Worth the weight: Preparation, diet, exercise helps area wrestlers stay in peak condition
David Schuffert likes to torture his Valley wrestling teammates sometimes.
The junior heavyweight doesn’t exactly have to follow the same diet protocols as most wrestlers, thanks to a 285-pound weight allowance. And he makes sure people know it.
“You can watch other people starve, and you can just eat in front of them,” Schuffert said. “It’s funny because they’re just begging. They want some. I’ll go to Sheetz or something and go eat something at Sheetz and eat it in front of them. They pretty much just get up and walk away.”
Wrestlers prepare for a full week for matches and tournaments, for six minutes of competition that can lead to victory or defeat.
A major part of preparation is making weight — staying within the allowances of their weight class, whether it’s the lightweights at 106 or the heavyweights at 285. It takes the right diet and exercise to keep from tipping the scales and getting disqualified.
In the PIAA, a two-pound weight allowance goes into effect Dec. 25 — a nice Christmas present for wrestlers, at least. But even still, it remains pivotal for them to stay within that allowance.
Jeffrey Lucchino, a dietician at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, recommends wrestlers get close to their target weight as the season approaches to avoid a major jump or drop during the year. Many wrestlers can fluctuate within a class or two during the season.
“Preseason’s the ideal time to kind of know what class you’re going to wrestle in, maybe what two classes you’re going to bounce around to so that you don’t get enticed by that severe drop of three classes or increase of three classes,” Lucchino said.
The PIAA has regulations for wrestlers as they progress throughout the season and distributes a weight-control manual.
“You monitor it closer in some situations than others, by individual level,” Burrell coach Josh Shields said. “There’s some kids that I trust completely. I know they’re doing everything right here, doing everything right out there. There’s other kids where it’s an eight-hour check, what do you weigh?”
Kiski Area coach Chris Heater said an all-hands-on-deck approach with coaches, parents and the wrestlers themselves helps keep everything under control.
“Sometimes the guys say I’m good, I’ve got it, (but) if they don’t got it, somebody’s got to step in at home,” Heater said. “Our parents are very good with that.”
Every wrestler has a guilty pleasure.
For Kiski Area sophomore Jack Blumer, it’s buffalo chicken pizza or Goldfish. For Burrell freshman A.J. Corrado, it’s chocolate milk.
Nick Delp, meanwhile, has a weakness for “anything in sight” — at least on Mondays.
“I’ll pig out a little bit,” admitted the Kiski Area sophomore 160-pounder.
Then comes the rest of the week, and a strict diet of healthy foods. Many wrestlers stick to the same staples — lean proteins like chicken or fish, carbohydrates like pasta, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats like peanut butter.
″(It’s) chicken in all different sauces,” said Blumer, who also cut soda out of his diet in favor of water and Gatorade. “My mom tries to mix it up, but it all tastes the same.”
Burrell senior 152-pounder Corey Christie said he doesn’t get much temptation because his family doesn’t keep much unhealthy food in the house.
“If I go on a diet, everyone goes on a diet,” he said. “My mom only makes healthy foods. It makes it easier. My mom really helps with the diet.”
The lighter weights have a more strict calorie allowance, but Burrell freshman 113-pounder Ian Oswalt said he doesn’t have as much trouble maintaining because he eats healthy. He hopes that gives him a hidden advantage come this weekend’s PIAA championships if some of his opponents have to cut weight.
Heavyweights operate on the opposite end of the spectrum. Kiski Area senior Isaac Reid said he tries to stay around 260 pounds and generally eats a big breakfast and drinks protein shakes, intent upon maintaining his power.
That became difficult this season when he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism in his lung that kept him out of the lineup until January. His weight dropped down to 240 pounds.“It was a roadblock, but that’s in the past now,” he said.
Schuffert said he doesn’t have a diet, per se, but he likes to stay in the range of 260 to 270 pounds in order to keep his quickness against bigger opponents.
“You can just be on the couch and be like, I feel heavy today,” he said. “You can just sleep it off and lose three pounds, or you could just go for a jog.”
Lucchino said wrestlers who need to drop a pound or two in the days leading up to competition can change to foods lower in water content. They also can taper down their water intake in the days leading up to a match, without dehydrating themselves.
“Switch from the big salad that has 300 calories to a simple PB&J that’s about 300, 350,” Lucchino said. “It might be more calories, but it’s more nutrient-dense. It’s not going to hold as much water in the gut. Therefore the water weight’s not going to fluctuate as much.”
Major problem areas can occur when wrestlers attempt to cut weight in a short amount of time, Lucchino said. He advises strongly against dramatically reducing the amount of calories, as doing so means wrestlers wouldn’t get the amount of vitamins they need for their bones and muscles, which could lead to injury.
Diluting the electrolytes of the body by rapidly reducing the amount of potassium and sodium can also cause major problems, including dehydration and heart issues, Lucchino said.
“Drastic things like severely cutting really quickly anything from water, electrolytes, calories, that can put athletes at injury risk or even severe health risk,” he said.
Five to seven days is a good timeline for dropping down a weight class, Lucchino said.
Blumer had a problem last Saturday, the second day of the WPIAL Class AAA championships: He was half a pound overweight when he reported to Kiski Area.
Heater had the solution.
“He told me to start running, and I got in the shower and started doing jumping jacks with all my clothes on,” Blumer said. “I turned on every shower so it’d get really hot and started jumping. (It took) five minutes, not long.”
While diet plays a major role in maintaining weight, so does exercise. Burrell, for instance, practices six days a week, and many of the Bucs’ wrestlers go to the Mat Factory wrestling club on Sundays or during the week for more workouts. Kiski Area and Valley wrestlers also frequent the Lower Burrell-based club.
“These practices are a lot harder than one or two matches in a wrestling tournament, for sure,” said Corrado, a freshman 132-pounder. “It’s two and a half, three hours a day.”
And when an extra workout is needed, that’s easy to find as well.
“If I struggle with it, I’ll come in in the morning with (assistant Gino Lanzino), and he’ll put me through a pretty brutal treadmill workout, and that’ll usually help out,” Christie said. “I run hard. He’ll make me run hard. He runs with us, so it motivates us.”
It seems ironic that, for Pennsylvania wrestlers, a season that revolves so much around making weight ends in Hershey, right next door to Chocolate World.
The wrestlers who qualified for the PIAA championships, which begin Thursday, have at maximum three more days to stay within their allowances.
“I’ve got a few places in mind,” Christie said. “Throughout the season, if I have a really hard, strong craving for something, I’ll just write it down. So after the season, I can go there. It makes me feel better.”
Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.