How to Improve Your Nutrition For Wrestling Off Season
The sport of wrestling is notorious for having athletes who bulk up and get sloppy fat in the off-season. Wrestling athletes are eating every type of food imaginable, they get really, really heavy, and the season comes around and these wrestlers just start to cut weight really, really hard. Everyone sees that the athlete’s performance suffers. We see that they didn’t do the work in the off-season to try to reap the benefits of training properly. This is a consistent theme, especially with high school wrestlers.
High school wrestlers need to take their off-season nutrition seriously. They need to establish off-season goals and understand how to cut properly during the season so all the gainz from the off-season aren’t lost.
We have to immediately comprehend what strength goals need to be for wrestling in the off-season. We have to look at it with a top-down approach. We have said this before, but it is worth repeating. Lighter wrestling athletes need to be focusing on developing relative strength and upper weight athletes need to be focusing on absolute strength.
We also know that dynamic reactiveness is a key component behind wrestling. The opponent shoots and the athlete reacts and quickly scrambles for the points. This is a key element behind the sport of wrestling that can be trained in the weight room.
Cardio can be king if the athlete is strong. Regardless, endurance is important. And finally, grip strength plays a huge role in wrestling training.
So when we are talking about off-season wrestling nutrition, we need to immediately talk about how endurance-based training is not a focus. Even as a key element, we believe it can be crossed off if the wrestling athlete is able to train with their teammates, getting mat time, in the weight room, and getting tournaments in on the summer, they’ll be fine. Maybe go out once a week and perform steady-state cardio. Endurance is easy to train once in the season and can be picked up over a short time period.
This means we want to focus on relative/absolute strength, dynamic reactiveness, and grip strength. If the athlete is focusing on their relative/absolute strength, trying to increase their absolute strength, we need the wrestling athlete to make sure they are eating enough protein and that they are eating enough carbs to have the necessary energy.
We recommend wrestling athletes train four to five days a week to increase their strength. We can now start to layout the total energy expenditure on training and non-training days. Hypothetically, we can say a wrestling athlete is using 2k to 2.4k calories a day on non-training days. On training days, the wrestling athlete’s calorie expenditure may be over 3k calories.
Training four to five days a week to push the athlete’s absolute strength gainz, trying to get jacked and explosive means the athlete on their training days should be getting one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. So an athlete walking around at one hundred eighty pounds should be getting at least 180 grams of protein to help them recover from the training.
For instance, the wrestling athlete who is performing ten sets of a clean on the minute, developing their dynamic reactiveness, who then has to go perform some squats, they need to make sure they have enough energy to hit that squat so their absolute strength can improve. It is paramount that wrestling athletes are getting that one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Wrestling athletes also need to make sure they are getting enough carbohydrates in without eating a ton of junk.
We already spike to how wrestling athletes need to get one gram of protein per pound of body weight during the off-season to help with relative/absolute strength accumulation. The increase in absolute/relative strength will also have a positive impact on dynamic reactiveness and grip strength.
We also believe that sleep needs to be considered part of a nutrition regiment. Getting eight to ten hours of sleep a night, that will help the body recover. Taking protein before bed will help the body feel less sore, have more energy, and be able to get more work done at the gym during the next session. The greater energy for more work will translate to greater progress.
Dairy And Nut Butters
Now the off-season is a time to experiment. Before we go forward, it is okay to have a cheat day every two to three weeks. But wrestling athletes who want to be a state champ or NCAA all-American, have to take their off-season nutrition seriously. This is a time to experiment. Maybe the wrestling athlete likes dairy and nut butter. Put the foods in the diet and eat a little bit of excess and see where the weight goes. If only minimal weight is gained, the athlete can handle the food. However, if the athlete gains ten to twelve pounds, we know it is directly related to the extra calories from dairy. Dairy isn’t bad. Dairy is very calorically dense though. This means that if the weight is packed on from the dairy products, it is an easy removal from the diet in-season to help make weight.
Nut butter, almond, cashew, peanut, should not be considered protein. Nut butter should be considered fat. Fat is not bad. But they can cause weight gain because they taste really good. It is hard to stop eating things that taste so good. This is another one of those foods, like dairy, that can be used to gain weight to move up weight classes--just make sure to not get fat, instead hit the weights and recover effectively.
Play with the pre-workout nutrition. Eat bananas before going to lift. Have some oranges before lifting. Maybe try some coconut oil with apple sauce before going to lift or wrestle. Have some dark chocolate. Experiment with various different foods. The athlete must gauge how they feel lifting and wrestling based on the food they eat prior to the exercise. Do this before wrestling in-season to see how the body reacts to different foods.
From this test, athletes can get comfortable with specific foods by utilizing the off-season to experiment with how the body reacts to different foods.
Supplements - Whey/Creatine
Wresting athletes need to be taking creatine. Utilizing whey protein will help get greater levels of muscle protein synthesis. Just stick with these two supplements in the beginning.
Maybe, later on, use collagen for joint health and use beta-alanines in a pre-workout for some help with tournaments in the summer. Just don’t look at supplements as the number one key factor for off-season nutrition.
Trying to gain weight to go up a weight class? Eat calorically dense food. Trying to stay in the same weight class? Focus on nutrition. Make sure to utilize the pre-workout nutrition experiments to figure out what works best, not having cheat days in excess. Look at things from a macro perspective.
And maybe most importantly of all, optimize sleep patterns. No need to stay up all night if the wrestling athlete is trying to stand on top of the podium. They need to be getting great nights of sleep so that they can recover and take all their positive nutrition work to be applied to their strength training to improve on the mat performance.
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.