If you think that cutting a bunch of weight to compete in the lowest possible weight class will give you a big advantage, think again. The reality is that all of your opponents will be the doing the same thing.
Smart wrestlers, like four-time national champion Logan Stieber (who, full disclosure, is one of my clients at Metabolic Meals), will tell you that a far better approach is to eat to perform, so that you ditch body fat while maintaining the maximum amount of muscle throughout the long, rigorous wrestling season. That way, you’ll feel stronger and wrestle better when tournament time arrives and championships are won and lost. Wrestlers who starve themselves throughout the season wear down when winning matters most.
Making matters worse, with traditional methods of weight cutting—like long stints in the sauna, running with multiple layers of clothing, and crash diets—wrestlers drop pounds mainly due to water loss. Because the average wrestler weighs in for competitions many times throughout the season, this can have severe consequences on the body.
Eventually, chronic dehydration can lead to dangerous electrolyte imbalances, reduced strength, muscle loss, decreased cardiovascular output, nutrient deficiencies, cramping, insomnia, and more.
Imagine if wrestlers could actually focus on improving their skill sets during practice instead of meeting a lower weight class. What if they ate a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that allowed them to push themselves harder in practices and matches, and helped them recover faster between workouts? Then they’d be able to peak at the end of the season, remaining strong, fast, and energetic— unlike their overtrained competitors.
It’s time to let go of old-fashioned and unhealthy weight-cutting methods, despite the fact that they were supported by coaches and athletes for decades. Many top wrestling programs are already encouraging their athletes to take a more sustainable approach. It’s time we all agree on a new set of rules. Here are four that everyone should adopt:
Wrestling Diet Rule 1: Measure body fat on the first day of practice
Coaches should measure all of their wrestlers’ body fat percentages before the season begins. That will help them figure out each athlete’s safest weight class, and help them and their athletes know at what point they should stop dropping more weight.
For instance, in Maine, every wrestler is screened before the season starts to establish a baseline of weight and body fat. One caveat for this rule to work: Wrestlers must be properly hydrated at the time of measurement; otherwise, they have to return and try again after 48 hours.
Wrestling Diet Rule 2. Educate wrestlers on proper nutrition
Not every athlete is an expert in healthy eating. That’s especially true for wrestlers, who are mostly taught to make weight through food restriction and water depletion. Olympic wrestler Frank Molinaro, another Metabolic Meals client, admits that many wrestlers, himself included, have cut corners when it comes to eating right to make weight.
Instead, we need to teach wrestlers about proper nutrition, and instruct them to prioritize the consumption of clean, unprocessed foods like lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Additionally, we should teach them what kinds of carbohydrates to consume and when—like having a sweet potato with chicken after practice instead of a pretzel roll.
Wrestling Diet Rule 3. Keep wrestlers hydrated
Let’s all agree to keep electrolyte packs available during every practice and competition. They’re far superior to high-sugar and calorie-laden sports drinks. Electrolytes like sodium and potassium are vital to several body functions, particularly cardiovascular and adrenal functions, but wrestlers are losing them through their sweat constantly. Since dehydration has incredibly negative impacts on performance, this should be priority for keeping wrestlers in peak physical shape longer.
Wrestling Diet Rule 4. Have wrestlers keep nutrition logs
Once wrestlers understand proper nutrition, hold them accountable by having them maintain nutrition logs of everything they eat and drink. This will help coaches make corrections and recommendations while keeping them responsible for their own progress.
In my experience, athletes who stick to healthy eating routines can’t wait to show off their logs. Those who aren’t eating well will be less enthusiastic or may not fill out the logs at all.
The unfortunate reality is that cutting weight has been considered the norm in wrestling for too long, and it’s still being advocated by many coaches. This needs to stop.
The goal should be to do everything possible to make sure wrestlers show up to a competition healthy and full of energy, not exhausted and drained from dehydration. Instead of focusing on speedy weight loss, lets follow these rules to get our wrestlers to approach their training like you would in any other sport: by staying strong and putting the emphasis on improving performance.
A Proper Diet for Wrestlers: 5 Tips to Lose Weight Safely
4 Lifts to Build Wrestling Strength
North Carolina State University Wrestling’s Summer Training Plan