It happens every 4 years…the summer Olympics! I, like many Americans, find myself glued to the TV in the evenings watching the highlights in swimming, diving, track and field, gymnastics, volleyball, basketball and more. Today was cause for celebration, as fellow Husker Jordan Burroughs made Nebraska & America proud by winning gold in the 74-kg men’s wrestling! Go Big Red! Go USA!
Wrestling is a weight- and body-focused sport, which is one that emphasizes strength, conditioning, and body shape to achieve the goals of the sport. Wrestling requires a combination of mental and physical skills – anaerobic power, aerobic power, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility, speed, agility, explosiveness, and concentration. Nutrition has a major impact on the outcome of the wrestler, both during training and closer to competition. During training, a wrestler such as Burroughs may eat quite a bit of food while maintaining a weight 10-20 pounds higher than their weight class. However as the time of the meet draws closer, the same wrestler will cut calories in order to “make weight” prior to the meet. When making weight, the goal is to maximize the amount of lean body tissue and minimize body fat and total body weight.
Keeping this in mind, when cutting weight down before a meet, it’s important to use safe calorie-cutting techniques rather than taking drastic measures. Serious illness or even death can occur through intentional dehydration or starvation, which are sometimes combined with fluid restriction, saunas, sweat suits (although banned), and diuretics.
The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Sports Nutrition Manual provides these general nutrition guidelines for wrestlers:
- Energy: Individualize based on body composition and weight goals
- Carbohydrates: 5-8 g/kg/day (so for 74 kg Burroughs, that’s 370-572 g/day)
- Protein: 1.2-1.7 g/kg/day (protein requirements may increase to 2 g/kg/day during periods of lowest energy intake to achieve weight loss)
- Fat: Remainder of kcal with an emphasis on heart healthy fats
So for 74 kg Burroughs, that’s about 370-572 g carbohydrates/day and 89-148 g protein/day, with the remainder of his calories coming from heart-healthy fats such as olive oil, canola oil, and omega-3s found in fish. Here’s a video that shows how Jordan Burroughs eats during training season. Notice how he pays attention to his fluid, sodium, carbohydrate, and protein intake. Notice also how his diet changes when he’s trying to cut weight in order to make his weight class for an upcoming meet.
As you can see, the energy needs of a wrestler are going to vary depending on whether the wrestler is trying to maintain weight or lose weight quickly. Therefore calorie needs can vary from 1500 per day to over 3000 per day. Regardless of the total energy intake, wrestlers should make sure to consume nutrient-dense foods, as sufficient macro and micro-nutrients are needed in order to support training, performance, and overall health. Fluid intake should also be balanced with fluid loss, and if dehydration is used as a weight loss method it is recommended that immediately after the weigh-in is completed, fluids and electrolytes are restored.
Interested in eating like an Olympic champion? While you may not have the same fitness and nutrition goals as Burroughs and other Olympic wrestlers, you can certainly try out Burroughs’ favorite omlette combination at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado: 3 eggs, diced chicken, mushrooms, and jalapenos! Sounds like a flavorful, high-protein meal that can definitely fuel your day, whether that’s winning an Olympic gold medal, or conquering another 8-5 day at work.