Many wrestlers have asked about nutrition over the years, with the latest asking just last week. While nutrition can get pretty complicated and in depth, I usually find that some very basic guide lines are what most wrestlers need and are really asking about.
I had the luxury of my mom who would prepare great tasting good food for me. She made me breakfast and dinner every night throughout high school. This left me only lunch to possibly screw up. When I went on to wrestle in college I was lucky enough to have one of the top Nutrition teachers in the country at my school, the remarkable Dr. Gesmond.
Also in college it became more important to “watch” what I ate for two reasons; 1) my mom was not around cooking for me each day, 2) I had for the 1st time the need to maintain my weight.
So it is here that a friend of mine and I started taking nutrition classes with Dr. Gesmond. Soon after everyone we knew started taking his courses! He is the kind of teacher that is so good that he could be teaching Pig Latin and every student would be focused on his every word. Like I said, I was lucky. I enjoyed his classes so much that I minored in Nutrition.
Dr. Gesmond taught us many things. I think the most important thing he taught me was how you have to make LIFESTYLE CHANGES. If you want to be a great wrestler you must live an ATHLETIC LIFESTYLE! This is when I changed the way I thought about food. My mind set went from just grab whatever tasted good or was convenient, to FOOD IS FUEL.
A wrestler has to think of himself as a TOP FUEL DRAGSTER. These cars don’t run on pump gas. They take special fuel to put out the incredible horsepower they produce. You can’t perform your best either on crap food! So if you want to be the best, it may be time to make some changes to your diet, too.
Most people develop habits that tend to dictate what they eat and when. For example, eating certain foods on holidays, or special occasions. You may eat some foods together like bacon and eggs or peanut butter and jelly. Specific foods may be eaten at certain times or meals, like cereal and a glass of oj for breakfast. Sometimes different events may dictate what you eat, a hot dog at a ball game or cake at a party.
These are all habits that are hopefully full of good healthy foods, but many times they are not. As a wrestler you must use DISCIPLINE and make some “lifestyle changes.” This will help you in several ways.
1) It will help you to avoid putting on excessive weight(fat) making it easier to reach a competitive weight class. 2) Proper nutrition will help you recover from the tremendous work load a wrestler must face. 3) It is a factor in mantaining good health. 4) It will help you perform to your top potential. 5) In the off season it will help you build muscle when you work out.
Let me give you two basic changes that I made. The 1st one was switching from regular (whole milk) to skim (no fat milk). Dr. Gesmond pointed out that you could get basically all the benefits of whole milk, without the extra calories and fat. Whole milk has 150 calories per cup while skim has 90, seemed like a no brainer.
So I went right out and bought a gallon of skim milk. Only problem was, it tasted like crap! For lack of a better explanation, if you have been drinking regular milk your whole life, it is like someone poured you a glass of water with a drop of milk. I literally could not drink it.
I had the bright idea of “stepping down” by buying 2% and then 1% milk then trying skim again. Truthfully it still was not my favorite, but I had made up my mind to do it. I knew it was the right thing for me to do and mentally I had to make the change. The funny thing about it is that today it is the exact opposite. I can’t drink regular milk now. To me it tastes like Heavy Cream. The skim milk that tasted so watery back then, I will now add ice to on a hot day.
The 2nd example that comes to mind because of the direct relationship, is all the foods I will now drink milk with. When I was dating my future wife, I would often go over for dinner. Once again I had the good luck to have another great cook making food for me. On Fridays, though, it was usually pizza night. Since I train on Fridays before going over, I realized I needed protein with my pizza.
I remember the funny look on my wife’s face when she asked me what I wanted to drink and I replied milk. I have to admit once again, it was not at first my favorite. Like most, you get use to having pizza with a soda or maybe ice tea at the local pizza place. Now milk is my favorite thing with pizza. I will drink it with most anything, like Chinese food, too, when we order it.
Some will still make faces and say “how can you drink milk with that?” It is just one of those things. You make the change and you get use to it. I once read that in some of the big coffee producing countries, the locals prefer what we would consider a very “low grade” coffee. This seemed odd to me until I realized why. All the “high grade beans” are shipped out for sale. So they are left with the lower grade beans to make their coffee. It is now what they are use to and it tastes better to them.
You will find various cases of this kind of acquired taste. For example, people will favor their mother’s sauce over others. You may like a certain brand of product that your family always uses (Heinz Ketchup/ Boars Head cold cuts). Some will like a particular kind (white bread/American Cheese) or flavor (ice cream/yogurt) of others. Here in NY you will always hear people complain that they can’t get a decent slice of pizza or bagel out of state (by the way, I have no idea why that is).
Once you realize that a lot of the food you are eating is stuff you have become use to, it just becomes a matter of changing your habits and acquired tastes and it really is not that hard. I like to start off by telling everyone that when you have the choice of what you are going to eat, make a healthy decision. Then, when you are in situations such as holidays and parties, again try to make healthy decisions when you can. But if you would like to have a piece of cake and can afford to, then have one.
I hope that you all will understand what I am saying here… The reason most diets fail is that they become very restrictive of what you can and can’t eat. That and the limited amounts of food cause people to make too many changes at once. Therefore the person on the diet feels too restricted and “falls off the wagon.” They were not able to make the “lifestyle changes” necessary to succeed.
That being said, I am going to hit most of you over the head with a brick with this first recommendation. You are all wrestlers (former wrestlers, wrestler’s moms, dads) you are suppose to be tough. So eliminate ALL fast foods, candies, cakes, chips, dips, cookies, and sodas. Basically anything that comes in a plastic wrapper, foil container or other packaging that sits on a shelf.
They are loaded with salt, sugar, bad fats, chemicals, and other garbage that you can’t pronounce. Also, they are highly processed with little or no nutritional value. Plus, if you are eating that crap, you are not eating something good for you. Remember FAT has 9 calories per gram. While PROTEIN and CARBOHYDRATES have 4. So avoiding ALL bad fat is extremely important for the wrestler!
Everyone needs to make healthy selections and here is another good idea. Get your family on board. Many sports and especially wrestling become family affairs anyway. So sit down and explain it to your mom and dad sisters and brothers. Mostly everyone can eat healthier, and many of us can stand to loose a few pounds as well.
Most Wrestling moms will be more than happy to get involved with the wrestlers diet anyway. They are always concerned about what if anything the kid is eating. They can help greatly by getting all the garbage out of the house. If it is not there, chances are the kid will choose something that is readily available rather then going out to buy something himself.
One of the basic ideas I recommend is to get a good amount of lean protein with each meal. Please remember this is intended to be a BASIC article with a good starting point on which to build on. So a great deal of amounts and different eating plans I will not be getting into. Some good sources can be milk, eggs, chicken, steak, fish, and yogurt.
Some of the reasons for this recomendation of protien are that lean protein is difficult to break down, has AMINO ACIDS which are needed to heal, recover and repair muscle tissue. It is the bedrock nutrient in the physical renovation process, feeding battered muscles after an intense wrestling practice.
FIBROUS CARBOHYDRATES is another must have! Some examples are carrots, broccoli, greenbeans, salad greens cabbage, spinach and the likes. Certain fibrous carbs require as many calories to digest as they contain. They also have a “roto rooter” effect cleaning you out as they pass through the digestive system. It is important to get plenty together with your protein.
For breakfast good choices would be eggs, milk, juice, oatmeal, and some cereals. When choosing juice make sure it is 100% juice, companies spend a great deal of money playing games with labels. There is an endless amount of choices when it comes to cereals. If you are use to chocolate covered sugar bombs, you may have to make small changes 1st to get accustomed to a different taste. Try something similar to how I went about it with the milk.
Lunch is where you have to be DISIPLINE because you will usually be making the choices of what to eat yourself. Most schools will offer something healthy everyday. If you go out for lunch choose a local deli or maybe a bagel joint that prepares “homemade” dishes. Rotisserie or grilled chicken, steamed veggies and rice, lean cuts of fresh meats are all good choices. Drink 100% juice, milk or water. If you get a sandwich order it on whole wheat bread, have mustard instead of mayo.
For Dinner eat what your mom makes. Hopefully she is a good cook, in any case HOMEMADE is often best. Again chicken, fish, lean cuts of steak are all good choices. Try to choose healthy ways of preparing them. Grill them on a BBQ for example. Have a large salad as the 1st thing you eat. It will help to fill you up and add some important nutrition to your diet. Get fresh veggies for the salad and don’t ruin it with a heavy dressing. Use a little oil and vinegar or choose another “light” dressing.
You can add some more steamed or grilled vegetables and maybe a potato, rice, or a little pasta. Remember, watch what you add to it! It is all the butter, oils, creamy sauces or toppings that can ruin an otherwise heathly meal.
I would recommend that you eat a good amount of fresh fruit also. It is easy enough to throw an apple, orange, banana etc. into your school bag every day. You could also make a healthy TRAIL MIX. I buy a few different bags of nuts, seeds, and other things at TRADER JOES. Buy what you like and mix it up in a big Ziplock bag or Tupperware type container and you can grap a handfull to bring with you.
I mentioned Trader Joe’s and this is a good place to buy many healthy things. Depending on where you live, you may have other similar stores that offer good choices. Whoever does the shopping should find a store that is convenient enough for them to buy the family groceries from.
Another thing I would like to mention is an added PROTEIN/CARB DRINK. After an intense workout you have what is commonly called the WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY to get fuel into your body. This window is “open” for @ 1 hour. Bodybuilders, Powerlifter etc. have been drinking a shake immediately after their workouts for many years. For the wrestler this can greatly aid in recovery, and keep your muscles fueled and strong so you are ready for the next work out.
It is easy enough to do, too. Grab a shaker cup and dump a scoopful of powder into it. Throw it (unmixed) into your wrestling bag. After practice mix with water and ice if available, and drink it down. Don’t go crazy searching for the greatest powder mix. Go to the local heath food store and find one on sale with @ 50/50 mix of Protein and low glycemic carbs. No added sugar and maybe a small amount of fat is ok.
At the start of this article I mentioned how I was lucky to have my mom at home to cook for me. Believe me, what I took for granted then, I don’t now. I understand that in today’s world everything seems to go faster, people are busier and you may have mom and dad both working. This is where as a young man you have to take it upon yourself to shoulder some of the load.
The wrestler can help with the preparation of the food. This can be daily or for very busy families you can pick a time during the week to prepare food in advance. It is easy enough to help mom or dad make a few things either at night or on a weekend when you don’t have a tournament. Make enough for each week or if you feel it necessary, longer by freezing some.
You can help grill some chicken, for example, and put it in a container in the frig. Make some wild brown rice, steam some vegetables and do the same. Buying some pre-made salads when busy will help to save time, if needed. Now you can come home, heat your premade food in a microwave, open a bag of salad and you have a good meal.
Here is one other thing. Drink plenty of water! I understand that some use dehydration to make weight. Being dehydrated will affect your performance and can have much more serious effects when taken to extremes. When you are training hard and eating right, dehydration should not be neccessary.
Hopefully, this basic information will be helpful to you. If you are already doing many of these things, that is great, you are way ahead of most. You may be ready to begin taking another step to more advanced nutritional practices. If you are, or if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Coach Ellinger