Photo credit: UW Athletic Communications

Aures helps Badgers balance nutrition, weight management

Nutrition is a vital part of high-level performance in any sport.

But when an athlete is limited in how much they can eat, the stakes become even higher.

This is a reality many members of the Wisconsin wrestling team have to deal with. In-season nutrition is a delicate balancing act of nourishing the body while not upsetting the scale.

Enter Nick Aures, Wisconsin’s Director of Performance Nutrition.

The Green Bay, Wis. native aides in the nutritional well-being of all of UW’s student athletes. But his work with the wrestling team brings about a particular set of challenges.

“One of the biggest ones is the culture of what wrestling is,” Aures said. “You’re working with coaches and guys who have been very successful over a lot of years doing it – whether it is the right way or the wrong way – doing it their way.”

Most, if not all, Division 1 wrestling teams have at least a handful of wrestlers who cut weight in order to compete at their desired weight class. Aures encourages his wrestlers to maintain a training weight that is, if nothing else, in the neighborhood of their ideal weight class.

“The biggest thing is: find a good, comfortable weight, understanding a good training weight is as opposed to what your goal weight class is,” Aures said. “Really being able to maintain that weight from week-to-week in-season.”

Even when a wrestler is in weight-cutting mode, hydration remains a key factor.

“You have to be very particular with how much you are willing to lose and manipulate from the hydration status, knowing that hydration is a huge one,” Aures said. “Once a wrestler becomes dehydrated, or if they cut that weight and it’s all water weight, they really put themselves at risk for a decrease in performance.”

But the addition of water weight can make hydration a tough sell at times.

“We can say, ‘drink 32 ounces of water, drink 48 ounces of water,’” Aures said. “But, right away, a wrestler sees that as, well that’s two pounds, that’s three pounds.”

To counter that thought process, Aures keeps close tabs on how much water weight each athlete loses during a practice session.

“We do a lot of sweat-rate calibrations,” Aures said. “Let’s say, in an hour practice, they lose six pounds of weight. In doing that, that allows me to tell them, OK, if you lost six pounds … you can drink six pounds of water (before practice) knowing that you are going to sweat it right out.”

There is a balancing act to hydration, however. Replenishing fluids too quickly can make a wrestler feel uncomfortable.

“They can only re-hydrate their bodies so much,” Aures said. “So we don’t want a guy to down 64 ounces of fluid knowing that will be in his stomach and it won’t be going anywhere for the next couple of hours.”

The same logic applies to food. Eating after weigh-in is a necessary component of proper nutrition.  But gorging before a match can lead to discomfort and a sub-par performance.

“Right after that weigh-in, these guys are kind of scavengers, in a way,”Aures said. “So we try to help and assist them. We’re not just putting out a buffet for them. We’re putting out a sample of things to choose from and putting numbers on it and we kind of try to watch in throughout.”

Customization is a crucial part of keeping athletes properly nourished. Aures tries to guide the wrestlers by providing a starting point.

“We come up with a list of, what I call, go-to foods, whether it’s post-recovery or a post-meal form,” Aures said. “For me it’s a big deal that each of those guys finds those foods where they just feel great and they know how much their weight will respond.”

Aures strives to always give athletes a variety of nutritional options. After all, each individual will react differently to a particular food.

“Some guys might feel great on a peanut butter sandwich. Another guy might feel great on a piece of meat and a baked sweet potato. But both of those foods are going to impact weight difference,” Aures said. “They are going to impact how you feel.”

Again, the goal is to provide sustenance without drastic weight gain.

“I’m going to try and give them the kinds of foods that I like to call nutrient-dense,” Aures said. “Something that provides as much bang for your buck in a low-calorie profile. Things like baked-potatoes or oatmeal. Most guys respond better to those types of carbohydrates as opposed to breads or pastas.”

From a weight management and nutritional standpoint, the postseason can be tricky to navigate. Wrestlers must refuel enough to be at their best when their season is on the line. But they still have to make weight the following day.

The Badgers’ recent stretch of weekends with two duals helped prepare them for multi-day tournaments like this weekend’s Big Ten Championships in Iowa City.

“The whole last month of February they had a lot of Friday, Sunday duals,” Aures said. “It really helped a lot of guys. It really gave them some good trial and error, troubleshooting if you will, to figure out what is going to work for them this time of year.”

Aures will be with the team this weekend, answering questions and doing whatever he can to put each wrestler in a position to succeed.

“I’ll be there for them 24-7,” Aures said. “A few of the guys have already said they are going to meet with me tonight to make sure they’re feeling good, they are getting what they want and that we just have a good plan worked out.”

Aures makes a point of getting feedback from each wrestler over the course of a tournament.

“Usually, I will talk to each guy throughout the day,” Aures said. “After they have I match, I’m big on assessing how they feel or how they are telling me they feel. We can kind of regulate it. We can give them more or give them less based on what they are telling me. We try our best, in the heat of the moment, to try and get them what they need.”

But even with the efforts of Aures and his staff, it ultimately remains up to each athlete to hold themselves accountable and follow instructions.

Thankfully, receiving buy-in from the wrestlers hasn’t been an issue during Aures’ first season with the Badgers. And that makes a huge difference.

“It really is almost everything,” Aures said. “We can offer them everything in the world but, if you don’t get that initial buy-in, you don’t get them to see any paired success with it, it really will do nothing for you. It all comes down to buy-in.”