Strong and Energized vs Weak and Depleted: How High School Wrestlers Need to Eat

TAGS: high school wrestler diet, rehydration, high school wrestler, drop body fat, lean muscle gain, Chris Tutela, sport performance, high school sports, high school athlete, make weight, dehydration, build muscle, water consumption, wrestling, Nutrition

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We see it time and time again: high school wrestlers preparing for their season, dehydrating themselves, going on starvation diets and taking laxatives and diuretics to make weight.

Although this is very common and has been around for years, I want anyone reading this post to know that this is not normal. In fact, it’s dangerous. Many wrestlers and fighters have died over the years trying to make weight. This is usually due to being severely dehydrated and the toll that takes on the human body.

In addition, going into a match starving and dehydrated will never lead to you performing at your greatest potential. It will only leave you tired, weak, and depleted — not exactly the best state for going into a match.

I’m here today to teach coaches and athletes how to eat properly leading up to and during the season so you won’t need to take such drastic measures before a match.

From my experience, I’ve found that getting teenagers to eat properly is always the biggest challenge. But the ones that actually do are the ones that always take their games to the next level. I totally understand that kids will be kids, but if 90% of the time you execute what I am about to discuss, you will be on your way to your strongest season yet.

So here we go!

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Water

Let’s start with the most basic—but also the most important resource—and that’s water. Drinking enough water for adequate hydration is your first step to building more strength and lean muscle, dropping body fat, cleansing your vital organs, improving your circulatory system, and hydrating the cells of the body.

Dehydrating yourself before a match is already a step in the wrong direction. To ensure that you are properly hydrated start with an absolute minimum of half of your bodyweight in ounces daily. Meaning a 160-pound kid will drink at least 80 ounces of water daily. From there, you can increase your daily intake, but that’s a good start. Typically I recommend about one gallon of water per day.


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As you approach a match you can gradually begin to reduce your water intake. For instance, if your match is on a Tuesday and you are drinking one gallon of water per day, you can drink 3/4 gallon on Sunday, 1/2 gallon on Monday and maybe 1/4 gallon on Tuesday if you are over weight. If you are sticking to the plan, you shouldn’t be over weight at this point. If you are below weight you can drink up to ½ a gallon or more the day of your match but keep most of your water earlier in the day. As you approach the weigh-in you can start to only take small sips when needed. Again, this will vary depending on the individual’s weight at the time.

If your match is say, on a Saturday morning, begin reducing your water the day before as you get closer to the evening. Then you can just take sips when necessary.

Rehydration

After the weigh-in you’re going to be dehydrated to some degree. It’s important to not just chug a sugary sports drink before the match to try and replenish some electrolytes. Those drinks are loaded with sugar, along with artificial dyes and coloring — definitely not the best things to put in your body when it’s time to perform, despite what some ads may tell you.

A great way to begin replenishment is with coconut water. Coconut water is loaded with electrolytes naturally and is a much better option than sugary sports drinks. You can begin sipping it slowly, immediately after your weigh-in and leading up to the match. But do not neglect sipping pure water at this point either.

Now, none of that will work for you if you are not eating properly. If you are eating processed foods, pizza, burgers, ice cream, and all types of crazy shit like that, you most likely won’t be able to stay hydrated for your match, which leads to more of the dangerous weight cutting methods we mentioned earlier.

To keep your weight in check you need to be eating the right foods.

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Food

You are what you eat. You’ve probably heard your grandmother tell you that a thousand times as a kid. The funny thing is, she was right!

We are made up of the things we put in our body. Most kids usually don’t realize that, and this has to be a point of emphasis if we want the best for our athletes.

I’ve worked with high school athletes for over 10 years now, and they always eat like shit when they first walk through our doors, even the ones that think they don’t. In my opinion, that can be countered with the proper education of quality food.

So let’s start with taking a page from Mike Dolce’s book and focus our diets only on earth grown nutrients, meaning foods that you can hunt, catch or grow. No processed foods, no refined sugars, no flour.

Your athletes should focus on:

  • Lean proteins like lean grass fed beef, chicken breasts, eggs, fish, beans, and turkey breast.
  • Carbohydrates like oats, rice, potatoes, quinoa, and fruits.
  • Fats like, nuts, nut butters, whole eggs, flax and coconut oil, fish, and avocados.

We should also be eating tons of fresh veggies, ideally three to four servings per day of green veggies.

Here is how we tie this together to make sure that you are strong, healthy, hydrated and on weight before the season even begins. Let’s start with stepping on the scale and checking your weight to find out how much weight you need to lose. If you don’t know your weight make sure you find out by mid-August.


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Once you know how much you have to lose, you have to begin to stock your house with the right foods. Younger athletes definitely have to get their parents on board to help out at first!

Combined with a quality strength and conditioning program (which hopefully you’re already doing) a quality diet will begin melting all unnecessary, non-functional tissue off of your frame. Eating the right foods won’t only make you leaner, but stronger and more energized as well.

Based on the foods I mentioned above, the diet of a high school wrestler should consist of about six meals per day, eating one meal about every two to three hours.

Before everyone busts out their calculators and starts counting calories, let’s simplify a bit. Start with basing each of the six meals around a serving of protein. Just pick one above. Then, let’s add a source of fat for breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a serving of veggies at each of those meals. Finally, add some carbohydrates around the times you work out, before and after and also at least two other meals, but how many meals depends on the individual.

wrestling

If you have a good amount of fat to lose you are going to want smaller servings of carbohydrates for meals that are not surrounding your workouts. Please don’t get caught up in the idea that carbohydrates are bad for you. In my opinion, carbohydrates are essential for recovery in athletes. Here’s why:

Your body uses something called glycogen as a source of energy. Glycogen, is stored primarily in the muscles and the liver. When you strength train, practice, and compete in your sport, glycogen gets used as fuel which leaves the glycogen stores within the muscle depleted.

Since you build muscle with proper recovery (sleep and food), you need to replenish the depleted glycogen stores with carbohydrates. This will ensure that you are properly recovered and ready to take on your next training session.

Now six real meals per day can be quite challenging, I know. That’s where a good high-quality protein powder comes in handy. Just be careful, a lot of them are loaded with fillers, sugar, and all types of crap. You want an all-natural product ideally sweetened with stevia.

You can also have a 0% fat-free, plain Greek yogurt as a source of protein.

You can spread your meals out like this:

Meal 1: Real food

Meal 2: Shake plus fruit

Meal 3: Real food

Meal 4: Yogurt plus nuts and fruit

Meal 5: Real food

Meal 6: Real food or shake

If your athletes stick to a plan like this, they will be adding lean muscle mass and dropping body fat simultaneously. Just make sure you weigh-in once per week to monitor your progress. If you seem to be gaining weight, cut the calories back a bit. If you’re on track, there’s no need to worry.

When you get closer to your season you can follow these same principles. By this time you should have a better understanding of your body and when you may need to cut calories back a bit. But if you stick to the game plan, you’ll be able to eat good quality foods that will give you strength and endurance to win, even the day of a match.

I personally followed this type of meal plan to prepare for a Jui Jitsu tournament a few years back. I was able to drop from 195 pounds to 168 pounds after eating clean for about 10 weeks. The day of my tournament I was hydrated, fed, and felt fantastic.

And that’s exactly how you guys should feel every time you step on the mat. It takes hard work and discipline, but hey, that’s what high school wrestling is all about!

So work hard, be strong, fed, healthy and hydrated this season, and I guarantee you will have the best season yet.

The old school, dangerous approach is outdated and doesn’t make sense to torture yourself. I know I prefer food over laxatives any day. Be safe and have a great season!

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