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Nutrition For The Youth Wrestler
Every parent wants to give their child the best advantage in their specific sport. Confusion exists around the sport of wrestling, specifically about diet and nutrition.
The majority of dietary information passed on to young athletes is based off old traditions and from coaches who express outdated or misguided conditioning guidelines.
These days, there is also a filtration of information directed toward the youthful wrestler passed down from the pro and/or college athlete. Some of the training and nutritional protocols that are correct for older athletes can cause serious harm to a young, developing athlete. You, as the parent, have to educate yourself in order to give your little "mat rat" the best chance at success.
You might assume that coaches and other administrative directors have ample knowledge and have this aspect well in hand. The truth is more than 30% of all children are obese. A staggering number of children today have various other health-related issues due to poor diets and improper sleep.
As a parent, you must take the time to educate yourself on the right nutritional direction to take for your child. Never assume that the wrestling coach has an adequate background in nutrition.
Most coaches have no significant training in pediatric nutrition and are only interested in winning matches or filling a blank weight class. In most states, coaches are legally restricted from offering diets to their athletes. This all spells harm to your child's health and their athletic future.
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Confusion Exists Around The Sport Of
Wrestling, Specifically About Diet & Nutrition.
One of the first things you have to ask is where to look for proper advice. Unfortunately, the world of nutrition is all over the mat, so to speak. Some states allow only registered dietitians to provide nutritional guidance; however, their training is geared more toward illnesses and other public health issues. None of them have ever taken a class on how to "dial in" a youth wrestler for a state tournament or how to drop water prior to weigh-ins.
Other states allow personal trainers to offer advice yet you need to consider that most of them have only taken a test that requires a few simple questions about lifting weights. Some personal trainers are very talented; others are less educated and have far less experience.
Sensing your frustration, you may even decide to turn to your family doctor; however, realize that no medical school in the country requires any nutritional classes as part of their standard training. Chiropractors have some training in nutrition, but again it is not geared toward the developing athlete. Again, you have to take the time to learn about what to do.
The majority of current research has been directed toward the idea of an athlete's post-exercise recovery. It is wise to point out that most university studies are not directed toward the younger athlete.
The marketing and research of nutritional products are not geared toward the youth athlete, since those children are not likely to purchase the products.
Parents are again left wondering what kind of diet and training their child should use to have a better edge in the highly competitive world of children's sports. DO NOT just read an article and believe what is written about any particular product. Follow some simple guidelines for the benefit of your own child's health.
Common sense approaches are always the best, standard direction for any parent to use. The American College of Sports Medicine released general guidelines for some particular areas of training and nutrition.
Get the right advice from major organizations; it's a better idea than following the advice of a local personal trainer or jumping into the nutritional program that someone involved in a nutritional marketing pyramid scheme offers.
Testing The Athlete
Take any group of youth athletes and have them write down what they have eaten for the past two or three days. Use a nutritional table and add up the amounts of carbs, fats, protein, sodium, and water that each is taking in every day.
Most children do not get enough protein in their diet. If you really want to start your nutritional program off quickly, ask a group of kids to list all of the foods they ate yesterday. Do not tell them what you are looking for, just to list the protein, carbs, fats, sodium, calories and total water intake for one entire day. If that is too complicated, just add up the total protein that the average youth consumed.
You are likely to find that most children get only 25% of the protein they actually need. A 100-pound child should eat more than 100 grams of protein per day.
In other words, they should eat at least one gram of protein per one pound of body weight, according to the American College of Sports Medicine and several other leading advisors of youth fitness. All this protein is needed to allow proper development of the child's bones, muscle, organs, nerves etc.
So right here STOP and think! Your child may be 15-years old and be 6-foot-4, but their liver, spleen, intestines, heart, brain, pancreas, gallbladder, kidneys, etc., are still developing. This is why continued levels of protein are necessary and so critical for the youth athlete.
It may be tough for the younger athlete to appreciate the need for all that protein, but it is clear that champions have to eat right.
Signs of low protein in the young wrestler may show up as one or more of the following:
- Problems with sleep
- Problems with concentrating
- Unexplainable injuries or multiple injuries with little trauma
- Problems with skin, nail and/or hair
- Unexpected broken bones
- Problems with emotional stability
- Problems gaining strength
- Consistent problems with muscle strains/ligamentous sprains
This is just an example list and several other factors may be involved in causing any of the aforementioned problems with your child. It is important for you to understand the recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration are not geared toward a high-performance youth athlete.
Please follow up with your family physician if your child continues to have any of the aforementioned symptoms when the increased protein is added to their diet.
The biggest problem with eating enough protein is usually associated with the preparation of the food and its storage. There is no question that eating at school is a problematic issue and timing is necessary, since the youth athlete needs to eat every 2-to-3 hours.
Many athletes make the mistake of trying to cram sufficient protein into only 3 meals, which will result in poor absorption of all nutrients. Most youth will have difficulty absorbing more than 30 grams of protein in any meal.
A small cooler and a creative cook at home are essential for any successful athlete. Personally, I had to drag around my five meals for the day in a cooler and I knew where every microwave was, or sometimes I just ate cold fish or chicken. That is the sacrifice you have to make if you really want to be the best. Every athlete has to learn to eat for function, NOT FLAVOR!
Sacrifice Equals Success
Kids are picky eaters and bland food isn't always the popular choice. Consider that taste buds have a life expectancy of 3-to-7 days. Your taste will take a few weeks to change and then fancy tasting foods will become more difficult to swallow.
During the off-season, it isn't as important for the athlete to "clean up" their diet, but as time moves forward toward the wrestling camps, a serious change must start in the athlete's diet and sleep patterns.
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Meals and food choices must reflect the athletes' likely outcomes relative to moving up or leaning out for a weight class. I do not think that any child should ever drop down in a weight class. I believe it is only smart to eat up to a weight class; however, that also means that your body fat should remain below ten percent during the course of the season.
Body Fat Testing
A good general rule is to have your young wrestler tested in a special device called a BOD POD. Underwater weighing is another good tool, but impedance testing or fat
calipers are usually not very reliable.
The information from this type of testing using the Bod Pod or underwater-weighing will result in you knowing exactly how much excess body fat your young wrestler has to lose. It is very dangerous to try to lose weight from the body's visceral fat storage. In most cases a child under 15-years of age should never diet to lower their body fat lower than 8-10%.
Fats are very essential to the developing brain of a younger athlete.
Cholesterol has been given a bad rap yet it is important to energy and the normal development of a young wrestler.
Cholesterol is the building block of testosterone (male hormone) and without it you will have trouble with normal growth and development, not to mention a lack of drive and aggression in the training room and on the mat.
Some fats are just bad, and are usually solid at room temperature. Other fats are more necessary and are often found in lean meats, walnuts, flax seed oil, but mostly in ocean fish. These fats provide energy and allow for proper development of the youthful athlete.
Carbohydrates are another mystery that has parents and athletes wondering what to buy and eat.
Low Carb diets are dangerous and often lead to significant health problems.
Long term use of low carb diets will force your body to start producing ammonia, which is toxic to your nervous system. That means slower reflexes therefore leading to fewer matches your young athlete will win. Carbohydrates also produce energy for digestion, training, sleep, studying, cleaning up their room, etc.
A simple rule of thumb here is that even when the young athlete tries to "cut weight," they need to have almost as many grams of carbohydrates as they get from protein.
In other words, at least one gram of carbohydrate per pound of overall body weight. Many advisors will tell you that fat burns best in the flame of a carbohydrate. In some cases, the amount of carbohydrates can be doubled or tripled to the amount protein.
It is a case-by-case situation and you may even have to alter it day by day, depending on the child's activity and body fat level. Not easy is it? Take a deep breath and read on and I'll try and make it all tie together by the end.
Sodium or Salt is often overused by wrestlers and the mere fact that it makes you hold onto water, is reason enough to avoid it in your young wrestler's diet. This becomes especially important as the athlete begins the training season.
Start reading labels and learn the nutritional facts of the foods you eat. We are blessed in the United States that nutritional labels are required on our foods. Sodium in chicken can vary from 80 grams per serving, to 1,000 grams when high-salt broth is actually injected into the meat.
Other options are to stay away from high sodium diet sodas and choose "salt free" tuna. Sometimes it is necessary to wash fish with water to remove the excess salt. It is all about making choices. Why eat something that causes you have to train harder to get rid of the excess water weight?
It is better to make great choices about what you eat rather than spending precious time and energy trying to remove the excess weight or water. Spend more time on learning techniques of wrestling, less time on fat loss.
Spreading your meals out throughout the day and generally eating smaller meals (meals that are no larger than one fist for
protein and one fist size for
carbohydrates) is the best general rule to obtain a lean body weight. Eating large meals results in high
insulin shifts in the body and forces water weight gain and fat tissue gains.
Spread out your meals; this is a quick way to speed up your metabolism and provides you with a simple way to keep your body in check. Smaller meals result in better absorption of all nutrients. Eating smaller/frequent meals is almost the single most important thing that any athlete can do to lose weight and loose fat.
water is a simple and effective way of dropping weight. You can do the silly way of wearing lots of excess clothing and running like a fool and wearing yourself out, but it is better to drink lots of water, approximately 1 gallon for every 100 grams of protein per day. Then taper the water off quickly to drop body weight prior to the weigh-in.
- Drink 1 gallon/100 grams of protein per day
- 2 days before weigh-in/ drink 50% less water
- 1 day before weigh-in/ drink 25% less water
- Day of weigh-in drink no water until you have weighed in.
Critics of a high-protein diet often will agree that all of the ill effects of high protein diet are removed when sufficient amounts of water are consumed in conjunction by the athlete.
Simple steps for water:
Your kidneys will drop water and you will lose a significant amount of weight 2-8 pounds. Then drink the water back after weigh-ins and eat something light. Remember that sodium and drugs and lack of proper sleep are the most common reasons for holding water.
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The following is an example diet for a youth wrestler who is approximately 120-130 pounds. Portions will vary based on the athlete's weight and goals. Less bread, rice and potatoes will result in a lower total calorie intake and that is the golden rule.
Body Weight = Calories in vs. Calories out. (What you eat versus what you do)
Basic Example Diet
- 8 am - 6 precooked egg whites and one fruit (apple, orange, etc.)
- 10 am - Can of tuna with 8 ounces of vegetables or brown rice
- Lunch at school or home
- Noon - Salad with Chicken (6-8 ounces)-skim milk 8 ounces
- 2 pm - Sandwich of chicken or tuna on whole wheat bread and piece of fruit before practice
You might think there is no way any youth athlete will follow this type of diet. I offer this as the ultimate guide for the wrestler during their "in season." Following even just parts of this will likely result in a more-improved athletic response on the mat.
Avoid excessive breads, foods loaded with sugar, anything with high fructose corn syrup, high sodium foods and candy. Most parents like hearing me say this: The fastest absorbed calorie is associated with alcohol, so they should be avoided. All recreational drugs will lower your natural testosterone levels (specifically marijuana).
Trial and error results in answers you can learn from and provide a great learning experience. It is important for the athlete to understand proper nutrition prior to high school and college. Diets must adapt to the athletes' specific needs, and must adapt to changes in the season as well as the wrestlers' grade level.
It is important not to concentrate too much on the diet too soon in the athletes' career. Young athletes have to enjoy the sport before they have too much pressure on them.
A good rule of thumb is to have this article handy when your young wrestler asks you for help. Another option is to allow them to know that additional information is available, when they are ready.
When the athlete is curious, review this article with them and discuss it back and forth. Allow them to make the changes they are comfortable with and let it be their idea. The entire process will prove to be much more successful when the young wrestler feels that they are in control of their own destiny.
Stick with the basics and then move out to more complicated dietary restrictions.
- Eat smaller and more frequent meals
- Eat more and better quality proteins
- Balance the protein and carbohydrates
- Use the water taper
I cannot stress enough the importance of educating yourself and your curious young athlete on the basics of athletic nutrition. The basics outlined in this article are some of the most important changes you can make to guarantee the success of the young wrestler.
Today athletes are separated by hundredths of seconds for speed or inches of height and 1-point wins in a wrestling match. Diet plays more of a role in the success of a youthful wrestler. Consider that the opponent is likely reading this article too. The advantage will go to athlete with the better nutritional protocol.