents have suffered, are cramping, are dehydrated, and are weak, you’re fresh, strong, and ready to win.

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About The Author

This article is really the forward from my new book titled The Grapplers Guide to Sports Nutrition. The reason I took this section out for this article is as valuable as the entire book is, I think it’s important to remember where we were just a few years ago in regards to nutrition for our athletes. Sometimes it takes us looking at the past to help us plan for the future.

Michael Fry is the co-author of the tops selling nutritional book for grapplers titled The Grapplers Guide to Sports Nutrition which is available at Michael is also the owner of Grapplers Gym and Grapplers Gym is the home of advanced training and conditioning for today’s wrestlers.



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