At some point, most high school wrestlers experience the stress of having to make a certain body weight to fill a spot on the team for an upcoming competition. Dieting must be juggled during the week with the usual mental stresses of school, projects due, studying for tests, social life, etc. Lack of know how, poor advice from old school coaching and the stress of the upcoming deadline often causes wrestlers to over train while starving themselves to make weight at the last minute. While some athletes can seemingly get away with this, many lose a performance edge because of numerous problems associated with these methods, commonly seen as weakness and/or lethargy because of dehydration, over training or insufficient replenishment. While this article is not about the best ways to cut weight for a wrestling tournament, it will have much sound nutritional advice that should be applied to your methods both in and out of season.
Four to six weeks prior to the start of wrestling season, start paying attention to your body weight. Track down your wrestling coach for a preliminary roster of what athletes he has in mind to wrestle which weight classes for the team line up. Do this to find out what spots are available and help figure out your strategy of what weight class you might want to reach. Next get a body fat measurement done to determine your lean body mass and body fat percentage so you can plan your nutrition program correctly. The importance here is that you do all of this 4-6 weeks in advance of the season so you have plenty of time to start dieting early enough to avoid drastic last minute weight cuts. Last minute weight cuts of more than 5-6 lbs. are taxing to your system, can adversely affect your performance on the mat and in some cases may even be dangerous.
While this is a common practice in wrestling, the author of this article is not a proponent of the traditional methods of cutting weight. The strategy is to drop as much weight as possible to weigh in light and barely make the weight class, then rapidly replenish with food and liquids to put on as much weight as possible to be the largest athlete in the class. Some athletes seem to have no problem with starving themselves for several days while increasing their exercise load to drop a few pounds. While this is a common practice and proven to be generally safe within limits, it’s still a risky procedure. The risk is the possibility of a sluggish performance and/or weakness from losing too many electrolytes or valuable muscle mass. Even though wrestlers have the highest GPP (general physical preparedness, a measure of overall conditioning) compared to all other athletes, increasing physical output while taking in significantly less calories and water can quickly lead to overtraining.
Depending on the severity of the weight cut, full replenishment can take longer than a just a few hours or a day despite the athlete ‘feeling better’. Athletes who have experienced numerous weight cuts become more skilled at this process and can dial in their target weight with less stress. New wrestlers however are at more risk of overtraining or dehydration from not being familiar with the process and not knowing their body well enough yet. Once you’ve made weight, the best policy is to stay within 4-5 lbs. of your competition weight so weight cuts are within reason and not too taxing. The most important nutritional point to remember when maintaining weight and especially when cutting weight is to eat the right amount of protein. This will preserve the body’s muscle mass when cutting weight and prevent the metabolic damage that occurs when muscle is lost from too drastic a cut.
Eating the right amount of protein while training and cutting weight will not only help you keep the muscle you’ve got but also help counteract overtraining. The absolute minimum amount of protein any athlete should eat is 1 gram per pound of lean body mass; your lean body mass is determined from a body fat measurement. With severe calorie restriction (like with weight cutting) and increased exercise, 1 gram protein per lb of lean body mass + 10-20 grams is more suitable. When carbs are diminished during a weight cut, extra dietary protein is important for the body to use in place of burning its muscle tissue for energy. As an example, a 150 lb. athlete with a lean body mass of 138 should eat 150 grams of protein/day while cutting weight; the most feasible way is to eat 5 meals/day with a minimum of 30 grams protein/meal. While this formula for eating the right amount of protein is one of the keys to keeping your strength through a weight cut, it’s also smart to keep protein intake at least this high throughout the season. This will allow you to train harder and more often without overtraining as easily.
During wrestling season, avoid hard weight cuts by keeping your bodyweight within 4-5 lbs. of your competition weight. For the best performance, feed your body like a fine tuned machine, eating low fat/lean foods consisting of the right amount of lean meat (for muscle health), clean carbs (for fuel/energy) and plenty of green vegetables (for vitamins). While in the throes of the season, control/limit carbs in evening meals to keep body weight under control. Besides nutritious foods, organically based multi-vitamin/mineral and essential fat supplements are also important for making sure no nutrients are missing from the diet. Considering the amount of sweating most wrestlers do on a regular basis, they must force copious amounts of water down to fight the constant battle with dehydration. Avoid fast food at all costs during and before wrestling season. These foods are loaded with salt, fat and unbalanced nutrients causing a sluggish disruption in your fine tuned engine. Many fast foods and processed snacks will even leach nutrients from the body, robbing you and making you weaker and slower.
One thing is for sure, the athlete who shows up to the meet nearly dehydrated and fueled with nothing but junk food will be slower, weaker and gas out faster – an easy kill for any opponent who’s up on his nutrition. Eat clean both before and during wrestling season and you will be amazed at your performance on the mat. Eat the right amount of protein and you will stay strong through any weight cut and even recover better so you’re sharper for the next session. Paying attention to your water intake and nutrition will keep your machine running at a top level and must be taken seriously. Practicing healthy nutrition methods before the season starts will give you more options for weight classes and reduce the stress of arduous weight cuts.