The Dangerous Wrestler Diet
As an aspiring wrestler, I’ve found that there are numerous different things to do and consider, on the road to Wresl…err, success. One of the most important and diligent being what you choose to put in your body. Recently, I’ve been doing quite a bit of research about food and supplements. Everything from the best way to prepare eggs, what foods will improve stamina, the difference between creatine and casein, to why the hell this heart rate monitor I spent $50 on, calculates that I’m apparently dead. Moving on.
During one of my daily runs, or I should say walks, because that’s what I end up doing mostly, a little spark went off in my head. I had cooked up some eggs for breakfast that morning, as I did most days, because I knew they were high in protein and for the most part, good for you. What I failed to realize right off, however, was that eggs are terrible for one’s cholesterol. Coming from a family who has a history of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and just overly bad cardiovascular systems, I quickly made the switch to egg whites.
This is where that spark came in
. I was easily able to find out that eggs, unfortunately, aren’t so healthy after all, but that the whites are. While wondering how many people actually knew this, I began thinking about the high number of deaths that have plagued the wrestling industry. More specifically, how many of those deaths are related to ailments of the heart, and also, how many could be attributed to a high protein diet.
Wrestler’s have notoriously been labeled with the “big man/strongman” stereotype. This stems from professional wrestling’s early days on the carnival circuit, where wrestlers and circus strongmen went hand in hand. The “veins popping out of your arms” look wasn’t popularized, though, until really the 1980s. Until around this period of time, looks didn’t matter all that much. What did, was that you were a tough son of a gun, who could hold your own in a bar fight. Oh, and in the ring, of course. Either way, a wrestler needs a lot of protein.
In 1972, a new diet formula hit the scenes, and since, has become one of the most popular of all diet plans; the Atkins Diet. The Atkins formula is basically lots of protein, very little carbohydrates. Now, before anyone tries to get ahead of me, no, I’m not trying to say that wrestlers joined Atkins, and started dropping like flies. Rather, that less than a decade before the booming ’80s, the era where everyone looked like the Hulk (the green one), the high protein diet found it’s popularity.
There are numerous dangers to intaking too much protein. Several of them, lead back to heart complications. Let’s begin with one of the issues I first ran across.
Instead of trying to reword this, I think a direct quote from one of my personal favorite websites, livestrong.com, will work well:
“The National Institute of Health explains that men and women on the animal-based, ketosis-inducing low-carb diet had a 23 percent increased risk of death, a 14 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and a 28 percent increased risk of dying from cancer.”
Ketosis is caused by the liver releasing molecules called ketones, in order to burn fat. This occurs when your body is deprived of carbohydrates, which it needs for energy. Burning fat… that’s good when dieting or watching your weight. The danger lurks in the balancing act. Too many carbs, and you either don’t lose any weight, or end up gaining some. Much too few, on the other hand, can lead to a buildup of ketones, leading to ketosis, which then can enter the bloodstream, and become harmful. This can often be the case in high protein diets, it can put stress on a few different organs, and even lead to death.
One of the handful of side effects ketones buildup causes, is dehydration. Well, that doesn’t sound too scary, considering the other effects include cancer, organ failures, and death. Besides the fact that thousands die of dehydration, in the United States alone, each year, ketones can speed up the process. Some of the key issues dehydration causes, pertains to your heart. Once in the bloodstream, ketones alone thicken your blood, as does dehydration. Both will deplete the electrolytes in your body (it should also be noted that, exercising/training uses up potassium and sodium, which are key in forming these electrolytes). At this point, your heart is having to work harder, while not receiving signals as good as it should.
Dehydration on its own can put your heart into a state of arrhythmia. There are a wide variety of arrhythmias, ranging from merely annoying palpitations, to cardiac arrest. Prolonged dehydration can worsen the strain on your heart, cause seizures, a bunch of other issues, and of course death.
How many stories have you heard or read, telling of how the wrestlers of yesterday (as one of my colleagues likes to refer to them as) would guzzle down mug, after mug, of beer, at bars across the World?
Alcohol does nothing to rehydrate the body. Too much, only puts more stress on your organs, and for some people, it doesn’t even take that much. The danger is elevated for those with arrhythmias, especially for the development of heart disease.
There’s that word yet again; “heart disease.” It’s the leading cause of death here in the States, and rears it’s ugly head in the food we eat. The consumption of red meat has a lot to do with it. Steaks for a nice dinner, burgers on the go, ham on a sandwich, hotdogs at the ball game… and so on. Any meat from a mammal, is considered “red,” and it can cause a slew of issues, including, but not limited to: heart disease, which I’ve already mentioned, cancer, gastrointestinal problems, organ failure, and diabetes.
I’m not sure when we learned red meat is unhealthy, but let’s presume that the wrestlers of yesterday, didn’t know as much as we do today, when it comes to health. So, there they are consuming vast amounts of red meat, believing the protein will make them big and strong, and washing it down with a beer or two, or three.
Supplements are another example of, “things we know today.” Today, most people realize (I hope) that you must be very careful, and wary, of some of these so-called “supplements” out on the market. Sweeteners, for example, are currently the major risk factor in protein shakes.
In the past, hey, these steroids worked, so this other junk should too.
Oh sure, they might work, but at what risks?
I was going to try to leave drugs out of this, as I wanted to focus solely on the dangers of a wrestler’s diet. But, let’s face it, steroids and other unscrupulous things were more than likely, a part of past wrestlers’ diets.
Steroids, pain killers, and the drug of choice 30 and 20 years ago, cocaine.. I’ll start off with the one we wrestling fans are most familiar with.
Since we’re fairly familiar with the dangers of steroids, I’m just going to list a handful of issues that can arise if one abuses them.
-Increased LDL (bad) Cholesterol
-Higher Risk of HIV
-Shrinking of Testicles
-Enlargement of Heart
Painkillers are also hard on your body. Even some of the over-the-counter drugs can cause severe complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and of course considering the previous three, death.
It’s pretty obvious that wrestlers don’t simply take Tylenol or Advil to cope. To save us all time… abusing them is dangerous, because it can lead to complications, that can result in death.
Now, onto the fun one.
The one story that has always stuck in my mind ever since I first came across it, is of Vince McMahon blowing coke backstage with the boys. I don’t know how true it is, but one of the interesting things about the wrestling business, are all the tales and fables.
Anyway, the array of dangers of cocaine, means I’m doing another list.
-Inflammation of blood vessels in the brain
-Bleeding in the Brain
-Rupture of Aorta
-High Blood Pressure
-Sudden Cardiac Death
People in their 40s are prone to heart disease and attacks. For wrestlers, though, it’s seemingly an epidemic. When a wrestler passes at an early age, chances are, they had an issue with their heart. Fans and non-fans alike are always quick to blame steroids and drugs. However, other athletes and such take them, illegally, but still. Do you see them dropping at the same rate?
So, here’s my theory:
In the more scripted, modern era, wrestlers felt the need to keep up the idea of them being “strongmen.” The low-carb, high protein diet becomes popular; wrestlers are now watching what they’re eating, the best they can for the time. Unfortunately, red meat didn’t seem dangerous, and seemed to provide a good protein fix. The red meat harms their cardiovascular systems,raising their cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors, while the ketones buildup from ingesting so much protein and few carbs, strain their hearts more. Steroids hit the scene, as well. Wrestlers used to be looked at as rock n’ roll type superstars, so frequently visiting bars and blowing some drugs would have been a norm. Though, this only added in the stress on their bodies’ organs, especially, once again, the heart. Don’t forget about the rigorous schedules they endured, which is more added stress. Not to mention, the actual wrestling. Throw in the painkillers.
It’s no wonder why so many superstars from a 20yr. period of time, have and are still, dying at an early age, and a good amount from heart related issues.
If you read the entire column, only to see a condensed version at the end, bravo.
*Note* I am not a nutritionist or anything remotely related to the medical field. Do your research, consult a doctor, all that good stuff.