I’m pretty sure I can assume that many of you have felt like you have tried everything to help your gymnast in terms of nutrition. You have been to seminars, read the books, listened to the podcasts, etc. and still nothing is working. You may have even taken your daughter to a dietician. Maybe it was not a good experience or maybe their nutrition changes were too unrealistic, but for whatever reason that did not work either. The thing with many of these strict diets given by many dietitians is that they work until they don’t. Once they hit their point of decline, your gymnast will go back to square one and sometimes even farther back than that.  

So, the question is how do you know when your gymnast’s nutrition is not working? Here are 8 signs that are key in signaling that the nutrition plan she is following is not doing its job correctly.  

1. Your Gymnast Is Tired All Of The Time

Yes, gymnastics is a grueling sport that requires a lot of energy expenditure; however, it is not normal for your gymnast to be sleeping 9 hours a night, taking multi-hour naps on the weekend, and just feeling dead all of the time. This could be a red flag that her nutrition is not providing her with the adequate energy she needs to function on a day to day basis.  

2. Back And Forth Between The Extremes

If you notice your gymnast eating extremely healthy, then going all in on the fun foods, and then over exercising the next day, there is a very high chance her nutrition is not working. You are watching her fall into the restrict-binge- purge cycle, which will be detrimental to her health in the long run. As an adult who may have tried her own fair share of diets, you know that what your gymnast is doing is not a lasting fix and will not carry her through a healthy gymnastics career.  

3. Cutting Carbs?

Maybe your gymnast has decided to start cutting out specific food groups. Since carbs often have such a bad reputation, these are often the first to go. Although people think they cause weight gain and inflammation, they are actually your gymnast’s number one source of fuel during her 4-5 hours practices. So, if you begin to observe her showing signs of fear around eating them at meals and snack, it is a tell-tale sign that something is off and her nutrition needs to be reevaluated. 

4. Moody Around Food

It is super common for gymnastics to show signs of being extremely anxious and/or defensive when she does not know what is in a meal or you go out to eat. This a lot of time comes up around meet season during travel meets. You may notice your gymnast looking almost paralyzed while staring at the menu and always being the last one who knows what she wants to eat. Her behaviors point to the idea that she is having swirling intrusive thoughts about food, most of which are probably based on some sort of diet culture myth.  

5. Picky Eaters

Some of you may have a gymnast who, no matter how hard you try, will not even try fruits, vegetables, and/or whole grains. Regardless of how much you threaten or force, she will not listen and refuse all of those foods. The gymnastics mindset is often “if you care enough, you will do whatever it takes to be great”but let’s be real here. This mindset is normally not productive at all in forcing gymnasts to eat the foods their coaches/parents want. This is often a sign that there are some deeply rooted beliefs about specific foods that need to be addressed.  

6. Small Portions

If you watch you gymnast take bird-like portions, skip meals or snacks, and/or only drink water at practice, this is the first sign that something may be going on. On top of that, if you notice you live in the doctor’s and physical therapist’s office because something is always injured, this is an even more clear indicator that her nutrition is inadequate.  Although injuries are a part of the sport, your gymnast should not be injured or in excruciating pain 24/7. 

7. No Period

When your gymnast has not gotten her period by the age of 15, it is a big red flag. A lot of times parents and coaches think it is normal for their gymnast not to get her period until she is 16,17,18, or after she is retired from the sport, but I’m here to tell you that it is not. There are serious consequences from not getting a menstrual cycle by a specific age such as bone density loss, more injuries, and poor muscle recovery. Hence, if your daughter is experiencing this it is time to take a step back and look at her overall nutrition.  

8.Sneaking Food

If random wrappers start appearing in hidden places of your gymnast’s space, it is a clear indicator that something is going on. Often times the wrappers you may find are foods that you do not allow her to eat. This often stems from them being under fueled and/or being over restricted. Restriction leads to deprivation which leads to overeating. This concept is shown when your gymnast sneaks food because she knows you don’t have it in your house, so now all she craves is that one food. She feels the need to sneak it behind your back, which is the red flag that there is no open line of communication between your and your daughter. Instead of berating her, it is a chance for you to ask her what she needs from you and how you can be of better support to her in terms of the at home food environment  

As a parent, you have so much more wisdom and knowledge than your gymnast does. Due to this, you often can see the “perfect” path for her dream and exactly what she can do to achieve them. Being that nutrition is something you have a lot of control over, it is often where parents cling to. They feed their gymnasts the healthiest foods and come up with a bullet proof plan to help them get where they want to be, but sometimes no matter how “perfect” the plan may seem it may still not be working. If your gymnast starts showing any of these 8 signs, it is clear that the plan is not working and it is time to take a deeper dive into what is creating the disconnect.  

What To Do Next?

You may be thinking “well this is not working for my daughter, but I have no clue how to fix it”. The first thing that is important to look into is the roles around food in your household. As a parent your job is to provide the “what”. This means you provide and prepare the food. Your gymnast’s job is different. Their role in the kitchen is to decide on the “how much”.   

Yes, I did just say to let them decide how much they want/need to eat.  

It is important for your gymnast to develop autonomy or body trust, which she will gain by deciding on her own portions. Especially if your gymnast is struggling with binging and sneaking food, it is essential to let them create that trust between their brain and their body. They need to be able to trust that if they are still hungry they can get seconds or thirds because that is what their body needs. It will calm their cravings to binge and sneak food as they are not being restricted and therefore not feeling as much deprivation from the foods they enjoy.  

The fact of the matter is that your gymnast needs much more fuel than you probably think. Unless you have a 17-year-old son who plays football, she likely needs to intake more food than anyone else in the family. This concept may sound super backwards because society portrays gymnastics as a sport where the gymnasts eat bird-like portions. However, in reality, they actually need a massive amount of fuel to allow them to do all of the skills they do.  

Let’s face it. The big elephant in the room here is that parents and coaches are concerned with their athlete’s weight and shape if they increase their food intake. They have this image in their heads that if they let them have full reign over their portions and if they keep fun foods in their house, then their gymnast is going to gain a ton of weight.  

You may also think you have evidence of this idea being true. You may have bought cookies and ice cream and just like you thought, they were gone by the end of the night. This scenario is not a valid evidence because in order to change your athlete’s behaviors you have to continue to serve these foods in the home. Just like your daughter does not learn her series on beam in one try, she is not going to learn how to gain a food secure mentality in the one time you buy ice cream. It is super important to keep these fun foods along with all of the nutrient dense food in the home because as much as you need to meet her physiological needs, you also have to meet her emotional needs. Honoring the emotional side and not shaming her when she decides to eat a fun food, will keep her farther away from the binge-restrict cycle and from developing an eating disorder. 

Summary

 8 signs that your gymnast’s nutrition is not working

  • Your gymnast is tired all of the time 
  • Back and forth between extremes 
  • Cut the carbs 
  • Moody around food 
  • Picky eaters 
  • Small portions 
  • No period 
  • Sneaking food 
 

Roles Around Food

  • Parents have the “what” role: they provide and prepare the food 
  • Gymnasts have the “how much” role: they get to decide the amount that they eat
  • Letting your gymnast make her own portions will set her up to have trust with her own body of what it needs to hit satiety.  
 Weight Gain 
  • Your gymnast needs so much more fuel than you probably think. 
  • Coaches and parents are often concerned that with increased food intake, their gymnast will gain a bunch of weight. 
 
 Food Security
  • In order to build the mindset of food security, you must keep fun foods in the house at all times. This will allow the gymnast to trust that they can have that food the next day and it will decrease their desire to binge.  
  • It is just as important to honor your gymnast’s emotional food needs as it is their physiological needs.