To compete, athletes must learn technical movements that allow them to attack, defend, and/or counterattack with precision and power. A high level of cardiovascular fitness, strength and speed are all required to outlast and/or overtake the opponent. Wrestlers also need tremendous mental focus and concentration to strategize through the various offensive and defensive maneuvers needed to gain control over the opponent.
Scholastic wrestling competitions include single meets, where wrestlers compete against one opponent; dual meets, where wrestler competes against one or two opponents; or tournaments, where athletes can compete against multiple opponents.
All across the nation, student wrestlers of various levels are in the process of training or preparing for the upcoming wrestling season. What some student wrestlers overlook, however, is the nutrition needed to support that training. An appropriate sports nutrition plan is critical to sustain the energy demands of training in a healthy and safe manner.
Nutrition Recommendations for Wrestling
The energy demand required to physically and mentally outmaneuver opponents on the wrestling mat is considerably high. When determining macronutrient and energy intake, it is important to consider the energy needed on competition day as well as the months leading up to training. Knowledge of the various phases of preparation and devising a long-term plan well in advance of competition can help student athletes navigate these nutrient and energy needs to maximize performance.
Carbohydrates are critical for optimal performance of the wrestling athlete. This nutrient provides energy for the short, quick burst of movements needed to take down, escape or outmaneuver an opponent. Glycogen, which is the form of carbohydrate stored in muscle, contributes to high intensity activities that occurs within one minute of a match. Carbohydrates are the primary nutrient used to fuel the sport.
The total daily amount of carbohydrate needed will vary based on the nature of the competition and the intensity, volume and total level of training. In general, during training and competition, the recommended carbohydrate intake is between 5 and 7 grams per kilogram of body weight, per day. For a 150-pound (68 kg) high school wrestler, that equates to ~340 – 476 grams of carbohydrate throughout the day.
Protein is a valuable nutrient known for its role in building and maintaining muscle and other body tissue. It also supports immune health. To support the muscle breakdown that can occur during training and competition, it’s important for wrestlers to get adequate protein in their daily diet.
Wrestlers typically require between 1.2 -1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. For a 150-pound (68 kg) high school wrestler, that equates to between 82 and 116 grams of protein per day. Dairy products like milk and yogurt, as well as beans and legumes, deliver both high-quality protein and carbohydrates, making them an easy way to get both nutrients. Other protein-rich foods include eggs, cheese, poultry, beef, fish and other seafood.
Fat is another valuable nutrient that should be included in a wrestler’s diet. In addition to providing energy, it supplies essential fatty acids, helps to insulate and protect organs and provide warmth to the body. Dietary fats also help flavor food and keep you feeling full. Once daily energy, carbohydrate and protein needs are determined, the remainder of the calories will come from fat. While that amount varies from one student athlete to another, wrestlers should aim to get around 1 gram of fat per kilogram of body weight per day. For a 150-pound (68 kg) wrestler, that equates to ~68 grams a day. Healthy fat sources include dairy foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as nuts, nut butters, olive oil, and avocado.
Below is an example of how a 150-pound wrestler could distribute total daily calories over the course of the day.