Food is typically a contentious topic in wrestling. There's the team that believes you should wrestle at your natural weight, and the other team which believes that cutting weight is more advantageous. However, cutting extreme amounts of weight will not provide an athlete's sustainability for a match or for a career.
Nutrition for wrestlers is the key to success that takes your game to a new level. In previous posts, we've discussed strategies around eating at home, at competition, the mentality around why we eat like we do, and a lot on the importance of hydration. We have inched closer and closer to breaking down what we should eat at meal times, and this concept is called plate models.
Three Versions of Plate Modeling
First, let's learn about the three versions of the plate model. The pictures below are the same images we have used for years at the Olympic Training Center. It's what the Team USA dietitians use to educate elite athletes to help clarify the best choices based on their training phase. Just because you are an elite athlete, it doesn't mean you automatically understand the best way to fuel. This takes practice! If you notice in each picture the choices repeat, but the portions of each food group changes.
The key to success is consistency. Whether you're at home, a friend's house, or a buffet, you need to try your best to follow these models and maintain a balanced diet.
1) Easy training/weight management
When you have a light day or an off day, the level of energy you are expelling is much less. The easy training plate is divided into 3 sections. 1/4 of the plate is devoted to protein, another 1/4 to whole grains (i.e. carbs), and 1/2 of the plate are fruits and vegetables. On the blog with Othella Lucas, she discussed the importance of eating a variety of color. Here is your chance! If you typically go the salad direction for you vegetable choice, notice dressings are included in the healthy fats area. You should know what is in your dressing! Try making your own so you can control what it's made from (store bought dressings have extra ingredients like sugar and a lot of preservatives!). Olive oil, vinegars, mustards, lemon, and honey are some of the ingredients you can combine to make your own salad dressing.
Notice the dotted line for weight management. If you are doing light training or taking time off but need to maintain your healthy weight, decrease grains by 1/4 and increase protein by the same amount. Many of you may be thinking, shouldn't i exclude carbohydrates entirely? My question to you is, you're still breathing right? You have a certain amount of calories that you expel every day called your resting metabolic rate. You can think of it as the calories you will burn if you laid on the coach all day and just breathed. But lets not do that. The more weight training you have done, the higher your muscle tone and the higher your resting metabolic rate will be. This is why you need carbohydrates! Your body is still operating, and the muscle you already have needs energy through food to sustain it.
2) Moderate training
This kind of training consists of around 2 workouts a day, with one workout being technically focused and the other endurance. This plate model will be your base line from whether you need to adjust up or down based on work load. Compared to a light training day, grains have increased and should be consumed in equal amounts to your vegetables.
Protein intake during moderate training has remained the same. This does not include the need to add a recovery option with protein 30-60 minutes after training to help support muscle recovery. A peanut butter sandwich, chocolate milk, or cereal with milk or yogurt are great options post-workout. Re-fueling around workouts is a great time for your body to absorb the nutrients it needs, as well as fluids with a rehydration component.
When foods are rich in fiber (i.e. fruits, vegetables, and carbs) and you consume whole grain carbohydrates (these take longer to digest and help you remain fuller, longer), you are doing your part to help maintain a healthy body weight and prevent insulin spikes. When you eat carbohydrates which contain more sugars and less grains, your blood glucose is spiked and you become hungry again, faster. This means you have to keep eating more "white" carbohydrates in order to remain full. This is a lesson in reading labels and eating proper amounts of fruits and veggies. Focus on consuming around 25 grams of fiber throughout the day.
Even though these plate models don't discuss it, be sure that you are waking up and eating a balanced breakfast. You need to replace what you lost during an overnight fast by replenishing your blood sugar, or glucose levels, as well as glycogen (carbohydrates) and fluids. Eating breakfast sets up your day with more energy, and will decrease that extreme hunger pains you get later in the day which cause a lot of snacking. Options for breakfast include: vegetable omelete with whole grain toast, waffles with peanut butter and fruit smoothie, peanut butter bagel and fruit smoothie, oatmeal with dried fruit/nuts, one egg with two pieces whole grain toast and fruit.
3) Hard training/competition day
When the workload has increased, your food choices need to reflect that change. Training should have 2 relatively hard workouts, or competition. During competition (and after proper weight management), you require extra fuel from carbohydrates. This should be reflected in food choices during the event, and the day after the event. Proper rehydration during hard training and competition is key, especially for wrestlers. See the rehydration schedule for more on hydration. Keep things as close to the original whole food as possible, and keep things simple. Here are a few more tips when working on your food choices throughout any of these models:
When you consume saturated and trans fats, these foods can increase inflammation and decrease recovery. This means staying away from highly processed foods. The more the protein or fat has been processed or fried, the less it provides the recovery your body needs. Lean proteins, fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and olives are great alternatives when temped to go processed.
Vitamin and mineral dense (also rich in antioxidants) foods can support your immune system during intense training. This means choosing fruits and vegetables with a variety of rich and dense colors. You know that kale craze going on? Well besides the the fact that its over played, the general public is not far off on kale's ability to be rich in vitamins due to its deep color. Think of iceberg lettuce as your baseline for zero vitamins and minerals, and kale as the Rolls-Royce of vegetable choices.
Notice throughout the models, high sugar rehydration drinks are not included. This is because they should never be consumed along with your daily meals. However, rehydration is extremely important My first recommendation is to start reading the labels of the recovery drinks you already consume. Does it contain ingredients you cannot pronounce? Try to find a better option. Potassium and sodium are the two components which are key to rehydration. These should be consumed during or directly after a workout.
As always, seek advice from a medical doctor or sport dietician for any food restrictions, allergies, or medical specifications. This is only a general guideline to be used as part of your research towards a model that works best for you. Only a medical or nutrition professional can create an individual plan specifically for you and your needs.