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High School Wrestling: Diet and Supplements

The nutritional plan that a wrestler follows can be a factor in his performance. Different foods supply different nutrients to our bodies. Although food is the most important element in your nutritional plan, supplements can also be a beneficial addition. Some wrestlers desire to lose weight. Some wrestlers do not need to lose weight. Regardless of whether or not a wrestler needs to lose weight, all wrestlers want to be strong and have sufficient energy.

Protein (4 calories per gram)

The body uses protein to perform many functions. I believe most of you know that one of protein’s main functions is building and repairing body tissues (e.g. muscle tissue). Proteins are composed of amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot make and must be provided by one’s diet. A complete protein supplies all of the essential amino acids. Most complete proteins come from animal sources. We are talking about meat, fish, fowl, milk, cheese, and eggs. Why is protein important for a wrestler? Wrestling is strenuous and can be catabolic (i.e. break down muscle tissue).

How much protein do you need? Some studies have suggested that athletes require more protein than a sedentary person does. Your diet should get about 25% of its calories from protein.

Good Sources of Protein:

  • lean beef
  • boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • lean pork
  • fish without breading
  • turkey
  • milk
  • yogurt
  • cheese
  • cottage cheese
  • eggs

An Interesting Fact about Cottage Cheese:

Cottage cheese contains a large amount of the milk protein called casein. In fact, cottage cheese is almost 100% unadulterated casein. Casein digests slowly in the body. Casein supplies a slow trickle of amino acids after being ingested. Therefore, if you eat some cottage cheese before bed you can receive a slow trickle of amino acids (i.e. protein) into your body throughout the night that could be anti-catabolic (i.e. prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue) while muscle tissue is being repaired during sleep.

Regarding Eggs:

Eggs have a Biological Value (BV) of 100. Our bodies utilize the protein contained in eggs very well. Even egg whites have a BV of 88. I don’t recommend eating only egg whites even if they are lower in fat and calories. I think nature made eggs to be eaten with the yolk and white as a package. A large whole egg contains about six grams of protein. Eggs are nutrient dense. If you’re concerned about calories, you can poach eggs or fry them in a non-stick pan. There are liquid egg white products if you prefer. Remember that it’s probably not a good idea to eat raw eggs like Rocky Balboa.

Regarding Beans:

Beans are interesting because they can be a good source of protein and carbohydrates. Beans also supply fiber that can help you feel full if you are trying to diet. Beans and rice are a popular combination for supplying a meal that includes all or close to all of the essential amino acids. Some experts consider the combination of beans and rice to be a complete protein.

A guy named Tim Ferriss advocates something he calls a “slow-carb” diet for weight loss. Beans and legumes are an important part of this diet plan. For example, one meal might consist of beef, pinto beans, and mixed vegetables. Another meal might consist of eggs, black beans, and mixed vegetables. The diet doesn’t include carbohydrates like breads, cereals, and fruits so it’s not really a good diet for a wrestler. I just thought it was interesting as a weight loss option and because of its reliance on beans and legumes.

Carbohydrates (4 calories per gram)

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel. In other words, carbohydrates provide you with energy. Wrestling practice and competition obviously require a lot of energy. Therefore, make sure to include plenty of carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates get broken down into glucose and other sugars. Glucose is your brain’s preferred fuel source. Much of this glucose gets stored in your muscles in the form of glycogen. Glycogen is then used as a source of energy. Your diet should derive about 60% of its calories from carbohydrates. There are complex carbohydrates like breads and cereals and simple carbohydrates like fruit. Educate yourself.

Good Sources of Carbohydrates:

  • breads
  • bagels
  • muffins
  • pancakes
  • cereals
  • rice
  • pasta
  • potatoes
  • sweet potatoes
  • fruits
  • vegetables

When I wrestled in high school, I ate a lot of carbohydrates. For instance, I actually ate a lot of rice cakes. I figured I could eat five rice cakes for about the same number of calories in one can of soda. I know you probably think they taste like Styrofoam but I became used to them. I also ate many potatoes without butter, salt, or any other condiments. I ate many bowls of plain oatmeal. I became accustomed to eating a simple diet. Of course, I still had a Pop-Tart or candy bar occasionally.

In Regards to Fruits and Vegetables:

Why eat a candy bar when you could eat two large apples for about the same number of calories? That was my thinking back in high school when I was dieting for wrestling. Fruits and vegetables are often fat free, low in calories, high in water content, high in fiber, and rich in nutrients like antioxidants. I ate many servings of green beans back then. I had an apple or two almost every day. I could eat a large amount of food for a small amount of calories.

Fat (9 calories per gram)

Fats provide twice the number of calories per gram as proteins and carbohydrates. Therefore, you don’t want to consume too much fat. However, you should not eliminate fat entirely from your diet. Your diet should derive about 15% of it’s calories from fats. Fats do many important things in our bodies. Fats build healthy cell membranes. Fats help to make hormones like testosterone. Your brain is approximately sixty percent fat. Some fats can help make your skin smooth and healthy. Moreover, fat cushions your body organs.

You’ve probably heard about the many types of fats such as saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, hydrogenated, and trans fats. Dr. Eric Serrano believes that saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats are all important. However, he recommends avoiding hydrogenated fats altogether. You may want to research fats and essential fatty acids. You may also want to perform an online search for Dr. Eric Serrano, Udo Erasmus, Dr. Bill Sears, and Dr. Joseph Mercola in regards to healthy fats.

Some Good Sources of Fat to Consider:

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • flax oil
  • fish oil
  • cod liver oil
  • peanut butter
  • nuts
  • virgin coconut oil
  • avocados

Don’t be afraid to eat whole eggs, lean red meat, salmon, tuna, and even a bit of butter occasionally. Coconut oil is a saturated fat. However, if you do some research regarding virgin coconut oil you will find out it that it has many potential health benefits. In addition, remember to limit or avoid hydrogenated fats and trans fats.

I was advised at a wrestling camp to try to eat a diet of about 80% healthy food and 20% unhealthy food during wrestling season. I guess they figured nobody could eat healthy 100% of the time. That may be sound advice.

In the book Blood in the Cage, author L. Jon Wertheim writes about Pat Miletich, a former wrestler and former UFC champion. Pat and most of his fighters follow something called Miletich’s “fighter’s diet” when a competition is drawing near. This diet consists mainly of oatmeal, eggs, and skinless, boneless chicken.

Fast Food Tips:

  • Have water or milk instead of pop
  • Have grilled chicken in sandwiches and soft shell tacos
  • Have grilled chicken breast, lean roast beef, and lean ham on sub sandwiches
  • Have a garden salad with minimal dressing
  • Have a baked potato without butter, sour cream, or cheese
  • Have a small hamburger without cheese, bacon, or mayonnaise
  • Avoid deep-fried, breaded, and batter-dipped foods

Keep in mind:

  • One pound equals approximately 3,500 calories
  • If you cut 500 calories a day from your diet you will lose approximately one pound per week
  • A simple way to determine the number of calories you need to eat per day to lose weight is to take your current bodyweight times 10 (e.g. 150 X 10 = 1,500 calories)
  • A simple way to determine the number of calories you need to eat per day to maintain weight is to take your current bodyweight times 15 (e.g. 130 X 15 = 1,950 calories)
  • A calorie-counting book and a food scale may be helpful; read nutrition labels
  • Try to avoid empty calories like you find in soda pop and candy
  • Keep your pre-competition meal light and carbohydrate based

I don’t recommend cutting weight or starving. You need food to fuel your body. In addition, drink plenty of fluids so that do not become dehydrated. If you choose to lose weight, do it slowly and carefully. You don’t want to lose muscle tissue and strength. In addition, you need energy for hard practices.

If you are Vegetarian or Vegan:

Strength coach Mike Mahler is a vegan (i.e. eats no animal products whatsoever) and yet he is big and strong. Some staples in his diet include nuts, seeds, peanut butter, almond butter, beans, lentils, vegetables, coconut milk, healthy fats like olive oil, and rice protein powder.

Pre-Competition Meal:

As far as your pre-competition meal goes, keep it familiar. That is not a time to try new foods. Keep it light and carbohydrate based so you have energy. A heavier meal with more fat will be slower to digest. On the other hand, your pre-competition meal should be something that you enjoy. I think I read somewhere that boxer Sugar Ray Leonard liked to have a cheeseburger before a big fight. I wouldn’t recommend that, but it seemed to work fine for him. Olympic champion speed skater Bonnie Blair’s pre-race meal was always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had a friend in high school that had one of his highest scoring basketball games after a meal of several bowls of chili. Personally, I always liked to have pancakes before a competition. For some people that would probably sit too heavy in their stomach. I liked to have jelly sandwiches and Pop-Tarts at wrestling tournaments if I needed something between matches. Find what works for you.

Supplements to Consider:

  • Multivitamin – to cover anything you might miss in your diet
  • Meal Replacement Products (MRPs) – shakes like Myoplex and Met-Rx provide protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals if you don’t have time to eat a meal
  • Whey protein – whey protein is absorbed quickly by the body and is ideal for a post workout shake
  • Glutamine – may help you maintain muscle if dieting; improves immune function
  • Creatine monohydrate – supplies energy to your muscles; make sure you stay hydrated if you use this supplement
  • Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) – may help with recovery and repair
  • Inosine – may give you greater endurance by supporting the regeneration of ATP
  • HMB – may help slow the breakdown of muscle tissue (i.e. anti-catabolic)
  • Beta-alanine – may help improve your work capacity via it’s ability to buffer lactic acid
  • Caffeine – can increase energy and alertness

You probably don’t need to supplement at all. Eat a healthy diet with a variety of foods and stay hydrated. That will do more for you than any supplement ever can. In addition, supplements can be costly. Moreover, some supplements work for one wrestler and not for another. Therefore, if you choose to use supplements be cautious and be careful. Do some research about the potential benefits and dangers of any supplement before using it.

I am not a nutritionist or dietitian. I am not an expert on dietary supplements. Read articles and books pertaining to nutrition and supplements. I have simply provided a rough guide to help you get started. Remember that you need fuel for your body to function well. That fuel is food. Therefore, make sure that make smart dietary choices on your path to wrestling success.

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