Although cognitive function is important, physiological nutrition is more crucial
I cannot write about nutrition from the perspective of an educated expert. I cut massive amounts of weight in college in a very unhealthy manner. Hopefully my experience will provide foresight to problems that come with the territory of a sport divided by weight classes.
I am currently learning about nutrition from http://www.ultramind.com. This program is designed to improve cognitive function through diet. Although cognitive function is important, physiological nutrition is more crucial for wrestling, and I am yet to become an expert in this area of study. Therefore, the focus of this article will be on why people cut weight, while simultaneously highlighting incorrect (and dangerous) weight loss strategies.
In my personal opinion wrestlers should not cut weight at all. I will allow my students to make there own choices, but I believe that cutting weight is almost always a mistake (with a few exceptions that will be discussed momentarily). What do I mean by that? What is cutting weight?
Cutting weight refers to when your weight intentionally fluctuates. This can be the result of crash dieting, dehydration, or diets that do not provide enough calories to the athlete. Cutting weight is different from a healthy steady diet, which is what I encourage.
The only reason you would ever have to cut weight is because you are not good enough. If you were a superior wrestler, you could wrestle at any weight class and dominate.
When it’s ok to drop a few pounds and when it isn’t:
It is ok to drop a few pounds of water to make weight, but it is not ok to dehydrate yourself. Figure out the amount of water weight you can drop in a 2 hour practice… this is the amount of water that you should be able to lose (max). I’m capable of losing 12 pounds of water for a weigh-in, but I will never lose more than 8 again (even this is a lot). The loss of energy is not worth the next 4 pounds (not to mention the other problems that dehydration causes).
Dehydrating yourself depletes your body of important vitamins and minerals… If you experience any cramps you are cutting too much weight. If you experience ANY sluggishness you are cutting to much weight. If you experience any diet related depression you are cutting to much weight.
The last sentence of the previous paragraph is the most important. If you are experiencing diet related depression you are doing something wrong.
An analysis of the three most common reasons that people cut weight:
1) To be bigger and stronger than their opponents.
It does not matter how much bigger and stronger you are, if you are slower then you are weaker. We care about explosive power, and unfortunately, sluggishness is a direct result of cutting weight. Although you will be physically stronger due to your size advantage, you will be less explosive and therefore less powerful in the ways power is important.
2) To secure a starting position on a varsity lineup.
This one is tough. It really depends on what you have to do to yourself and how important it is to you, and to your team. How much weight are you cutting to get there? It is not worth losing a lot of weight to get a starting spot if it depresses you. YOUR DIET SHOULD NOT DEPRESS YOU, IF IT DOES IT MUST BE CHANGED.
3) To get away from another wrestler who dominates the weight class.
Again, how much weight are you cutting? It is rarely worth sacrificing your happiness. Cutting weight results in negative emotional associations towards wrestling which hinders future progression. CUTTING WEIGHT IS THE #1 CAUSE OF BURNOUT.
There is no formula for a healthy diet. Your body is a complicated biological machine with diverse nutritional needs, but the greater your understanding of the your bodies nutritional system, the more control you will be able to influence over it, so start studying. I will introduce some basics now, but it is up to you to do your own research.
You surely already know that vegetables and fruit are an important staple in an athletes diet. Meat, fish, and chicken (depending how they are prepared) can provide good sources of protein. The general 3 rules to follow are:
Eat a lot of different types of food. You will be less likely to suffer from deficiencies this way.
2) Don’t eat garbage.
3) Don’t gorge yourself.
This is the most important rule. Small portions are healthier for you, they can also be eaten frequently, which will keep your metabolism high. If you are overeating, it is most likely because you starved yourself.
1) Cutting weight causes burnout
2) Cutting weight is unhealthy for your body and your mind. Your school performance will absolutely suffer as a result, and your wrestling will most likely suffer too.
3) Cutting weight is unnecessary for someone who has a healthy steady diet.
So don’t cut weight. Not a pound. Maintain a healthy lean weight for 3 months during the season, and then a healthy bulking weight for the 9 months of off-season. Anyone who cuts weight in the off-season is crazy
And now it’s time to be a hypocrite:
Every wrestler should cut weight once in their lifetime. To understand the incredible amount of willpower that it takes to deny yourself from food, and to realize that you have the ability to call on that willpower in any area of your life, is priceless. But experiencing it once is enough. A happy healthy wrestler will always beat a larger, slower, more depressed opponent. Always!