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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 of your nutrition plan, supplements can also be a beneficial addition. Some wrestlers want to lose weight. Some wrestlers don’t need to lose weight. Whether a wrestler needs to lose weight or not, all wrestlers want to be strong and have enough energy.
Protein (4 calories per gram)
The body uses protein to perform many functions. I think most of you know that one of the main functions of protein is to build and repair body tissue (eg muscle tissue). Proteins are composed of amino acids. Essential amino acids are amino acids that the body cannot produce and must be supplied by one’s diet. A complete protein supplies 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 break down muscle tissue).
How much protein do you need? Some studies have suggested that athletes require more protein than a sedentary person. Your diet should get about 25% of its calories from protein.
Good protein sources:
- 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 is digested slowly in the body. Casein provides a slow trickle of amino acids after ingestion. Therefore, if you eat cottage cheese before bed, you can get a slow flow of amino acids (i.e. protein) into your body throughout the night, which can be anti-catabolic (i.e. prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue) while muscle tissue is repaired during sleep.
Eggs have a biological value (BV) of 100. Our bodies utilize the protein in eggs very well. Even egg whites have a BV of 88. I don’t recommend eating only egg whites, even though they are lower in fat and calories. I think nature made eggs to be eaten with the yolk and the white as a package. A large whole egg contains about six grams of protein. Eggs are nutrient dense. If you’re worried 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 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 if you’re trying to diet. Beans and rice are a popular combination to provide a meal that contains 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, a meal might consist of beef, pinto beans and mixed vegetables. Another meal might consist of eggs, black beans and mixed vegetables. The diet does not include carbohydrates such as bread, grains 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 fuel source. In other words, carbohydrates give you energy. Wrestling training and competition naturally require a lot of energy. Therefore, make sure you get 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. The glycogen is then used as an energy source. Your diet should derive about 60% of its calories from carbohydrates. There are complex carbohydrates such as bread and cereals and simple carbohydrates such as fruit. Educate yourself.
Good sources of carbohydrates:
- sweet potatoes
When I wrestled in high school, I ate a lot of carbs. For example, I actually ate a lot of rice cakes. I figured I could eat five rice cakes for about the same number of calories in a 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 had the occasional Pop-Tart or candy bar.
Regarding fruit and vegetables:
Why eat a candy bar when you could eat two large apples for about the same number of calories? That was my thought back in high school when I was dieting for wrestling. Fruit and vegetables are often fat-free, low in calories, high in water, high in fiber and rich in nutrients such as 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 as many calories per gram as proteins and carbohydrates. Therefore, you do not want to consume too much fat. However, you should not eliminate fat completely from your diet. Your diet should derive about 15% of its calories from fat. Fat does many important things in our body. Fats build healthy cell membranes. Fats help form hormones like testosterone. Your brain is approximately sixty percent fat. Some fats can help make your skin smooth and healthy. Also, fat dampens your body organs.
You have probably heard of 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 completely avoiding hydrogenated fat. 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 regarding healthy fats.
Some good sources of fat to consider:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- hear 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 bit of butter now and then. Coconut oil is a saturated fat. However, if you research virgin coconut oil, you will find that it has many potential health benefits. Also 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 think they figured 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 something called Miletich’s “fighter’s diet” when a contest is approaching. This diet consists mainly of oatmeal, eggs and skin, boneless chicken.
Fast food tips:
- Have water or milk instead of pop
- Had grilled chicken in sandwiches and soft shell tacos
- Have grilled chicken breast, lean roast beef and lean ham on subsandwiches
- Get a garden salad with minimal dressing
- Get a baked potato without butter, sour cream or cheese
- Get a small hamburger without cheese, bacon or mayonnaise
- Avoid deep-fried, breaded and dough-dipped foods
- One pound equals approximately 3,500 calories
- If you cut 500 calories a day from your diet, you’ll lose about a 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 book and a food scale can be helpful; read nutrition declarations
- Try to avoid empty calories found in soda and candy
- Keep your pre-competition meal light and carbohydrate-based
I do not recommend cutting weight or starving. You need food for your body. Also, drink plenty of fluids so you don’t 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 exercises.
If you are vegetarian or vegan:
Strength coach Mike Mahler is vegan (ie eats no animal products at all) 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.
Meal before competition:
As for your pre-competition meal, keep that in mind. This is not the 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 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 worked 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 who had one of his highest scoring basketball games after a meal of several bowls of chili. Personally, I’ve always liked getting pancakes before a competition. For some people it would probably sit too heavy in the stomach. I liked to have jelly sandwiches and Pop-Tarts for wrestling tournaments if I needed something between matches. Find what works for you.
Supplements to consider:
- Multivitamin – to cover everything you might be missing 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 quickly absorbed by the body and is ideal for a post-workout shake
- Glutamine – can help you maintain muscle if you are dieting; improves the immune system
- Creatine monohydrate – supplies energy to your muscles; be sure to stay hydrated if you use 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 via 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. It will do more for you than any supplement ever can. In addition, supplements can be expensive. Also, some supplements work for one wrestler and not for another. Therefore, if you choose to use dietary supplements, you must be careful and careful. Do some research on the potential benefits and dangers of any dietary supplement before using it.
I am not a nutritionist or dietician. I am not an expert in nutritional supplements. Read articles and books about 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. So be sure to make smart dietary choices on your way to wrestling success.
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