Figuring Out Your Weight Class

One of the biggest sports-related decisions a high school wrestler has to make in the offseason is to determine his target weight class for the upcoming season, however, figuring out what weight you’ll be most competitive at isn’t always a clear cut task.    

The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Wrestling Rules Committee has established 14 different weight classes for high school wrestlers, ranging from 106 pounds all the way up to 285 pounds.

The full range of weight classes looks like this: 106 (lbs), 113, 120, 126, 132, 138, 145, 152, 160, 170, 182, 195, 220, 285, although specifications may be slightly different in a few states.

As you can see, some of the weight classes — particularly on the lower end — aren’t separated by all that much weight — the difference between the 132 and 138 lb weight classes is only 6 lbs.  But, deciding which weight class you’re going to be most competitive at ultimately depends on a number of different factors.  

While competing at the lowest possible weight is a traditional and common practice, it’s certainly not the right technique for everybody, although, in order to be most competitive, many wrestlers will be targeting a weight class that does require them to lose some weight.     

If you are planning to lose weight, you want that weight loss to come from body fat; if you’re already very lean — we’re talking sub 10% body fat — you may not want to drop too much weight as it can likely reduce your lean body mass.  

In fact, if you have a low body fat percentage but not a whole lot of lean mass you may actually want to put on a few pounds of muscle in order to make yourself more competitive on the mat — ultimately, it largely depends on your strength to weight ratio.   

With that being said, many wrestlers who are tasked with losing weight ultimately make the mistake of focusing too heavily on exercise and not enough on nutrition both in and out of season.  While exercise can be a useful tool for weight loss, it’s only one part of the picture.  

In order to come in around your target weight in optimal condition when the season rolls around, you absolutely have to be staying on top of your nutrition.  Additionally, if your diet isn’t on point, it’s going to be much more difficult to actually maintain your weight over the course of the season, let alone perform at your best come meet day.  

Fundamentals of a Healthy Wrestling Diet

Photo by Chris Chow

Calories and Maintaining vs Losing Weight

When it comes to reaching and maintaining your target wrestling weight, nothing is more important than managing your calorie intake.  Ultimately, in order to maintain your weight, it takes an energy balance, which occurs when the number of calories you consume in a day is equal to the number that you burn off. 

Losing weight, on the other hand, requires a negative energy balance, which means that you are consuming fewer calories than you are burning off in a 24 hour period.  In fact, the only way to actually lose weight is through a negative energy balance — no matter how much you work out, you won’t be able to reduce or even maintain your body weight if your calorie intake is greater than your calorie expenditure.  

For example, let’s look at the caloric needs of a hypothetical moderately active 145-pound teenager.  Using an online TDEE Calculator, we get an estimated total daily energy expenditure of 2,576 calories, meaning you’d have to eat 2,576 calories a day to keep your weight at 145 pounds.  

But as competitive athletes, who frequently spend multiple hours a day training, wrestlers often have considerably higher calorie expenditures.  That same 145-pound teenager, for example, may need more like 3,100 calories per day to maintain his weight with a physically demanding training schedule.    

That means in order to lose weight, that 145-pound wrestler has to be taking in under 3,100 calories per day.  For optimal results, you’ll want to reduce your calorie intake by 250 – 500 calories per day, so that turns out to be a daily intake of between 2,600 – 2,850 calories for a highly active 145-pound teenager.    

Macronutrients

In order to be at your best in training and come competition time though, you need to do more than just manage your calories — you also have to provide your body with the right kinds of food to support your performance and recovery.  

Macronutrients are the calorie-providing substances contained within the foods we eat.  They come in three basic forms — protein, carbohydrates, and fat — and each of which performs several distinct and specific functions within your body.  

Understanding how each fits into your diet is absolutely essential, not only for fueling your performance on the mat and in the gym but also for managing your weight and maintaining your lean mass, especially during weight loss.  

Protein 

Dietary protein plays several important roles in the body.  In addition to aiding in the synthesis of various hormones, enzymes, and brain chemicals, protein is also a critical structural element of your body’s muscle tissues — dietary protein is made up of amino acids, which are commonly referred to as the building blocks of your muscles.  

Amino acids play a central role in the physiological process known as Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS).  Your muscles are made up of proteins that are constantly going through a state of flux — physical activity like wrestling training breaks down some of these proteins, which in turn, must be repaired by your body.  

In order, to fix the damage, your body uses amino acids from your diet to synthesize new proteins to replace the ones that have been broken down.  Ultimately, it’s through this process that your body is able to recover from an intense bout of exercise.  

But in order for your body to respond to and recover from a demanding training session or match, you ultimately need to have an adequate supply of protein in your daily diet.  Because wrestling is such a physically demanding sport, you tend to break down a lot of muscle protein over the course of a day, which means that you need to maintain a high intake of dietary protein in order to allow your body to rebuild and recover.  

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Without enough protein in your daily diet, not only will it be difficult for your body to fully recover, but you’ll also be susceptible to losing lean muscle mass, which in addition to decreasing your strength, can also increase your risk of getting injured both in training and competition.  

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that somewhere between 10 – 30% of an adolescent’s total daily calories should come from healthy protein sources — protein contains 4 calories per gram.   

For wrestlers, who are especially active, it’s commonly recommended that your daily protein intake should be at or above 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight — for most people, that number should fall nicely within the NIHs recommended range.  So, if you weigh 145 lbs you’d be taking in 145g of protein per day.  

Healthy Sources of Protein 

VarietyTypes
Lean Meatschicken, turkey, leaner cuts of beef and pork (occasionally)
Eggsorganic, pasteurized, or omega-3-enriched eggs may offer certain advantages
Fishtuna, salmon, tilapia, cod, sardines, trout, pollock, etc..
Dairymilk, yogurt, cheese, whey protein powder, etc…

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source and like protein, they also contain 4 calories per gram.  The body breaks them down into glucose, which is used to form Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) — the actual fuel your body burns up at the cellular level.  

The carbs you take in through your diet come in two basic forms.  Complex carbs take a while for your body to breakdown, while simple carbs are quickly broken down and absorbed.  Regardless of the rate of speed at which different kinds of carbs are digested, they all serve the same function — they’re eventually metabolized into glucose.

Complex carbs should form the basis of any well-designed wrestling diet, as they provide a long steady supply of energy instead of the quick spikes and crashes that come along with simple carbs like sugar. 

In order to maintain the energy levels you need to perform at your best both in training and competition, you need to be consuming a lot of carbs — 45% to 65% of all the calories in your daily diet should come from carbs.  

Healthy Carbohydrate Sources

VarietyTypes
Whole grainsPasta, rice, bread, cereal, oatmeal
VegetablesPotatoes, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes, brussels sprouts, cucumber, asparagus, onions, etc…
FruitsBanana, blueberries, orange, strawberries, blackberries, pineapple, watermelon, pear, etc…

Fat

While dietary fat tends to get demonized, it’s actually an important player in a number of different physiological processes vital to keeping your body functioning normally.  It plays a vital role in everything from maintaining the normal function of your entire nervous system to aiding in the production of numerous important hormones.  

When it comes to the different kinds of dietary fat, there are good kinds and there are bad kinds — although all fats contain 9 calories per gram.    Trans-fats and saturated fats are considered bad fat and should be kept to a minimum in any healthy nutrition plan, including a wrestling diet.  

Unsaturated fats — both mono and polyunsaturated fats — are usually categorized as the good kind of dietary fats and should make up the majority of fat in your diet.  According to the NIH, dietary fat should make up between 20 – 35% of all of the calories in your daily diet.  

Healthy Sources of Fat

VarietyTypes
NutsCashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, etc…
Seedsflaxseed, sunflower, chia, sesame, pumpkin, etc… 
OilsOlive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, etc…
FishSalmon, tuna, anchovies, tilapia, trout, sardines, etc…
FruitAvocado, coconut, olives, etc…

Micronutrients

Not only do you need to be on top of your macronutrients to be at your best athletically, but you also need to have an adequate supply of micronutrients as well.   Just like with macros, your body also needs a steady supply of micronutrients in order to properly function, just in smaller amounts.    

Also known as vitamins and minerals, micronutrients play a critical role in everything from your brain function and neurotransmitter production to keeping your body’s fluids balanced.  Deficiencies can impinge on your performance both in training and competition, affecting everything from your energy levels to your mental functions.  

Photo by Chris Chow

The first step to making sure that you don’t have any micronutrient deficiencies is eating a well-balanced diet that encompasses all of the major food groups.  But even if your diet is on point, wrestling is a physically demanding sport that can drain your body’s micronutrient supplies quickly.  We regularly test professional athletes from a number of different sports here at Dioxyme and although they appear to be fit, many of them ultimately turn out to have deficiencies.    

Supplementing with vitamins and minerals can help to replenish your body’s supply of micronutrients, which can become depleted over the course of a rigorous season.  A number of multivitamin products offer a healthy dose of the vitamins and minerals athletes are most likely to be deficient in.  However, it’s important to point out that the most effective way to figure out exactly which vitamins and mineral supplements you should be taking is to get professionally tested.   

Hydration

Just as important as getting an adequate supply of macro and micronutrients, staying hydrated is also essential to performing at your best on the mats and in the gym.  

It’s recommended that athletes take in plenty of water in the hours leading up to training and competition.  On meet days, where weigh-ins don’t always make that a possibility, it’s especially important that athletes consume at least 16 oz of water 15 – 30 minutes before match time.  

As far as intra-workout hydration goes, it’s recommended that athletes take in 4 – 8 oz of water every 15 minutes during high-intensity exercise.  Up to 60% of the human body is comprised of water, so it makes sense that during intense physical exercise, where you can lose up to 3 liters of fluids an hour, you need to be taking in adequate amounts of water. 

Replenishing your electrolytes — concentrated powders that can be added directly to your water work better than sports drinks — can also help to assure that your body has all of the nutrients it needs to function optimally during a physically demanding activity like wrestling.  

Wrap Up

One challenge that many wrestlers face in the offseason is determining which weight class they’re going to be most competitive in when the season rolls around. For many athletes, that ultimately means losing some weight.  

Losing weight safely and effectively is directly dependant on your daily calorie intake, which should be moderately lower than your daily calorie expenditure.  Once you’ve achieved your target weight, in order to maintain it, the total number of calories you take in through your diet needs to be equal to the total number that are burned off over the course of the day.     

Your diet is also important when it comes to performing at your best athletically.  Not only do you need to manage your calories, but you also need to have a healthy distribution of macro and micronutrients in your daily diet in order to see the best results on the mats and in the gym.  

And don’t forget to stay hydrated.  Taking in plenty of water both before and during training and competition is just as important when it comes to fueling your performance.