Weight management and training adaptation for wrestling:

In this blog, Dr. Capodaglio shares his expertise for wrestlers and fighters who want to compete at the highest level. Dr. Matteo Capodaglio is a great friend, and has been my trusted nutritionist since I graduated from OSU. He works alongside Dr. Andy Galpin to develop a nutrition protocol for me and many other professional athletes.


Weight management and training adaptation for wrestling: a scientific approach by Dr. Matteo Capodaglio - Director of Performance at CAPONUTRITION

“Wrestling is a sport for tough people, for grinders, and there is no space for quitters. These principles might lead to misinterpretations when it comes to weight management for wrestlers. The absolute first thing we need to clarify is that we cannot talk about weight cut anymore. It is an old concept that implies that we are going to get rid of some weight - close to the competition - and we will not gain it back at the time of the event. In other words, it is a way to make sure we will under perform.

On the other hand, weight management means utilizing physiological principles to our advantage, without putting athletes' health in jeopardy. Weight management and training adaptation equals to a periodized and personalized approach. The winning strategy starts from guidelines (ranges of values provided by the literature) and moves towards data collection and interpretation, to build a nutritional protocol in the same way a tailor creates a suit for a special occasion. Every athlete is unique, and the one size fits all approach does not work when it comes to performance nutrition for wrestlers — on the other hand, increasing adherence to a diet plan, is considered the main factor connected to a protocol's success. The first tip for any competitor is speaking with his dietitian/nutritionist/coach underlying his expectations and his tastes about food. Rice and chicken is not the only way to fuel athletic performance!

The time span for weight management goes from three months out to the day of competition. The first phase is from 3 months to 1 month out, which is the volume phase. During it, the wrestler's body is put through stress to adapt. Adaptation can be muscle growth or better mitochondrial efficiency (mitochondria are the ovens where we burn fuel), and it is going to be instrumental for healthy weight management. A common misconception regarding the volume phase is related to the idea of stress. It is essential to understand the big difference between chronic stress (over-training) and acute stress (a single intense session). For this reason, the abundant use of antioxidants (i.e. vitamin C) is not necessary, especially immediately after a training session. The acute inflammation process (induced by training stress) is a critical condition if we want to bring our performance to the next level because it promotes changes that will eventually make our body adapt to the new stimuli.

The main protagonists of the volume phase are carbohydrates and proteins. Carbohydrates are the macro-nutrient that constitutes the primary fuel when it comes to performance in wrestling. We need to learn to discriminate between types. A more available source (white rice, pasta) is the first choice if we need to maximize recovery between two workouts. The presence of fibers is optimal from a health standpoint (micro-biome, short chain fatty acid production), but also slows down the absorption process. For this reason, a performance-oriented approach will concentrate the fiber intake in the later (second workout) post meal (usually dinner).

Proteins are a macro-nutrient with a plastic function: we need amino acids (you can think about them as bricks) to build muscles (walls). There are several types of bricks, and we need all of them to build walls with the highest efficiency.

Lean protein consumption (chicken, shrimps, etc.) is the best way to recover from an intense training session, in association with complex carbs. Approaching a high volume phase, carbohydrate intake can be higher and lower, with peaks corresponding to performance days and lows when we want to prioritize adaptation. On a lower carb day, a good strategy is to increase the protein and the fat intake. During this phase, an athlete’s calorie intake is slightly lowered on specific days to help the body adapt. On a volume phase we do not want to lose weight, we are only preparing our body to lose weight in the optimal way. The three pillars of the volume phase are:

1. Adequate rest
2. Adequate caloric intake
3. Sufficient carbs and protein intake.

As competition becomes closer, usually one month to one week before the event, the amount of training will decrease in favor of more technical sessions. For this reason, it is possible to lower the caloric intake to reduce body fat but not lean mass. It is beneficial to alternate lower carbohydrate/calorie days with re-feed days. Long-term caloric restriction can disrupt the hormonal system and plateau weight loss. The goal of re-feed days is to stimulate secretion of hormones like leptin, which is produced by adipocytes (fat cells) and has the power to regulate metabolism at a central level. The hormonal alterations that come from an aggressive caloric restriction might result in a plateau phase, one of the worst weight-class athletes' nightmares (when eating less doesn't convert to weight loss). The three pillars of the pre-competition phase are:
1. Adequate rest
2. Planned macro-nutrients periodization
3. Reduced workload (without excluding resistance and high-intensity training sessions).

During the competition week, water management becomes the most manipulated variable to make weight, because the human body is mainly constituted by it. Severe water intake restriction and active dehydration have lead, unfortunately, to several deaths in the sport and increased injury incidence.

The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system is the guardian that mediates the water retention process, determining urine production related to electrolytes' concentration in our blood. Rather than struggling by drinking less than half a gallon of liquids per day/not drinking during the week leading up to competition, it is possible to decrease body-weight. Through a variation of electrolytes' intake, while keeping water consumption high, sodium (salt) is the main variable that is manipulated.  A sufficient amount of potassium/magnesium is needed to perform at a high level, while slowly lowering sodium to make sure that your body is not retaining extra water.

Other than passive dehydration, another detrimental technique used to make weight is by over-exercising. Other than water, glycogen stores are depleted, and our muscles can contain 500 grams, each gram of glycogen is related to almost 3 grams of water; hence the weight loss with this technique can be massive. The big issue related to glycogen depletion is that we fuel our performance with it, and its production is not as fast as its breakdown. It takes a lot longer to get back glycogen to compete at an athlete’s best. For this reason, making weight this way can impair performance because weigh-ins are usually a few hours from the competition (main difference between making weight in wrestling and MMA compared to other sports). Over-exercising the week before and competing, would be like racing in NASCAR on half a tank of gas. The three pillars of the competition week are:

1. Adequate rest
2. Avoid severe dehydration
3. Avoid glycogen depletion.

Furthermore, athletes are always in search of the magic formula for a competition snack, but the answer is more intuitive than what they think. The best meal/supplement mix you can eat before a competition is the one you had before a hard wrestling session during the volume phase. As a final note, wrestling is a performance sport, not an aesthetic competition, think about your body as a racing car: never prioritize the body of a car above the engine. Slow, steady weight reduction is key to performing at one’s best. You want to be relentless, not good looking!”

 The information in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure any disease.

The article’s content is for general informational purposes only.

Nathan Tomasello