Nutrition for Wrestling, Part 2
Author: Certified HyperStrike Trainers
Daily Nutritional Needs
Exceptional wrestlers require a high-carbohydrate (CHO) diet to maintain stamina. Stored carbohydrates (i.e. muscle and liver glycogen) are the primary fuel for energy. When the stores are low, focus and timing begin to suffer.
For athletes, the American and Canadian Dietetics Associations recommend 55 to 58 percent of calories be CHO, 12 to15 percent protein and 25 to 30 percent fat (1). These are the same requirements for sedentary individuals. However, there has been a growing body of evidence that protein and fat requirements may need to be altered for active individuals, especially when 15 percent of the diet is protein (2,9,10). In order to avoid muscle loss, the protein and fat requirements have been slightly altered here for the recommended training diet as described below.
The In-Season Training Diet – your daily nutritional plan.
During the season, a training diet should be comprised of 55 percent CHO, 30 percent protein and 20 percent fat. The goal of the training diet is to provide adequate energy for recovery and tissue repair quickly and efficiently, without adding body fat.
For some it is easier to keep track of grams than calories. For simplicity, if you ate 2,000 calories a day, 55 percent of that is 1,100 calories from CHO, which is equal to 275 grams of carbohydrates (there are four calories of CHO per gram; thus, 1100/4 = 275 g of CHO per day. For protein, there are four calories of protein per gram also).
Some research suggests that protein should be 1.6-1.8 g/kg bodyweight (bodyweight in kg = bodyweight in pounds / 2.2 kg) per day (9) or as high as 2g/kg bodyweight per day in athletes (10). The Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8g/kg bodyweight per day protein is based on what is healthy for the average sedentary individual, which is not necessarily enough for athletes.
The additional protein is crucial not only for muscle repair, but also as an additional energy source. Lacrosse is an intense game, and the body may start using its own muscle as an energy source if it is strained. Because it is so difficult to build and maintain muscle, athletes should be careful not to lose it.
Keep fat intake to about 20 percent of your total calories, consisting primarily of essential and monounsaturated fats. Essential fatty acids are a type of fat that the body cannot create from fish and walnuts. Monounsaturated fats, which are fats with one binding site, can come from olive or canola oils, seeds and/or avocados.
For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, the fat intake should be about 400 calories. This is equal to about 44 to 67 grams (each fat gram contains nine calories).
You may be tempted to ingest as little fat as possible, however, this is also unhealthy. Keeping your fat intake to less than 15 percent may have a harmful effect by inhibiting absorption of those vitamins that dissolve in fat, and it has no effect on improving your body fat percentage
Nutrition in the Off-Season and Pre-Season
During the Off-Season, wrestlers should strive to either add muscle or lose body fat. It is common for players to gain body fat during the off-season then want to drop it quickly once pre-season begins. Some resort to crash or fad diets, which typically result in a loss of strength and muscle mass rather than body fat.
Players hoping to acquire lean muscle mass should also pay close attention to caloric intake.
The Off-Season Training Diet
The ratios should be 60 percent CHO, 20 percent protein and 20 percent fat.
For those wanting to gain muscle mass: The Hypertrophy Training Diet
The recommendations of this training diet may be controversial because methods of muscle-building depend upon body type, sex, age and current training status. In order for this diet to be effective, one must be involved in an intense weight-training program.
According to the research, each of the following tips should be practiced before, during and after training:
- Consume 20 grams of whey protein and 30 to 40 grams of carbohydrates about one half hour before exercise.
- Sip CHO-containing beverages, such as Cytomax , during weight training.
- Immediately after, drink a protein shake with at least 20 grams of whey-casein combo or a large glass of skim milk.
- An hour later, eat a whole food meal with 60 percent CHO, 20 percent fat and 20 percent protein.
- Increase protein to 1.5-2g/kg bodyweight.
- Eat at least 500 more calories per day above the weight-maintenance caloric intake.
- Zigzag your calories
In the Pre-Season, the training diet for wrestlers should remain the same as the Off Season in terms of 55 percent CHO, 20 percent fat and 25 percent protein. However, the athlete should not be trying to lose or gain weight. The focus should be on maintaining the current weight and on becoming stronger and more powerful.
A great deal of the literature on nutrition for wrestlers deals with the extreme psychological pressure put upon athletes to “make weight.” This is a serious problem within the wrestling community. In late 1997, three previously healthy collegiate wrestlers in different states died while each was engaged in a program of rapid weight loss to qualify for competition.
Like many athletes who compete in weight categories, wrestlers are sometimes focused on maintaining a low body fat percentage and achieving weight loss before competition to qualify for a lower weight category. Research indicates there are consequences to health and performance for athletes who starve themselves to make weight (11).
Low-carbohydrate diets have increased in popularity because of the effectiveness in achieving low body fat levels. Some wrestlers use such diets to achieve and maintain low body fat levels. This type of energy restriction has been shown to impair immunity, decrease performance and increase fatigue, tension, anger and confusion. Plus, starving oneself before a competition is commonly followed up with binge eating. This cycle leads to swings in weight and body fat levels, as well as failure to achieve nutritional needs in the long term. It is not the ideal route for wrestlers who want to perform optimally.
Although it is advantageous for competitors to compete at the upper level of weight categories, athletes should remain two to three kg within their upper limit weight class for their weight category. This way, “making weight” will be more practical and manageable.
The primary purpose of the pre-match meal is to offset fatigue during the game.
There is no one-size-fits-all prescription because different people react differently to the same foods. Athletes should try to find food that won’t cause GI distress and will help to maintain focus and endurance. A few guidelines:
The following are some preparation strategies you may want to try (12):
- Eat low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain cereals, certain fruits, sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, etc., approximately two to three hours before a competition. The closer to your match, the smaller the meal. This will help sustain blood-sugar levels.
- Keep protein and fat intakes low because they slow digestion.
- Avoid bulky foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, dry beans, peas and popcorn, which can stimulate bowel movements.
- Avoid gas-forming foods such as vegetables from the cabbage family and cooked dry beans.
- Drink 400 to 600 mL (14 to 22 oz) of fluid two to three hours before exercise depending on tolerance (1).
- Do not try new foods just before a match. Eat foods familiar with your digestive system.
- Some athletes prefer to use their favorite foods, which may give them a psychological edge.
The Day Before a Match
Two Hours before bedtime (especially if there is no time for breakfast in the morning):
- Drink 18 to 20 ounces of water or sports drink
- Eat a performance snack consisting of low
- glycemic index carbohydrates and protein foods
Sample of Performance Snacks
- A few graham crackers with peanut butter
- ½ turkey sandwich
- A package of an instant breakfast mix with skim milk.
Match or Training Day
Four to five hours before:
600 to1000 calories: eat high CHO (120 to 200 grams), moderate protein (seven to 14 grams) and moderate fat (less than 15 grams) foods
One-and-a-half to 2 hours before:
25 to 350 calories: eat high carbohydrate (30 to 60 grams), low protein (less than seven grams) and low fat (less than five grams) foods
Example: If Match is at 11 a.m., then:
- Breakfast (two to three hours ahead):Orange juice, Bagel with jam
- Cereal and skim milk and a banana
If Match is at 2 p.m., then:
Breakfast (4-5 hours ahead): 100 % fruit juice, Pancakes/waffles/syrup, Skim or 1% milk
Lunch (two to three hours ahead): Nonfat fruit-flavored yogurt, banana, 100 percent fruit juice
From Weigh-in to Match
Drink eight to12 oz. of sports drink
Eat high glycemic index carbohydrates
Consume 1.5 g/kg bodyweight of CHO-rich, low fiber foods and beverages within 30 minutes or as soon as possible after a game and again every two hours for four to six hours to replace glycogen stores (1). This may be difficult when traveling, but failing to do so will encourage under-recovery and potential muscle wasting.
After physical activity lasting longer than an hour, the body best restores lost glycogen when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together in a ratio of 4:1 (6) or 3:1 (7,8), rather than simply consuming carbohydrates alone. Furthermore, the combination of CHO and protein has the added benefit of stimulating amino acid transport, protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair, all of which will further speed recovery and re-energize you for your next competition.
Products such as Endurox R4 by Endurox and Recoverite by Hammer Gel will provide both nutrients. When in a bind another option is drinking 20 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk post-exercise.
It is better to consume the “meal” as a liquid in order to facilitate recovery faster, and follow with a variety of whole-foods between two and four hours later.
Return to the normal Training Diet at the next meal.
Do NOT FORGET the post-game meal!
The tournament schedule in wrestling is difficult to accommodate nutritional strategies for recovery, flexibility and ingenuity. Not only must the athlete be committed to looking after fluid and carbohydrate needs between matches, but he or she must do so without a definite time-table.
As soon as a match schedule is known, plan a meal routine that schedules convenient pre-event meals and recovery strategies. When several matches span over several days, pro-active recovery techniques will be important to maintaining performance through the end.
A lack of a nutritional plan can be a critical mistake. For away competitions, plan where you will be eating meals and try to organize the menus in advance. While on the road, take control of meals eaten on planes, buses and other travel options. Do not depend on others to have optimal nutrition choices available. Always carry some high-carbohydrate snacks or meal replacements, such as health bars, ready-to-drink shakes and fruit and yogurt for emergencies.
The importance of replacing fluids lost after wrestling can’t be emphasized enough. When you are dehydrated, an exercise or practice will “feel” difficult. Wrestlers sometimes confuse this feeling with having a “good” workout. It’s just the opposite! In fact, a one to two percent loss of body weight due to fluid loss can cause a 15 to 20 percent decrease in performance! Signs of dehydration include rapid heart rate, weakness, excessive fatigue, and dizziness.
Twenty ounces (600 ml) of fluids should be ingested two hours before a match and eight ounces every 15 minutes or so prior. Thirst is a late sign of dehydration, so try not to feel thirsty. Hopefully you won’t have an old-school coach who demeans the idea of needing water.
You will already be weighing yourself before and after the competition or following the end the day. So, for every pound lost, drink two cups (16 oz. or 400 ml) of water. One easy way to monitor your hydration status is to check the color of your urine; light yellow indicates good hydration; dark yellow indicates dehydration.
Hydration is also necessary for proper digestion of food. By avoiding proper hydration, your health is affected on several levels.
The temptation of binge drinking may come more after a match for a celebration of victory, building team morale or a gathering to ease the pain of defeat. A sensible amount will not hinder performance or health. In general, this means one drink for women and two for men.
But alcohol intake can interfere with the game and post-exercise recovery (3-5).
Get a post-exercise meal and fluids in first before drinking any alcohol. This way, less alcohol will have a tendency to be absorbed into the bloodstream and pass into the small intestine with the rest of the food.
Avoid any alcohol 24 hours post-exercise if you have any soft tissue injuries or bruises.
Alcohol and injuries are a bad combination, and it may actually increase swelling, bleeding and delay recovery (3-5).
The dangers of extreme weight loss are detrimental not only to your performance but your health. Obtaining a certain weight does not guarantee top performance, and starving yourself is no way to enter a grueling match.
If you maintain and follow the dietary recommendations outlined within this article, stay within four to six pounds of your weight class weight and follow healthy dietary practices, you will no doubt be a formidable opponent.
- Nutrition and athletic performance – Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine. J Am Diet Assoc.;100:1543-1556, 2000.
- Kraemer, W.J., J.S. Volek, K.L. Clark, S.E. Gordon, T. Incledon, S.M. Puhl, N.T. Triplett-McBride, J.M. McBride, M. Putukian, W.J. Sebastianelli. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83, 270-279, 1997
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- Lemon, P.W. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S, 2000.
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- Oppliger, R. A., H. S. Case, C. A. Horswill, G. L. Landry, A. C. Shelter. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Weight loss in wrestlers. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. Jun;28(6):ix-xii. 1996
- Volpe, S. L., L. Robin, P. M. Clarkson. Taking it to the mat: the wrestler’s guide to optimal performance.http://www.ncaa.org/champadmin/wrestling/mat.pdf
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