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Wrestlers and wrestlers drop weight for competition so they can have an advantage in combat. Whether you’re a junior, high school, college or professional athlete, being the biggest competitor in your weight class can make or break the difference in winning or losing the match. This often involves a quick weight cut for the weigh-in, followed by repositioning the body to its normal weight or preferably even heavier, in hopes of giving it a size and strength advantage. While cutting weight will get you to the tournament, the replenishment process is just as important as it will definitely affect your performance. Eating junk food or fast food immediately after a crash diet or fast is like draining your car engine and then refilling it with contaminated sand or gasoline. The first fuel you put into your body after emptying it will be exactly what is used for your first run; the food choices you make will determine whether you shine or sparkle on the mat.
When it comes to performance nutrition, timing is just as important as what you eat. Athletes who weigh in the day before their competition have a tremendous advantage over those who must compete an hour or two later. Depending on how severe the weight loss is, it can take up to 12 hours (or more) to fully recover to your desired body weight. With the right foods, strategy, and planning, this process can be effectively done much faster, however, the more time you have to recover from a heavy weight cut, the better. It is common for high school wrestlers to weigh in on Friday afternoon to compete on Friday night and have to weigh in again on Saturday morning for another tournament all day Saturday. Often when this is the case, the athlete receives an allowance of 1-3 pounds. for the Saturday meeting, however, this is a situation that must be handled with care. The make-up for Friday’s competition should be controlled to be effective but not enough to throw off your weight cut for the next day.
After weighing in, choose foods that are quickly absorbed and provide the best fuel for your next performance. While protein is extremely necessary during weight loss to prevent muscle loss, it has little place in the replenishment process. Protein won’t give you the energy you need to perform on the mat and will just take up space in your stomach. Carbohydrates are the best types of food to eat for an upcoming competition after a weight cut. However, avoid simple sugars that are overly processed like candy, cookies, cakes, Little Debbies, etc. Foods like this will give you a quick, uncontrolled spike in energy followed by a burst of drowsiness and lethargy. Choose carbohydrates from two different categories to replenish your body with good weight and the best, most usable fuel. Clean, starchy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and rice are great for filling your muscles with glycogen so that the energy released is used in the next few hours of competition. Breads and bagels are secondary options, however, they are sweet and filling and work well too.
For quicker energy, fresh, juicy fruit is great and very rejuvenating for the fighter who survived a tough weight cut. Apples, grapes, and oranges are sweet, delicious, and satisfying when in season. Bananas and plums are also packed with potassium and natural sugar to be used for energy in the next hour of performance. Other foods that are good choices for quick energy to replenish your body include whole-grain crackers, animal crackers, and even yogurt; however, these are secondary and should not be filled. While fats are filling and satisfying to eat, they should be eaten in very small amounts or even avoided, as they will slow down the absorption of the sugars needed for energy. Too many will also give the fighter a heavy, sluggish feeling in the stomach. Wrestlers eating peanut butter sandwiches on white bread is a common occurrence in many tournaments, however this is a misconception. While this meal is sweet, filling, and easy to prepare, peanut butter can be heavy on a fighter’s stomach, while the gluten in white bread slows gut motility to a standstill.
For the fastest and most complete replenishment after a weight cut, divide your carbohydrates into several small meals and try to resist gorging yourself. Forcing too much food into the gut at one time will give you more than you can handle and will cause a temporary blockage, slowing absorption and making the athlete sick, sometimes feeling heavy, lethargic and even nauseous. If the athlete had to restrict water to make their weight, the first thing in their mouth should be at least 16 oz. of water, then he can start eating. A great strategy is to combine simple and complex carbohydrates in a controlled volume over a period of time. For example, after drinking water, the first meal would be 1½ to 2 cups of white rice with honey and a piece of fresh fruit. Sixty to ninety minutes later, eat another and a half cups of white rice + honey, some whole-grain crackers, and more water. For a third meal, eat more carbohydrates primarily, but go ahead and add some protein as well. An example would be another 1½ cups of white rice + honey, a tangerine and 3-4 oz. of lean turkey breast.
Feeding the body small meals of dry carbohydrates combined with drinking water like this will transport glycogen and fluid to the muscles quickly and effectively. After the body has gone without food and/or water for 8-12 hours (common practice for weight loss), the fuel we put into it directly afterward will determine its next performance. Replenishing with this strategy leaves athletes energized and ready to go after the first 1-2 meals; they feel alert and light, not bogged down by a bunch of heavy foods loaded with fat and preservatives in the gut. Adding a bit of protein to the third meal helps slow the absorption of carbohydrates after the muscles have been replenished by the first two. This will allow for fuel for later, as well as a fuller feeling that lasts a bit longer. After not eating protein for so long, it’s also important to start fueling the body with amino acids again to help muscles recover after competing. The third meal can also contain some fats if you wish, however best with little or no as they have little to do with immediate performance and only act to slow it down.
While cutting weight may be what gets you into competition, if you don’t have a replenishment strategy, you’ll feel weak, tired, and unable to perform at your best.
Using a strategy like the one outlined above will ensure that you’re fully replenished, feeling great, and ready for your first match. Focus on a mix of fast-acting starchy carbohydrates combined with natural simple carbohydrates and eat them in several small meals to ensure each is fully absorbed by the body. Drink plenty of water so your muscles transport both fluids and glycogen into storage for fast action and immediate performance. Do this repetitively 2-3 times depending on fullness, energy levels and your competition schedule. Avoid fats to avoid slowing nutrient absorption and that heavy, sluggish feeling common to these types of foods. After 2 or 3 carb-only meals, add some protein to a later meal to aid in recovery after competing and provide a slightly slower digestion of carbs for energy later in the day.