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The body is the temple of the mind, and to have a strong temple it needs to be made out of a sturdy material to withstand the stress it’s going to face. In our last article, (Read Part 1.1: Sleep) we discussed how developing good sleep habits can strengthen your temple and set your mind free- thus improving your wrestling mentality. Today we’re going to look at another building block needed for one’s body, and that is nutrition.
“Without proper nutrition, wrestlers’ attentiveness and stamina will fall off drastically, especially late in practice.” - Dan Gable
Energy and motivational problems can come from a lack of good nutrition. A poor diet can result in poor mood. This is now being called the “food-mood connection”. After amateur bodybuilding for a year I learned a lot about being smart with the fuel you need and how to optimize it for a fully energized, strengthened machine that should be your body. I can tell you, from my experience, that once you’ve established a good nutritional practice, you will see how powerful, focused, fast, and good your body will allow you to feel.
Wrestlers are too often starving themselves with a stubborn mentality, thinking that they are just going to tough their way to victory. That can only take you so far. The smallest edge in wrestling can earn you victory, or defeat.
Weight Loss & Gain
It’s commonly known that for male wrestlers the BMI (Body Mass Index) ,a percentage used to determine information about body fat percentage, should be around 7%. For a female, 15% is optimal. The following information will not be about how to get to these levels. This article will discuss weight loss or gain; it will focus on building a healthy lifestyle.
First thing first; you must see your diet as not only a practice, but a lifestyle. If someone is to fully benefit from food, healthy practices cannot only be applied during the wrestling season. One must learn to practice good nutrition throughout his/her entire life. So I advise you to cling on to the lifelong practice of taking care of your body. It will raise your ability to fight harm against yourself- both physically and mentally.
The Big Three
Let’s dig in! The easiest way to digest this huge topic would be to examine the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein, and fats. Each plays an integral role. Each must be balanced. To balance them, they need to be understood. I will explain what I know first and then suggest practices that worked for me.
You must have heard by now that carbohydrates come in two major forms: Simple carbs and complex carbs. There is one other more major form, the third, which is fiber.
Your simple carbs are fast digesting, which can be taken advantage of first thing in the morning and after a workout. They give a quick but short boost of energy, and are absorbed faster by the bloodstream. Simple carbs usually come in the form of sugars, like glucose and fructose. It can be found in soda, candy, and other refined sugary foods. Fruit sugar is fructose, and a little slower to digest than glucose. Slower digesting means the energy you get from it will last longer. With this understanding, a wrestler can see how the morning sugary fruit can help wake him/her up in the morning and keep her/him awake, after basically fasting all night while sleeping. One should carefully watch how many sugars he or she consumes though, because they can easily go overboard. These foods are not usually the most filling.
In addition to eating simple carbs first thing in the AM, there is another time you can consume these to yield awesome results...
During a workout or a wrestling match, your muscles use up glucose and glycogen (forms of energy). To refuel these energies, you should rush to eat something high in refined sugar after intense activity. A small handful of candy has worked best for me. This is why you see bodybuilders eating gummy candies after a workout. Stay clear from Soda though; the carbonation will get you sick during wrestling competition. Fruit sugar, fructose, will not be as effective in this scenario because it won’t be digested as fast as refined sugar.
After wrestling or working out, you basically want to get a sugar rush and spike your insulin to get nutrients and proteins faster to your body. This is a little "trick" used by bodybuilder and scientist Jim Stoppani Ph.D. He specifically eats gummies after his workouts. If you're still skeptical on this method, you can follow some others who use less processed sugars like oats, brown sugars, honey, and white rice to promote muscle retention and growth.
When I practiced bodybuilding, I usually ate a banana before a workout to also replenish my electrolytes. This fructose gave me energy to put my body to work. After my workouts, I always had a small bag of skittles handy (my favorite candy). There are also special candies that are actually made for consuming after a workout. You can find these at GNC, Bodybuilding.com, or even the supplements aisle in Walmart.
A healthy diet is all about proportioning. Even “junk food” is healthy when used at the right time with the right proportions. 30 grams of sugar should be more than enough during these two periods (upon waking up and after a workout). The rest of your carbohydrates for your day should be complex.
Your complex carbs are longer chains of sugars that come from foods without as sweet of a flavor such as bread, potatoes, rice, and oats. It takes longer for your body to break these down, thus dispersing energy over time; complex carbs are perfect to eat in good portions throughout the day to keep your energy up. You will not crash if you have these dominate your carb intake.
Fibers come from your green foods mostly in vegetables and fruit, and is a tool to clean and push food through your body; getting enough in your system is vital. Be careful though. Eat too much fiber and food will be traveling through your body too fast… this is the wrong kind of speed to have during a wrestling match... it could potentially be your secret weapon though.
Even if you’re cutting weight, you should at least be getting one gram of carbohydrates per body pound per day. Meaning if you weigh 180lbs, you should be eating no less than 180 grams of carbs. You’ll find that you probably already eat a lot more than this throughout the day. Make sure you don’t go under; without carbs you will find yourself short on energy to do basic tasks and to even think! Your brain needs carbohydrates to function. Zero carb diets are usually short term tools used by professional athletes and actors with medical supervision, but have unfortunately become an online fad. It's extremely difficult, especially in the USA, to go under 0.5g carbs per body lb per day. Because of it's difficulty, the harder it will be to become a lifestyle. When you don't live a lifestyle, your progress will not last long at all...
This 1g per day minimum usually applies to protein as well.
Like carbs, you should be getting at least 1 gram of protein per body pound per day according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Protein is going to help you build muscle, repair injuries, develop your bones, nerves, and so much more. To have a strong healthy body you need to be tracking this required nutrient. Most Americans do not get enough proteins during their week. I advise you to track your diets because you will be surprised on how little you may actually be getting.
You’ll get your proteins from meats, milk, nuts, eggs, and beans. Lean meat like chicken breast, 92-98% beef, and FISH (the absolute best because of its fats), are the best and easiest options. A handful can get you away with 32g. I found that eating meat was much harder to eat a lot of, so I suggest sticking with high protein foods before getting full. Stay away from pork for its high cholesterol and high saturated fat. You may also choose to use a whey protein supplement, especially after a workout or wrestling match since it is quick to digest (same principal as the simple sugars). A casein protein supplement is slow digesting; it is good to take that right before you sleep to keep your metabolism going and your body healing, and also when you wake up. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, sour cream, and cottage cheese are casein rich. This is a good alternative to the supplements;
the powder is convenient and cheap but remember it is no replacement for real food. Good times to consume casein are in the morning, before, during, and after a workout, and before bed. Your other meals should be real food.
Spread your protein throughout the day. It's generally believed that your body can only absorb 30g every two hours.
Until I started bodybuilding I didn’t realize how little protein I was getting even with the shakes. After tracking my diet on a app like mymacros+, I saw that I was getting 80g less than what I should have been eating.
Signs of low protein can be:
You will see the difference in your strength and muscle growth when you get enough protein.
Fats are absolutely necessary, but they often get a bad rap from popular TV culture, low fat stickers on every thing we buy, and people who speak with little knowledge just to be popular on Instagram…
Fats are not only an energy source, but they’re needed to develop the brain (especially for young athletes up to 25 years old), construct cells, regulate the heart, transport vitamins, shield organs, and manage our body heat.
Cholesterol has an essential role to play in health, especially for men. It is the building block of testosterone, which will develop the body and help you stay motivated and aggressive. You’ll find cholesterol in animal products. There are generally two types of cholesterol, HDL (good) and LDL (bad and is related to having an artery clogging effect). You will see how these types will play a role in determining good and bad fats.
A note on cholesterol: it is a good practice to get as little as you can from food. Your body will manufacture all the cholesterol it needs from proteins and other foods.
Saturated fats and trans fats both increase LDL and lower HDL. You can find saturated fats in animal products. A good way to spot it out is that it will turn solid when cold. Trans fats are found in packaged goods like cookies, cakes, chips, and other snacks. A little bit of saturated fat is “okay”, but you should seek to eliminate trans fat as much as you can from your life as it can cause severe and even lethal chronic conditions.
Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and Omege 3 Fatty Acids all work to lower LDL in your body. Monounsaturated fats are found in your nuts, olive oils, canola oils, avocados and other natural foods. Olive oil is the best of these. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in a variety of vegetable oils and have been proven to prevent diabetes. Omega 3 Fatty Acids is the best of fats and can be found in cold-water fish, walnuts, and flax seeds. Omega 3s work to reduce inflammation, improve your brain function, and even prevent cancer!
A quick way to replace the healthy fats with the bad ones would be to stop going to fast food places, replace your snacks with nuts, replace your fatty meats, like pork and high fat beef, with fish, use olive oil margarine instead of butter, limit cakes and cookies, and use olive oil in your cooking instead of deep frying.
Since fat is more than twice the amount of calories than proteins and carbs, you should get a minimum of 0.5 grams of fat per body pound per day.
The Big Three
When the big three come together, they should be proportioned as follows per body pound.
This can also be written as 40% of your body weight from protein, 40% from carbs, and 20% from fats.
For a 180lb wrestler, he should at least consume 180g protein, 180g carbs, 90g fats. Protein and a carbohydrate each have 4 calories per gram. Fat has 9 calories. This diet comes out to be 2,250 calories, which for an active wrestler is actually losing weight! To maintain muscle mass and weight, I suggesting bumping up your protein and fat intake to match how many calories you are burning.
When I weighed 180lbs I had to eat 2g protein, 1.5g carbs, and 0.5 g fats to just stay the same weight. Don’t starve yourself this season! Get a diet tracker on your phone and EAT.
A Warning on Alcohol
Empty calories (7 per gram) and basically poison for your liver. I say that alcohol has no place in a wrestler’s life. Many bodybuilders have completely abandoned alcohol and it is often called “the curse of bodybuilders”. Alcohol actually causes you to lose muscle as it decreases protein synthesis (this is called alcoholic myopathy). It also slows your metabolism, puts brakes on fat loss, and lowers your testosterone levels, which is needed by both sexes for a healthy body.
Another reason not to starve yourself is meal frequency. Your body is smart, you see. If you eat only twice a day thinking your body will lose weight, then you’re wrong. Your body will instead enter a survival mode and will try to conserve as much energy as possible; your body does this by running at low capacity. No wonder why you get tired when you haven’t had a meal!
This is why breakfast is so important. Since you haven’t been eating while you’ve been sleeping (essentially fasting), your body will kick into that low energy survival mode if you don’t eat anything as soon as you wake. Not only will your metabolism slow, but your body will switch from burning fat to burning muscle. Scary right? Burning muscle is your body’s go to source when in survival mode.
Intermittent fasting, which is eating for about every 6 hours, is another popular weight loss fad floating the health industry. Usually people will also do cardio for 20-40 minutes before eating to theoretically burn their fat reserves as energy. If they're smart, they only do this cardio when they wake up and before breakfast. My experience with intermittent fasting is that it's just another fad. Yes, you will lose so much weight, but you're going to lose muscle- the wrong kind of weight to lose. So don't do it. The only time it benefitted me was when I was trying to lose stubborn fat so I could go down to 6% BMI. It worked but at a cost to my strenght. Also, ideally no one needs to be that skinny.
To make your body comfortable to burning your fat reserves and spending energy, you need to tell it that "everything is okay" by keeping your metabolism running and eating every 2-3 hours. Yes that’s not a typo. From the moment you wake to the moment you go to bed, every 2-3 hours food should go into your mouth hole.
With all that we learned, we can determine that an excellent meal schedule can look something like this.
6AM – High carb meal with fruit and fast digesting protein
8AM – Light balanced meal with slow digesting protein
10AM – Light balanced meal
12PM – Hearty Balanced Lunch
2PM – Light meal with fruit and slow digesting protein
4PM – Mid-practice fast digesting protein shake mixed with oats. Also gummy candy or non-diet energy drink
6PM – Post-workout shake and balanced hearty dinner
8PM – Light balanced meal
10PM – Casein (slow digesting protein) shake or milk with little complex carbs.
Yes 9 meals. In reality it isn’t a lot and you may actually already be eating all these meals if you account for snacks. The difference here is that this needs to be planned and prepared ahead of time. There should be no reason to go hungry even if you’re cutting weight if you eat healthy and eat consistently.
Consider planning your meals at the beginning of each week or every 4 days. That means packing food with you to eat throughout the day. If you’re in a school that doesn’t allow food in the classrooms or halls (which is stupid in my opinion) make sure that you talk to your coach so they can negotiate with your administration; you can also inform the administration of your intentions to lead a healthier lifestyle. We’re wrestlers; we have discipline. Don’t break the rules.
You will start to notice everything in life is best with moderation. Too much sleep is bad. Too much medicine is poison. Too much wrestling is bad. Too much schooling is bad. Too much worship is bad. Too much protein is bad. Too many carbs are bad. Too many fats are bad. Too much food is bad. The same applies to too little. You get the point.
Live your life in moderation. Eat in moderation. Like I said in the last article (sleep); life and wrestling are long-term games. People who say, “Hey why don’t you just live a little” or “live the night, bro” are people who do just that; live a little in heedlessness. Instead, we want to live our whole lifetimes while being fully sincere and trying our absolute best through each day and trial. That’s experiencing a full and beautiful life. Live in moderation and never stop wrestling.
You may have noticed that I didn’t include water intake in this article. Water deserves its own section, which will be my next topic! Please leave a comment, and contribute to the discussion. What are practices that work for you?
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