Compared to other sports, wrestling arguably requires the ultimate combination of power, strength and endurance. Even though matches last only six minutes or less, wrestlers burn a ton of energy during long practices, multiple workouts per day (practice, weights and running) and often multiple matches in a day (during tournaments). Proper wrestling nutrition is crucial, since wrestlers use every energy system in the body and must replace that energy. This means wrestlers need carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water to maximize performance and recovery.
Here are some dietary pointers to keep your energy up and your weight where it needs to be both before and during the season.
Most wrestlers have very high energy needs, even when they are attempting to lose weight before competition. Calories are energy, so restricting food is not the way to lose weight. Instead, focus on high-quality foods that provide sustained fuel to lean out. Clean eating (which involves natural, not processed foods) increases the body’s efficiency, making it easier to build lean mass and decrease fat mass.
To lean out during the pre-season, wrestlers should emphasize four primary areas of nutrition:
- High fiber carbohydrates — to sustain energy and stay lean
- Healthy fats — to stay full longer and improve recovery
- Lean protein — to keep you full longer and increase regeneration
- Water — to maintain hydration and replace sweat loss
While training, you should eat lean protein, healthy fat and high fiber. Here are some of my top food choices for training:
- Nuts & Seeds (raw)
- Natural Nut Butters
- Fruits (with skin)
- Dried Fruits
- Oats, Quinoa
- Vegetables (any variety – raw is best)
- Fish (wild, not farmed)
- Grass-fed Beef
- Eggs (cage-free)
- Beans, Peas, Legumes
Wrestlers commonly restrict water intake to make weight. But fluid restriction can be unsafe and lead to dehydration. Increase your intake of high-water foods in the days leading up to a match.
Top High-Water Foods
- Star Fruit
- Bell Peppers
- Broccoli & Cauliflower
Sodium is tricky for wrestlers. Sodium helps the body retain water, so the more you sweat, the more sodium and other electrolytes (such as potassium) your body needs on a daily basis. But you want sodium in moderation. If you take in too much, especially from processed foods, cutting weight becomes difficult—again highlighting the importance of clean, natural foods.
High-Sodium Foods to Avoid
- All Fast Food
- Lunch Meats
- Packaged Snacks (crackers, chips, cookies)
- Canned Foods
- Condiments (ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce, soy sauce)
- Salted Nuts & Trail Mix
Choosing Tournament Snacks
Tournament foods and post-weigh-in foods should be foods you’re familiar with and can digest easily. Like daily training foods, they should also provide a good combination of carbs, healthy fats and protein.
Top Wrestling Tournament Snacks
- Fresh fruit
- Dried cherries
- Fruit leathers (all-natural)
- Popcorn (air-popped, with only salt added – no butter)
- Cut fruit or veggies with natural nut butter
- String cheese
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Trail mix (preferrably raw or homemade)
- Chia pudding
- Fruit salad with quinoa
As with any nutritional plan, listen to your body to figure out what works best for you. Use the pre-season to practice your nutrition in addition to your moves.
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