Nutrition for the Wrestling Student-Athlete

Wrestling requires a great deal of power, technique, swiftness, and endurance to outcompete their opponents. Matches can be short or long with many going into overtime extending beyond 10 minutes. This can be brutal if the athlete is under-fed and under-fueled because of weight cutting or calorie restriction.

Maintaining, gaining, or losing weight does not have to undercut performance. Your eating and fueling habits should support your training, performance, and overall recovery.

This article provides quick tips on how wrestling student-athletes should be eating and fueling in pre-season. I will also provide insight on how to eat to maintain energy and strength, as well as what to pack for wrestling tournaments.ย 

๐๐ซ๐ž-๐ฌ๐ž๐š๐ฌ๐จ๐ง ๐ง๐ฎ๐ญ๐ซ๐ข๐ญ๐ข๐จ๐ง ๐ฌ๐ก๐จ๐ฎ๐ฅ๐ ๐›๐ž ๐ฒ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ ๐›๐ข๐ ๐ ๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ ๐ฉ๐ซ๐ข๐จ๐ซ๐ข๐ญ๐ฒ ๐š๐ฌ ๐š ๐ฐ๐ซ๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ๐ž๐ซ.

  • Aim for 1.4-1.8 g/kg/BW/day of protein.
    • ๐‘ญ๐’๐’“ ๐’‚ 150-๐’‘๐’๐’–๐’๐’… (68 ๐’Œ๐’ˆ) ๐’‰๐’Š๐’ˆ๐’‰ ๐’”๐’„๐’‰๐’๐’๐’ ๐’˜๐’“๐’†๐’”๐’•๐’๐’†๐’“, ๐’•๐’‰๐’‚๐’• ๐’†๐’’๐’–๐’‚๐’•๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’ ๐’ƒ๐’†๐’•๐’˜๐’†๐’†๐’ 95 ๐’‚๐’๐’… 122 ๐’ˆ๐’“๐’‚๐’Ž๐’” ๐’๐’‡ ๐’‘๐’“๐’๐’•๐’†๐’Š๐’ ๐’‘๐’†๐’“ ๐’…๐’‚๐’š.
    • Focus on building a plate that contains protein, carbs, produce, healthy fats, and hydration. See an example of our athlete performance plates based on goal below. You can also download my nutrient timing and athlete’s plate PDF HERE.
  • Do NOT overly restrict kcal if you are trying to lose weight. ๐–๐ก๐š๐ญ ๐š๐›๐จ๐ฎ๐ญ ๐ญ๐จ๐ฎ๐ซ๐ง๐š๐ฆ๐ž๐ง๐ญ๐ฌ/๐ฉ๐ซ๐ž ๐š๐ง๐ ๐ฉ๐จ๐ฌ๐ญ-๐ฐ๐ž๐ข๐ ๐ก-๐ข๐ง๐ฌ? -Carbs + protein before and after weigh-ins -Limit fiber, sodium, and starchy carbs immediately before weigh-ins
  • ๐——๐—ผ ๐—ป๐—ผ๐˜ ๐—น๐—ผ๐˜€๐—ฒ ๐˜„๐—ฒ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ต๐˜ ๐—ฏ๐˜† ๐—ฐ๐˜‚๐˜๐˜๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐˜๐—ผ๐—ผ ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐˜† ๐—ธ๐—ฐ๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ผ๐—ฟ ๐—ผ๐˜ƒ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—น๐˜† ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐˜€๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ฐ๐˜ ๐—ผ๐—ป ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ป๐˜‚๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป. ๐—ฌ๐—ผ๐˜‚ ๐˜„๐—ถ๐—น๐—น ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐˜‚๐—ฝ ๐—น๐—ผ๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—บ๐˜‚๐˜€๐—ฐ๐—น๐—ฒ, ๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฝ๐—ฎ๐—ถ๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ฝ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ณ๐—ผ๐—ฟ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฐ๐—ฒ, ๐—ฎ๐—ป๐—ฑ ๐—ต๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ฑ๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐˜†๐—ผ๐˜‚๐—ฟ ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—น๐˜๐—ต ๐—น๐—ผ๐—ป๐—ด-๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ฟ๐—บ.ย 

Losing fat and making weight the right way

Calorie, protein, fat, and carbohydrate recommendations:
  • Carbohydrate needs range from (1-3 g/kg/bw/day).
  • Protein needs vary based on goals, training, and intensity but the right place to start is (1.4-1.8 g/kg/bw/day).
  • Fat recommendations include (0.8 1.0 g/kg/bw/day).

  • If you’re trying to lose fat you increase the fruit/veggies on your plate which are lower in kcal and increase your protein. See how these two performance plates are different. The plate on the right is maintained given the portion of carbs is greater. Carbs are a higher energy source and if we do not use them we store them. If you are trying to lose fat you need less kcal/less carbs. In doing so you will be able to eat in a kcal deficit by increasing protein which supports satiety.
  • Weight loss versus fat loss is explained in greater detail HERE.
  • You must be in a kcal deficit to lose fat. Track your nutrition in My Fitness Pal or a nutrition tracker.


What to eat before and after weigh-ins

See a sample wrestling menu here.

You have to PLAN AHEAD! If you don’t plan your meals and snacks in advance you’re less likely to eat the right foods. Want to be a champion? Do the planning in advance. Opportunity favors the prepared!! You never know how long a match will be.

You will need to fuel before you hit the mat. Nothing too heavy just enough carbs and calories to give you the burst of energy to compete. We recommend dried fruit, a 100% fruit bar, 1/2 turkey sandwich, a sports drink, and 1/2 bagel. See the options listed.

Dual meets and tournaments can be long. Bring sports drinks as a simple option to replace carbs and offer additional sodium, potassium, and magnesium that help with muscle contraction.


Fueling Wrestling Tournaments

  • Choosing to dehydrate one’s body to gain weight is a common practice but it should not be. Dehydrating your body leads to a negative impact on strength, stamina, power, and overall performance. YOU WILL FATIGUE FASTER if you are dehydrated. You can also risk damaging skeletal muscle, cardiovascular function, and physiological stress.
  • Click here for my hydration recommendations.
  • 1-2% of dehydration can result in loss of speed, power, strength, and agility. Click here for tips on preventing dehydration.
  • It is very important to avoid high fat. NO SOLID FOOD IN THE STOMACH AT COMPETITION TIME. Blood flow will go to your stomach for digestion and not your extremities to take down your opponent.ย  If ample time is not given to digest the fuel you also can’t even access it for energy.


Pair carbs + with protein between matches at a tournament. In doing so you will have enough quick fuel if needed to maintain energy for a full day. This will also help you avoid dips in blood sugar from restricting kcal. Candy bars and chocolate milk are NOT good pre-wrestling options.

Treat yourself post-meet with a serving of your favorite item. Chocolate milk is post-recovery NEVER BEFORE! Core power protein shakes are something you would sip in if you have 1-2 hours between. Be smart. Use common sense. Use foods that you know digest well to avoid getting sick.


In summary

  • Follow a nutrition plan that supports your weight class, energy, recovery, and overall goals.
  • Journal your nutrition in an app to see what nutrients you might need more or less of. If you’re trying to gain eat in a kcal surplus by adding 500 kcal. If you are trying to lose eat in a kcal deficit by consuming 500 kcal less per day.
  • Eat enough high-quality protein (beef, eggs, fish, chicken, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese) to support muscle growth, maintenance, and satiety.
  • Drink enough water and ensure you have sufficient minerals in your body. See a previous blog on how to avoid cramping HERE.
  • Pre-season fueling is your opportunity to gain a competitive edge over your opponents. Do not skip meals, find a way to power up with protein + produce.
  • The habits you follow in your youth WILL often carry into adulthood. So be mindful of your choices and habits.
  • Get enough sleep to ensure your body can recover from training and competition. 7-9 hours is ideal and if you put away distractions and electronics you will get better quality sleep.
  • Creatine should not be used mid-season due to weight fluctuations. I would recommend adding creatine in pre-season and being consistent with a 3-5 g serving. Read more on creatine here.
  • For sports nutrition coaching, presentations, resources, and guidance contact us! See what we offer below! Good luck this season!

How can we work together?

  • If you are looking for a team talk or presentation we are now booking for the remainder of 2023. Check out our performance nutrition partnership HERE.
  • Health and performance guidebook that has over 160 resources including meal plans and tip sheets HERE.
  • Apply for coaching whether you’re an athlete or an adult needing help and support. Click here
  • Help your athletes, coaches, and community understand the fundamentals of fueling, sleep, recovery, and weight gain via our student-athlete coaching programs. Details are available HERE.


In good health and performance,

Coach Wendi

Wendi Irlbeck, MS, RDN,ย  LD, CISSNย  is a registered dietitian nutritionist and performance coach.ย Wendi utilizes evidence-based science to tailor nutrition programs for athletes to optimize performance, minimize health risks, and enhance recovery from training while focusing on injury prevention. She and her team partner with parents, sports performance staff, and special needs and recreational athletes to offer nutritional guidance and optimal athletic performance and lifestyle plans. Wendi provides virtual services including telehealth but is based in Nashville, TN.ย  Wendi and her team work primarily with high school and college athletes!

What can hiring a sports nutritionist offer your program? Learn moreย here.ย  Interested in signing up for the NEW and upcoming NWW newsletter?ย Click here to sign up!