Purpose: The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of rapid weight loss (RWL) on cognitive function in collegiate wrestlers.
Methods: Wrestlers (N = 14) and controls (N = 15) were college-aged males who were tested at three different times: baseline, RWL, and rehydration. Wrestlers practiced RWL in preparation for competition while controls maintained normal body weight and dietary practices throughout the study. At each test session, blood glucose, hemoglobin (Hgb), hematocrit (Hct), plasma volume (PV), and body weight were measured. Subjects also completed mood and hypoglycemic profiles as well as five short cognitive tests.
Results: Two-way ANOVA and post-hoc tests revealed poorer performance for wrestlers than controls in two recall tests as well as greater mood negativity for the wrestlers after RWL. With RWL, between group differences were also evident in hypoglycemic profile, blood glucose, PV, and body weight. All measures returned to near baseline values after rehydration, suggesting that all physiological and cognitive effects associated with RWL were reversible. It is possible that precompetition anxiety may partially explain the results.
Conclusions: RWL in collegiate wrestlers before a competition appears to cause physiological effects that are accompanied by transient mood reduction and impairment of short-term memory. The potential negative impact of this practice on the student-athlete should be considered.