WILLMAR -- Sure as the turkey crossed the road, college wrestlers watch their weight over the Thanksgiving break.
Cracked a Ridgewater wrestler on Monday in the college mat room: "Right. I watch it go up."
Wrestlers burn calories like a blast furnace. But to be competitive, the less spare tissue the better. Bone, sinew, muscle -- good ... Fat -- bad.
Klinton Van Heuveln, a sophomore from Pennock at the college who competed at nationals last year, told me "I'll just pig out and come back 15 pounds heavy."
But he was kidding. He will run in the Turkey Leg 5K Thursday morning and will probably run right through the long weekend. He says he works out two or three times a day, not just at practice, which means he can consume a lot of calories without adding weight. No spare flesh is visible on his frame. He's dropping to 141 pounds after beginning the season at 149.
Hayden Rouser, a freshman out of Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City, started out in high school wrestling in the entry level 103-pound weight class. He's in the 133-pound division in the 10-class college format which begins at 125 pounds.
He's doubts the five-day break will compromise his fitness.
He noted that even if a wrestler comes back overweight there's five days to sweat it off in The Room before the team travels to the Minnesota State Open at Moorhead on Dec. 1.
"Just don't be dumb about what you eat," he said.
I sent an email to head coach Tom Beyer inquiring his advice for his wrestlers over break, whether it's at Thanksgiving or Christmas.
The worst thing they can do is binge, that is, pig out for five or six days and become inactive and then try to come back get weight off in a week. If you increase your activity while eating smart, you will increase your metabolism. That will allow you to stay strong and eventually increase food intake because the body is burning more.
I asked Rouser about his diet and he said while weight control isn't a problem for him he could be more careful.
"I like Subways and you think, boy, I'm eating healthy. But it adds up, the mayo, extra meat, some bacon and chicken, too."
Heavyweight Dominic Platow, who won the 285-pound title in Class A last year at Paynesville, says he like Jimmie John's.
"Tuna, every time," he said. His mantra is "Run, workout and eat."
In high school, he weighed 301 before the start of football but was down to 260 pounds by the end of his senior season. On Monday, two days after wrestling at the Concordia College Open, he weighed 293, which is eight pounds over the NCAA maximum to wrestle.
Frank Wilczek, a freshman from Fort Ripley (Little Falls H.S.) said maintaining weight is more difficult in college.
"You're on your own, there's more down time with only two or three classes some days and there's no one telling you 'Maybe, you shouldn't eat that' like at home."
Beyer, who coached Willmar Cardinal wrestling for 27 years, before taking the college post:
Eat well on the holiday but smart. Try to fill up with food that will have some nutritional value and get back to normal eating right away. Stay active. Work out before eating. Walk, bike, go hunting. Avoid video games.
Joel Koch, a freshman out of Waverly planning to transfer to the U of M to study agricultural education, is a 197-pounder. At high school in Howard Lake, he spent his first three varsity seasons as an undersized heavyweight before dropping into a lower classification as a senior.
In college, he runs three miles before breakfast and then may feast on a bowl of oatmeal. He prefers a chicken breast or steak at lunch with a potato and perhaps chicken again at supper. His favorite fruit is pineapple. He emphasized the importance of portion control.
Like many wrestlers, he avoids soda pop and sweets and he will go light on pasta. If he has bread, it's flatbread.
Back home at the local fitness club, he sets a goal of burning 600 calories in 30 minutes on the elliptical bike.
Here's how Beyer, who wrestled at Morris High School and later at the college in his home town, wrapped up this Sermon on the Mat:
Wrestlers are trying to become thoroughbreds. I don't think you would prepare for the Kentucky Derby by drastically cutting the horse's food intake and fluid before competition. You also would not have a race horse carry an extra 10 to 20 pounds of fat. A wrestler has to be disciplined; it is the nature of our sport. Quality wrestlers don't just think about wrestling the two hours they are in The Room. It is a way of life that others who have not participated do not quite understand."