Learn to fuel the gymnast for optimal performance and longevity in the sport.
Learn how to fuel your gymnast so that you can avoid the top 3 major nutrition mistakes that keep most gymnasts stuck, struggling, and injured.
It’s competition season, friends. Your gymnast has been working so hard in the gym, day in day out, to perfect her skills and routines for the big event. Hopefully, she has a consistent Performance Nutrition Strategy that will enhance performance and recovery. It may seem like she’s doing amazing with her nutrition…
But then, competition day arrives, and her nutrition success goes out the window.
She’s too nervous to eat, you’re out of town and don’t have familiar foods. Or her meet is scheduled at a random time during the day so you’re not sure how to time meals and snacks.
You can guess what happens next. She’s shaky during warm-up, complains of feeling light-headed and slow. Her performance is not what you know she’s capable of. It’s almost like you’re watching your normally strong, powerful gymnast in slow motion.
Learn about the 4 biggest mistakes gymnasts make with their nutrition on competition day.
It’s a big misconception that gymnasts don’t need much nutrition on competition day since they’re barely performing for more than 8 minutes on all four events.
What parents and coaches need to consider is the intensity and duration of the warmup process. Which is very different from compulsory through optional/elite/NCAA gymnasts.
High-level gymnast warmups are very different than lower levels. The lower-level gymnast (compulsory, lower optional) would be fine with a pre-meet meal/snack and a little something during the meet.
High-level gymnasts have a lot more exercise expenditure involved with the process of warming up. Consider open stretch, timed warm-up, re-warm-up, touch warm-up, etc. And as you all know, meet sessions can often go quite a while. Additionally, they tend to be at awkward times that make meal planning a challenge.
A Competition Nutrition Strategy is a proven step-by-step plan that you and your gymnast should have that guides your meal/snack choices and timing during a competition weekend. This takes the guesswork out of “what, where, and when” to eat, and ensures your gymnast is optimally fueled for elite performance.
The gut is called the “second brain” due to the enteric nervous system that is connected throughout the stomach and intestines from the brain.
“Nervous stomach” is a real thing and can temporarily cause symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Which are similar to those found in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. For some gymnasts, they can still eat when this occurs, perhaps with slight modifications. But for other gymnasts, this is so serious that not only can they not “stomach” food or fluid they may also vomit or experience diarrhea.
I know that is graphic, but these GI challenges can cause your gymnast to go into that meet under fueled and underhydrated. If not dehydrated. The issue is we know under fueling and underhydration/dehydrated causes impaired performance, endurance, concentration, and increased “perceived exertion” and fatigue.
If your gymnast’s pre-meet nerves or anxiety can cause her to feel nauseous or even experience diarrhea or vomiting, it’s time to address nutrition and the sports psychology side of things. There are many tools a great therapist or sports performance coach can help your athlete with. They can help your athlete channel their nervous energy and allow them to eat what they need to for optimal performance.
If your gymnast loses her appetite due to nerves before a meet, it’s best to stick with foods that are easily digested Not high in fiber, or super saturated in sugars as you don’t want to exacerbate the gastrointestinal sensitivity. You may need to use a liquid carbohydrate or meal replacement as this will empty from the stomach faster. In turn, giving her a better chance of not losing her nutrition. Part of helping with the pre-competition nerves is using your proven Performance Nutrition Strategy which is then implemented the day of a meet as well.
For travel meets, it’s easy to get off a schedule, especially in the GI department. It’s important to stick with a consistent meal/snack/fluid schedule to help with bowel regularity which can for sure throw off an athlete’s performance if not in check.
Dehydration and underhydration are also often overlooked consequences of traveling. Flying in an airplane is inherently dehydrating due to differences in humidity and in-cabin pressure. You need to pay particular attention to fluid intake even for car rides as well.
Secondly, try to scout out the food situation before you travel. I am not saying you need to meal prep every single meal/snack and live out of a cooler. But don’t get caught with the only available food establishment not having a single vegetable or non-fried carbohydrate or protein option.
Your gymnast doesn’t need to “carb load” before a meet. But she does need to ensure she’s adequately fueling (using the Performance Plates) throughout the days leading up to a meet. She definitely needs adequate carbohydrate the days prior, to make sure that glycogen stores are optimally filled. There are some weird nutrition myths in the gymnastics world about what gymnasts should eat pre-meet. They generally involve a whole lot of protein and no carbs which are the opposite that we want for proper fueling.
It’s easy to skip some meals and snacks when traveling, so do pack some snacks for the car ride or plane ride in case you get in a bind.
I can assure you that most gymnasts will not compete well on a big plate of spicy cheddar cheese jalapeño nachos or a corndog from the concession stand. From a nutrition perspective, that’s too much fat and not enough carbohydrate for optimal fueling.
Try to avoid super greasy, salty foods like fried foods as this can delay digestion and leave your gymnast feeling “off”. Do your best to stick to normal foods that your gymnast feels good with and she’ll be just fine. Wait to try the latest food craze until after the meet is over. Not because any one food is “bad” or will “ruin your performance”. More so because it’s not smart to try something new with the chance it could leave your gymnast not feeling her best.
Don’t let nerves or lack of familiar foods throw of your gymnast’s competition day performance.
If your gymnast has a nervous stomach, starch practicing now. You can “train the gut” and get them more used to tolerating nutrition, which they should already be able to do with their Performance Nutrition Strategy.
Do a little pre-planning while traveling. I’m not saying you have to meal prep and live out of a cooler all weekend. I believe you can make choices that work for you with whatever, whenever, and wherever. Find some restaurants that have grilled protein options, some color available that is not fried (fruits/veggie), and some solid starches like rice, pasta, potatoes to help your athlete fuel and feel her best. Bring your gymnast’s snacks that she uses at the gym that she knows she feels good with. Perhaps bring some additions for meals/snacks that you know will be more difficult to find all at one place.
Pay attention to meal/snack timing, don’t deviate. Pay attention to hydration and adequate fueling leading up to the meet (adequate carbohydrates, etc). If your gymnast is at a training camp or a meet with multiple sessions, keep in mind that you need to pack some extra snacks, etc.
To help your gymnast properly prepare her meet-day nutrition, we have plenty of more resources for you. Check out this blog for the ultimate guide to competition season nutrition. If you need more, this 1-hour workshop will teach you everything you need to know about traveling, eating out, packing the right snacks, and keeping your gymnast fueled to perform their best all competition long! We break down this workshop into five quick sections, about 10-15 minutes each.
If you want to learn more about how to fuel your gymnast for competition season (and year round), check out The Balanced Gymnast® Program, our signature nutrition coaching program for female level 5-10/elite artistic gymnasts and their parents. Inside this 3 month live program, I’ll teach you everything you need to know about fueling your competitive gymnast.