Health Fitness

Performance nutrition for fighters after weight loss

Wrestlers and wrestlers reduce weight for competition so that they can have an advantage in combat. Whether you are a youth, high school, college or professional athlete, being the biggest competitor in your weight class can make all the difference in winning or losing the match. This often involves a quick weight cut for the weigh-in, followed by resetting the body to its normal weight or, preferably, even heavier, in hopes of giving it a size and strength advantage. While cutting the weight will get you into the tournament, the process of replacing it is just as important as it will definitely affect your performance. Eating junk or fast food immediately after a hard diet or fast is like draining your car engine, then refilling it with grit or contaminated gasoline. The first fuel you put into your body after flushing it will be exactly what is used for your first run; The food choices you make will determine whether you shine or gossip on the mat.

When it comes to performance nutrition, timing is just as important as what you eat. Athletes who weigh in the day before their competition have a tremendous advantage over those who must compete an hour or two later. Depending on how severe the weight reduction is, it can take up to 12 hours (or more) to fully recover to your desired body weight. With the right foods, strategy, and planning, this process can effectively be done much faster, however the more time you have to recover from a heavy weight cut, the better. It is common for high school wrestlers to weigh in on Friday afternoon to compete on Friday night and have to weigh in again on Saturday morning for another all-Saturday tournament. Often when this is the case, the athlete receives an allowance of 1-3 lbs. for the Saturday meeting, however, this is a situation that must be handled with care. The make-up for Friday’s meet needs to be controlled to be effective but not enough to throw off your weight cut for the next day.

After you weigh yourself, choose foods that absorb quickly and provide the best fuel for your next performance. While protein is extremely necessary during weight cutting to prevent muscle loss, it has little place in the replenishment process. Protein won’t give you the energy you need to perform on the mat and it will only take up space in your stomach. Carbohydrates are the best types of food to eat for an upcoming competition after a weight cut. However, avoid simple sugars that are too processed like candy, cookies, cakes, Little Debbies, etc. Foods like this will give you a quick and uncontrolled energy spike followed by a burst of drowsiness and lethargy. Choose carbohydrates from two different categories to replenish the body with good weight and the best, most usable fuel. Clean, starchy carbohydrates like sweet potatoes and rice are great for filling your muscles with glycogen so that the energy released is used in the next few hours of competition. Breads and bagels are secondary options, however they are sweet and filling and work well too.

For quicker energy, fresh, juicy fruit is excellent and very rejuvenating for the fighter who survived a tough weight cut. Apples, grapes, and oranges are sweet, delicious, and satisfying when in season. Bananas and plums are also packed with potassium and natural sugar to be used for energy for the next hour of performance. Other foods that are good quick energy options to replenish the body are whole grain crackers, animal crackers, and even yogurt; however, these are secondary and should not be filled out. While fats are filling and satisfying when eating, they should be eaten in very small amounts or even avoided, as they will slow down the absorption of sugars needed for energy. Too many will also give the fighter a heavy, sluggish feeling in the stomach. Wrestlers eating peanut butter sandwiches on white bread are commonplace in many tournaments, however this is a misconception. While this meal is sweet, hearty, and easy to prepare, the peanut butter can be heavy on a fighter’s stomach, while the gluten in white bread slows gut motility to a halt.

For the fastest and most complete replenishment after a weight cut, break your carbs into several small meals and try to resist gorging. Forcing too much food into the intestine at once will give you more than you can handle and cause a temporary blockage, slowing absorption and making the athlete sick, sometimes feeling heavy, lethargic and even nauseated. If the athlete had to restrict water to make their weight, their mouth first should be at least 16 oz. of water, then he can start eating. A great strategy is to combine simple and complex carbohydrates in a controlled volume over a period of time. For example, after drinking water, the first meal would be 1½ to 2 cups of white rice with honey and a piece of fresh fruit. Sixty to ninety minutes later, she eats another cup and a half of white rice + honey, some whole-grain crackers, and more water. For a third meal, eat more carbs mostly, but go ahead and add some protein as well. An example would be another 1½ cups of white rice + honey, a tangerine and 3-4 oz. of lean turkey breast.

Feeding the body small meals of dry carbohydrates combined with drinking water like this will transport glycogen and fluid to the muscles quickly and effectively. After the body has gone without food and/or water for 8-12 hours (common practice for weight loss), the fuel we put into it directly afterwards will determine its next performance. Replenishing with this strategy leaves athletes energized and ready to go after the first 1-2 meals; they feel alert and light, not bogged down by a bunch of heavy, fat- and preservative-laden foods in the gut. Adding a little protein to the third meal helps slow down carb absorption after the muscles have replenished from the first two. This will allow fuel for later, as well as a fuller feeling that lasts a bit longer. After not eating protein for so long, it’s also important to start fueling the body with amino acids again to help muscles recover after competing. The third meal can also contain some fat if you wish, however, better with very little or no fat, as they have little to do with immediate performance and only act to slow it down.

While cutting weight may be what gets you competitive, if you don’t have a replenishment strategy, you’ll feel sluggish, tired, and unable to perform at your best.

Using a strategy like the one listed above will ensure that you are fully replenished, feeling great, and ready for your first match. Focus on a mix of fast-acting starchy carbohydrates combined with natural simple carbohydrates and eat them in several small meals to ensure each is fully absorbed by the body. Drink plenty of water so that the muscles transport both fluids and glycogen to storage for fast action and immediate performance. Do this repetitively 2-3 times depending on fullness, energy levels, and your competition schedule. Avoid fats to avoid slowing nutrient absorption and that heavy, sluggish feeling common to these types of foods. After 2-3 carb-only meals, add some protein to a subsequent meal to aid post-race recovery and provide slightly slower digestion of carbs for energy later in the day.

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