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High School Wrestling: Diet and Supplements
The nutrition plan that a wrestler follows can be a factor in his performance. Different foods provide different nutrients to our bodies. Although food is the most important element in your nutrition plan, supplements can also be a beneficial addition. Some wrestlers wish to lose weight. Some wrestlers don’t need to lose weight. Regardless of whether or not a wrestler needs to lose weight, all wrestlers want to be strong and have enough energy.
Protein (4 calories per gram)
The body uses protein to perform many functions. I believe most of you know that one of the main functions of protein is to build and repair body tissues (eg muscle tissue). Proteins are composed of amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot make and must be supplied through one’s diet. A complete protein provides all the essential amino acids. Most complete proteins come from animal sources. We are talking about meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs. Why is protein important for a wrestler? Wrestling is strenuous and can be catabolic (ie breaks down muscle tissue).
How much protein do you need? Some studies have suggested that athletes need more protein than a sedentary person. 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
- cottage cheese
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 provides a slow release of amino acids after ingestion. Therefore, if you eat some cottage cheese before going to bed, you can get a slow radiation of amino acids (ie protein) in your body throughout the night which can be anti-catabolic (ie prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue) while muscle tissue is repaired during sleep.
Eggs have a biological value (BV) of 100. Our bodies use the protein in eggs very well. Even egg whites have a BV of 88. I don’t recommend eating only egg whites, even if they have less 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 are worried about calories, you can poach eggs or fry them in a non-stick pan. There are liquid protein products if you prefer. Remember that eating raw eggs like Rocky Balboa is probably not a good idea.
Beans are interesting because they can be a good source of protein and carbohydrates. Beans also provide fiber that can help you feel full when you’re trying to diet. Beans and rice are a popular combination for providing a meal that includes all or close to all essential amino acids. Some experts consider the combination of beans and rice to be a complete protein.
A man 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 may consist of eggs, black beans, and mixed vegetables. The diet does not include carbohydrates such as breads, cereals and fruits, so it is 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 give you energy. Wrestling and competition obviously require a lot of energy. Make sure you include plenty of carbohydrates in your diet. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and other sugars. Glucose is your brain’s preferred fuel source. Much of this glucose is 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:
- sweet potatoes
When I was wrestling in high school, I ate a lot of carbs. For example, I 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 got used to them. I also ate a lot of potatoes without butter, salt, or other spices. I ate many bowls of plain oatmeal. I got used to eating a simple diet. Of course I still sometimes had a Pop-Tart or candy bar.
As for fruits and vegetables:
Why eat a candy bar when you can 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 such as antioxidants. I then ate many servings of green beans. 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. That’s why you don’t want to use too much fat. However, you don’t have to completely eliminate fat from your diet. Your diet should get about 15% of its calories from fat. Fats do many important things in our bodies. Fats build healthy cell membranes. Fats help 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 have 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 can also perform an online search for Dr. Eric Serrano, Udo Erasmus, Dr. Bill Sears, and Dr. Joseph Mercola regarding healthy fats.
Some good sources of fat to consider:
- extra virgin olive oil
- flax oil
- fish oil
- cod liver oil
- peanut butter
- virgin coconut oil
Don’t be afraid to eat whole eggs, lean red meat, salmon, tuna, and even a little butter. Coconut oil is a saturated fat. However, if you do some research regarding virgin coconut oil, you will find that it has many potential health benefits. Additionally, consider limiting or avoiding 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 thought no one could eat healthy 100% of the time. That can be good 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 what Miletich calls “fighter’s diet” when a competition is near. This diet consists mainly of oatmeal, eggs, and skinless, boneless chicken.
Fast Food Tips:
- Drink 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
- Make a garden salad with minimal dressing
- Make a baked potato without butter, sugar, or cheese
- Make 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 about one pound a week
- A simple way to determine the number of calories you need to eat per day to lose weight is to take your current body weight times 10 (eg 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 body weight times 15 (eg 130 X 15 = 1,950 calories)
- A calorie-counting book and a food scale can be helpful; read nutrition labels
- Try to avoid low calories like you find in soda pop and candy
- Keep your pre-competition meal light and carbohydrate based
I do not recommend cutting weight or starving yourself. You need food to fuel your body. In addition, drink a lot of fluids so as not to be 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 exercises.
If you are vegetarian or vegan:
Strength coach Mike Mahler is a vegan (ie doesn’t eat animal products) and yet he’s 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.
As far as your pre-competition meal goes, keep it familiar. This is no time to try new foods. Keep it light and carbohydrate based so you have energy. A heavier meal with more fat will be harder to digest. On the other hand, your meal before the competition should be something 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 well for him. Olympic champion figure skater Bonnie Blair’s pre-race meal was always a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had a friend in high school who had one of his highest scoring basketball games after a meal of several bowls of chili. Personally, I always liked pancakes before a competition. For some people that would probably be too heavy to stomach. I liked jelly sandwiches and Pop-Tarts at wrestling tournaments when I needed something between matches. Find what works for you.
Supplements to Consider:
- Multivitamin – to cover anything you might be missing in your diet
- Meal Replacement Products (MRPs) – shakes like Myoplex and Met-Rx provide protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals when you don’t have time to eat a meal
- Whey Protein – Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body and is ideal for a post-workout shake
- Glutamine – can help you maintain muscle as the diet; improves immune function
- Creatine monohydrate – provides energy to your muscles; make sure you stay hydrated when using this supplement
- Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) – can help with recovery and repair
- Inosine – can give you greater endurance by supporting the regeneration of ATP
- HMB – can help slow the breakdown of muscle tissue (ie anti-catabolic)
- Beta-Alanine – can help improve your work capacity through its 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 could. In addition, supplements can be expensive. Moreover, some supplements work for one wrestler and not for another. Therefore, if you choose to use supplements, be careful and be careful. Do some research on the potential benefits and dangers of any supplement before using it.
I am not a nutritionist or dietician. I am not an expert on dietary supplements. Read articles and books about nutrition and supplements. I’ve just provided a rough guide to help you get started. Remember that your body needs fuel to function properly. That fuel is food. Make sure you make smart diet choices on your path to wrestling success.
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