High School Wrestling: Diet and Weight Loss Options
As wrestling season draws near, wrestlers begin to contemplate the weight class in which they may wrestle. Wrestlers often believe that they will be more competitive at the lowest weight they can reach without sacrificing their strength and endurance. This isn’t always the case. Too often, wrestlers end up dehydrated. They end up starving themselves and their performance suffers greatly.
If you’re looking for an article on cutting weight, this isn’t it. If you’re the kind of wrestler who can lose ten pounds in wrestling practice, this article may not interest you either. I could never sweat off a lot of weight, so I was always more interested in manipulating my diet to lose weight. There are, of course, a myriad of diets to choose from. I simply want to discuss ten diets of which I am familiar. Maybe one of them will interest you and you can research it further. Let’s explore.
1. Low Carb/High Protein Diet
The Atkins Diet is probably the most famous low carb diet. So, what exactly is a low carb diet? A low carb diet limits carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, cereals, grains, potatoes and other starchy vegetables, fruit, and sometimes even milk.
The theory is that carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels which in turn raise insulin levels. Spiking insulin levels is considered bad because the idea is that insulin tells the body to store carbohydrates as body fat and prevents the body from accessing body fat as a fuel source. Supposedly, if you follow a low carb diet plan you can lose excess body fat without having to drastically limit your food intake.
Some low carb diets focus on limiting carbohydrates while increasing one’s intake of fat and protein.
Some low carb diets focus more on the glycemic index. The glycemic index essentially measures how much a given food raises one’s blood sugar levels. For instance, white rice may have a glycemic index of 58 while broccoli may only have a glycemic index of 15. White bread may have a glycemic index as high as 71. The idea is that a diet composed of low glycemic foods will lead to lower insulin levels which in turn may help one lose weight.
Patrick Holford takes the glycemic index one step further and uses a concept called the glycemic load. The glycemic load takes into account the glycemic index as well as the total carbs in a given amount of food. For instance, a bowl of steel-cut oats (1 oz.) has 2 GL while a bowl of corn flakes has 21 GL. In addition, half an apple has 3 GL while a banana has 12 GL. That is quite a difference. Holford is a big fan of oats. He claims in his book The Holford Low GL Diet, “There are specific foods and food combinations that cause rapid weight loss.” He claims that you will never feel hungry on his diet. You limit the number of GLs you eat in a day and you combine carbs and protein at each meal.
Tim Ferriss champions a diet he refers to as the Slow-Carb Diet. On this regimen one avoids carbohydrates like bread, pasta, cereals, grains, potatoes, etc. Then simply choose one protein, one legume, and one vegetable for each meal. For example, breakfast might be scrambled eggs, black beans, and mixed vegetables. Lunch might be beef, pinto beans, and mixed vegetables. And, dinner might be chicken breast, lentils, and asparagus. Eat as much as you want at each meal and eat up to six times a day. But, always avoid carbs and dairy products and always include a protein, legume, and vegetable.
Some low carb diet books include Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, Protein Power, The Zone Diet, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, The South Beach Diet, The Greenwich Diet, The No-Grain Diet, and Sugar Busters.
I suppose the main attraction of low carb diets is that one can burn fat and spare muscle while not having to restrict the amount one eats drastically. On the other hand, low carb diets can make one fatigued and irritable until one gets used to the low carb regimen. Keep in mind that there are several different versions of low carb diets.
2. Paleolithic Diet (Paleo Diet)
The Paleolithic (Paleo) diet seeks to replicate what humans ate during the Paleolithic Era. This diet may also be referred to as the Stone Age Diet, Cave Man Diet, or Hunter-Gatherer Diet. The Paleo diet is purported to promote weight loss as well as provide high fiber, protein, and omega-3 fats.
Foods You Can Eat:
- Lean Meat (skinless chicken breast, turkey, cuts of lean beef like sirloin and extra-lean hamburger, cuts of lean pork, seafood)
- Fruits including berries
- Vegetables including root vegetables like carrots
- Nuts such as walnuts, macadamia, almonds, pecans, and pistachios
- Seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds
- Olive oil, flaxseed oil, nut oils, fish oil, canola oil, and avocado
Foods To Avoid:
- Dairy Products
The Paleo diet may seem similar to the low carb diet and it is in some ways. For instance, it doesn’t allow grain products. However, the Paleo Diet does allow fruits. In addition, it makes a distinction between lean meat and fatty meat which I think is beneficial. Moreover, cheese can be eaten on a low carb diet but dairy is not allowed on the Paleo Diet because it would not have been a food consumed during the Paleolithic era.
I like the Paleo Diet because it provides fiber, protein, and healthy fats.
3. Anabolic Diet
The Anabolic Diet was developed by Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale. He developed this diet primarily for bodybuilders looking for an alternative to steroids and other drugs. He states, “The Anabolic Diet maximizes the production and utilization of the Big 3 growth producers – testosterone, growth hormone, and insulin – and does it naturally. It also shifts the body’s metabolism from that of a sugar burning, fat producing machine to that of a fat burning machine.” The Anabolic Diet is a high fat/high protein/low carb diet with a twist. The Anabolic Diet employs a method called carb cycling. For example, you eat a high fat/high protein/low carb diet for five days followed by a high carb diet for two days.
A more generic term for this diet would be cyclic ketogenic diet or simply carb cycling. The idea is that you must eat fat to burn fat. You can find specific guidelines about what to eat on low carb versus high carb days online.
So, it’s not as strict as a low carb diet because you can carb up for a day or two. You still need to watch the total amount of calories that you consume because you’re not a bodybuilder trying to gain weight, you’re a wrestler trying to stay lean or even lose weight.
I’ve never tried this diet before and have no idea how it would work for a wrestler. I suppose, in theory, that one could eat low carb during the week and carb up on Saturday when tournaments are usually held. On the other hand, eating a lot of fat seems like a strange idea to most of us. If this diet interests you, I would suggest doing an internet search for anabolic diet or cyclic ketogenic diet to learn more.
4. Intermittent Fasting (IF)
This is a way of eating of that involves cycling periods of fasting (i.e. not eating) and eating. You can fast for 24 hours once or twice a week. The idea is that fasting twice a week reduces the total number of calories one takes in during any given week. For instance, you may have dinner at 6:00 pm one evening and not eat again until 6:00 pm the following evening. If you normally consume three meals a day, then you would simply skip breakfast and lunch two days a week but still have dinner on those days. Sure you might get a bit hungry, but it’s only 24 hours and you’ll only do it about twice a week. You never technically have to go a day without eating. If you eat at 6:00 pm on Monday, you can still eat on Tuesday; you just have to wait until 6:00 pm again. A good book on the subject of IF is Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon.
A somewhat similar fasting routine is called The Warrior Diet created by Ori Hofmekler. On this regimen, you eat one main meal at night and you have the option of eating a small amount of food during the day. You follow this routine every day. You can eat some fruits and vegetables during the day. You can also eat small amounts of lean meats and eggs or a low-carb protein shake. You eat no grains or starches during the day. At your main evening meal, you can consume essentially anything you want but in a certain order. You eat vegetables first, then protein, and then if you’re still hungry you can eat some carbohydrates.
While using the intermittent fasting method, you still want to eat healthy. While you can basically eat what you want when not fasting, you still want to eat fruits and vegetables and healthy sources of protein and carbohydrates. You can eat other foods too (e.g. a dessert) but don’t use your non-fasting period as an excuse to binge on junk food.
5. Body for Life
Bodybuilder and entrepreneur Bill Phillips was the founder of Muscle Media 2000 magazine and later acquired the ESA supplement company. He is perhaps most known for authoring the book Body for Life: 12 Weeks to Mental and Physical Strength. In this book he outlines a workout strategy and dietary strategy to transform one’s body.
The dietary strategy involves eating six small meals a day which is believed to promote stable blood sugar and insulin levels. Small meals are also believed to be easier to digest and assimilate than three larger meals.
What can you eat for each small meal? You can eat a portion of protein and a portion of carbohydrate. You are also encouraged to eat a serving of vegetables with some meals. A portion is about the size of the palm of your hand or your clenched fist. A potato the size of your clenched fist is a portion as is an apple. Two slices of whole wheat bread is a portion. A skinless chicken breast the size of your palm is a portion. You can also use MRP (meal replacement products) shakes and nutrition bars like Myoplex, Met-Rx, Meso-Tech, Muscle Meals, etc. that provide protein, carbs, and other nutrients all in one bar or shake.
Possible Meal Ideas:
- One omelet and two slices of whole-wheat toast
- Egg whites and oatmeal
- Pancakes made with egg whites, oatmeal, protein powder, and fat-free yogurt
- Combine one portion of low-fat cottage cheese and one portion of fat-free, sugar-free yogurt
- One serving of chocolate MRP shake
- Turkey burger on a whole-wheat bun
- Chicken breast, steamed brown rice, and broccoli
- Grilled sirloin steak, potato, mixed vegetables
- One MRP nutrition bar
You are also encouraged to drink 10 glasses of water a day. You can consume one tablespoon of healthy fat a day such as olive, safflower, canola, sunflower, or flax seed oil. You can also consume small amounts of natural peanut butter and avocado.
You are encouraged to take one day off a week and eat whatever you want.
This plan is nice because you don’t have to count calories and you probably won’t get hungry eating six small meals a day. It may be hard to follow if you have a busy schedule.
6. Fit for Life
When Harvey Diamond co-authored Fit for Life, he helped bring the concept of natural hygiene into the mainstream. This way of eating isn’t just about how much you eat but also when and how you eat it. This regimen is based on the principle of proper food combining. The idea is that different foods are broken down differently by the body and therefore should be eaten separately. Harvey Diamond makes a distinction between live foods (high-water-content food like fresh fruits and vegetables) and dead food (e.g. processed foods).
- Fruit is always eaten alone at least two to three hours away from any other food.
- Never eat more than one concentrated food (i.e. protein or starch) per meal.
- Never combine starches and proteins (e.g. cereal and milk, bread and cheese, pasta and ground beef, fish and rice).
- You can combine protein with vegetables or starches and vegetables.
- Fat (e.g. butter, olive oil) is considered neutral. However, don’t combine fat with protein.
- Eggs and dairy products are discouraged.
- Meat is discouraged but should be eaten alone or with vegetables if consumed.
- Breakfast – Fruit is encouraged because it is the food with the highest water content and is considered to be the best food to consume. So, you could eat two or more oranges or two apples or two bananas or other fruits and fruit combinations. However, if you don’t like fruit you could have scrambled eggs with tomato and broccoli (i.e. protein and vegetables) or toast with butter (i.e. starch and fat). But, do not have eggs and toast or cereal and milk.
- Lunch – You could have a large vegetable salad with some olive oil and lemon. You could skip the olive oil on your salad and put some pieces of grilled chicken on it. You could have a vegetable salad and some bread sticks. You could have vegetable soup and some bread sticks. Alternatively, you could have avocado slices and other vegetables (e.g. tomatoes) between two slices of whole-grain bread. You could have a large baked potato with butter and vegetables (just be sure to steer clear of bacon bits, cheese, and chili).
- Dinner – You could have fish (or chicken or beef), vegetables, and a vegetable salad. Or, you could have rice (or couscous or pasta) with vegetables, and a vegetable salad. Or, if you like potatoes, then you could have a big baked potato with butter and vegetables.
- If you want milk, yogurt, or ice cream then eat it alone at least two or three hours away from other food.
- If you want fruit for a bedtime snack, then eat it alone at least two or three hours after dinner.
The motivational speaker and self-help guru Tony Robbins is an advocate of food combining. I’ve never tried it before. The good thing is that it focuses a lot on fruit and vegetables. In addition, your calories may be limited (helping with weight loss) when you can’t combine starches and proteins, but at least you can still consume them if you choose.
7. High Carb/Low Fat Diet
Some doctors and nutritionists recommend a high card/low fat diet to lose weight and stay healthy – the exact opposite of the low carb advocates. Some names associated with low fat diets include Walter Kempner, Nathan Pritikin, Dean Ornish, and John McDougall. According to Dr. McDougall, his diet is “a diet of plant foods, including whole grains and whole grain products (such as pasta, tortillas, and whole-grain bread), a wide assortment of vegetables, and fruit.”
The advocates of these diets claim that a person can enjoy unlimited quantities of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains without feeling hungry. These diets contain less fat and more fiber than other diets.
According to Dr. McDougall, “Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred fuel for daily activities and high-intensity exercise performance. Following a low-carbohydrate regime will impair performance.”
A baked potato is only about 160 calories and essentially fat free. An apple is only about 100 calories and also essentially fat free. A slice of whole wheat bread is only about 75 calories and essentially fat free. A bowl of oatmeal is about 165 calories, 4 grams of fat, and 4 grams of fiber.
In contrast, a 3 oz. patty of 85% lean ground beef (broiled) is about 213 calories and 13 grams of fat. And, a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese is about 510 calories and 26 grams of fat. Moreover, a Snicker’s Bar is about 270 calories and 14 grams of fat.
I’m not sure why everyone is so worried about cereals, potatoes, fruits, and breads. You can eat a lot of those foods for few calories if you don’t add condiments.
Martin Katahn, author of The T-Factor Diet, believes that it is mainly fat in your diet that determines your body fat. He contends that protein and carbohydrate calories don’t really matter that much. So, his approach is to count the fat grams in the food one eats and to keep the number low. He does, however, warn people to steer clear of highly processed fat-free desserts and snacks. Get your carbohydrates from fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains. In addition, eat lean meat, chicken, and fish.
8. Satiety Index
The Satiety Index (developed by Susanna Holt, PhD.) measures the extent to which certain foods provide satiety (i.e. fill you up and satisfy your hunger). Certain foods are simply better at filling you up than others.
For the most part, foods that are high in protein, water, and fiber provide the most satiety.
Carbohydrates are also better at producing satiety than fatty foods.
All foods on the index are compared with white bread which is given the rank of 100.
Some Satiety Food Rankings:
- Croissant – 47%
- Doughnuts – 68%
- Yogurt – 88%
- Corn Flakes – 118%
- White Rice – 138%
- Cheese – 146%
- Eggs – 150%
- Whole Meal Bread – 157%
- Beef – 176%
- Popcorn – 154%
- Apples – 197%
- Oranges – 202%
- Oatmeal – 209%
- Potatoes, Boiled – 323%
As you can see, potatoes provide a much higher level of satiety than a croissant. Similarly, oatmeal is more satisfying than a doughnut. In addition, eggs are more satisfying than yogurt. Seemingly, a sandwich made with whole meal bread with some lean beef or tuna along with an apple could make a satisfying and filling lunch.
A concept related to satiety is caloric density or energy density. Caloric density is the number of calories in a specific amount of food. Foods high in fat have the highest energy density while foods high in water content have the lowest energy density.
For instance, cucumbers, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, grapefruit, strawberries, watermelon, cantaloupe, carrots, oranges, and apples are very low in caloric density. Some other low caloric density foods include oatmeal, grapes, low-fat cottage cheese, peas, corn on the cob, potatoes, rice, and pasta.
In contrast, foods such as French fries, chocolate cake, pretzels, croissants, doughnuts, onion rings, chocolate chip cookies, bacon, milk chocolate bars, potato chips, and peanuts are much higher in caloric density. Even though pretzels are essentially fat free, they are high in energy density because they lack water and fiber.
Fresh corn (e.g. steamed corn or corn on the cob) has a caloric density of 0.92. However, a corn muffin has a caloric density of 4.14 and corn bread has a caloric density of 4.27. So, choose a big bowl of steamed corn if you’re hungry.
Some low-fat cottage cheese and grapes could make a satisfying and filling meal.
9. Food Exchange System
The food exchange system is a dietary regimen most commonly associated with diabetic individuals. However, the food exchange system can be used by any individual as a guide to help them lose weight. Following this regimen can help one to plan balanced and nutritious meals.
The foods in this system are divided up into categories: starches (e.g. bread, cereals and grains, starchy vegetables, beans and peas), fruits, milk and yogurt, meat and meat substitutes, vegetables, and fats.
You need to know what constitutes a serving size. For instance, a serving of starch could be ¾ cup of ready-to-eat unsweetened cereal, 1 slice of bread, or ½ a bagel. A serving of fruit may be one small apple, banana, or orange. A serving of milk may be 1 cup of fat-free skim milk. A serving of meat may be 1 ounce of meat, poultry, fish, or cheese. A serving of vegetables may be ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables. A serving of fats may be 1 tsp. of butter or 1 tsp. of olive oil. These are just a few of the examples. There are also free foods like 1 tbsp. of fat-free mayonnaise or ¼ cup of salsa. In addition, there are ways of determining exchanges for sweets and combination foods (e.g. casseroles, pizza, and soups).
For a 1,200 Calorie Meal Plan You May Eat:
- 5 Starches
- 2 Fruits
- 2 Milks
- 5 Meats
- 3 Vegetables
- 4 Fats
So, you might have a breakfast that contains 1 starch, 1 fruit, 1 milk, and 1 fat. Then you would divide the remainder of your exchanges amongst lunch, dinner, and possibly snacks. Some people find this easier than counting calories.
A somewhat similar regimen may involve using the original USDA Food Pyramid as a guide for eating. According to Jane Kirby (a registered dietitian) and the American Dietetic Association, one can use the food pyramid to plan a weight-loss diet.
A Possible 1,200 Calorie Meal Plan:
- 5 Bread group servings
- 3 Vegetable group servings
- 2 Fruit group servings
- 2 Milk group servings
- 5 ounces total for a day for Meat group (divide up into 2 or 3 servings if you want from lean meats or eggs)
10. Counting Calories
Calorie counting is nothing new.
A Los Angeles physician named Dr. Lulu Hunt Peters published a book entitled Diet and Health, With a Key to the Calories in 1918. She recommended consuming no more than 1,200 calories per day, with somewhat more allowed after one’s goal weight was reached.
Calories in Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat:
- Carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram
- Protein = 4 calories per gram
- Fat = 9 calories per gram
Keep in mind that 3,500 calories = 1 pound of fat. Therefore if you cut 500 calories a day from your diet, you’ll lose approximately one pound a week (7 days x 500 calories = 3,500 calories).
A simple formula for losing weight is to take your current bodyweight times 10 and eat that number of calories daily to lose weight. For example, a wrestler who weighs 150 pounds would eat 1,500 calories daily (150 x 10 = 1,500). To maintain your weight, take your bodyweight times 15. A 125 pound wrestler wishing to maintain his weight would eat 1,875 calories daily (125 x 15 = 1,875).
Calorie counting is becoming popular again. For example, you may have noticed packages of 100-calorie snacks in the supermarket.
You can still find books listing calorie counts for common foods as well as restaurant foods. And, almost every food at the supermarket contains nutrition information including calories.
Calorie counting can be inconvenient. Individuals sometimes get hungry on a calorie-controlled diet. Nonetheless, calorie counting works for many people.
The best advice I have to give is to simply wrestle at your natural weight. But, I know that many of will choose not to because you think you’ll be more competitive at a lower weight. Some of you may have to cut weight to reach a certain body weight in order to make the team.
I used to eat a lot of oatmeal and other cereals, whole wheat bread, rice cakes, potatoes, apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, green beans, milk, yogurt, cheese, and lean meat during my high school wrestling career. I counted every calorie and limited my fat intake because that’s what worked for me.
It’s interesting to look back at what I ate. I ate a lot of oatmeal which is low on the glycemic load, low in caloric density (when cooked with water), relatively low in fat, and high on the satiety index. I didn’t know all of that back when I was wrestling. I just knew that oatmeal was low in calories and provided a filling breakfast.
I also ate a lot of apples and green beans. These foods are low in calories and fat, but are high in water content and fiber. In addition, I ate a lot of potatoes which are very high on the satiety index.
You may be different.
Perhaps you’re one of those guys that can lose 5 to 10 pounds of water weight in a practice. Or, perhaps you like meat and, therefore, a low carb diet would suit you better.
Even some of the greatest wrestlers can become disheartened with dieting and cutting weight. Three- time NCAA wrestling champion and Olympic silver medalist Barry Davis cracked once when faced with the strain of cutting weight. He almost missed the Big Ten Tournament in 1982 because of the pressure of cutting weight. Many other great wrestlers have had tough experiences cutting weight as well.
On the other hand, John Smith (two-time Olympic gold medalist and winner of multiple world championships) took a different approach to weight control. He disciplined himself to maintain year-round weight control (according to Wrestling Tough by Mike Chapman). Smith kept near his competition weight throughout the year.
Other wrestlers have had success by working hard and wrestling near their natural body weight and sometimes cutting no weight whatsoever.
If you decide to cut weight for wrestling, please don’t starve and dehydrate yourself. It’s unhealthy, dangerous, and will most likely hurt your performance. Try always to eat balanced and nutritious meals. If you decide to lose weight, figure out what works best for you.