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.
Does your gymnast know how to use nutrition to fuel their workouts?
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to fueling a competitive gymnast. Some will say that gymnastics isn’t “intense enough” to warrant the use of pre/intra workout nutrition to help optimize performance, power, and focus. While there are big differences in terms of nutrition needs between a 1 hour recreational gymnastics class and a 3.5-4+ hour competitive gymnastics practice, evidence-based sports nutrition principles apply and can be utilized.
Gymnastics is arguably one of the most difficult sports. And yet, it is behind the times in the application of evidence-based sports nutrition practices. Mostly due to a checkered history of trying to keep gymnasts “small” through restriction and disordered nutrition and weight control methods.
There is still a lot of old dogma and misinformation in the sport regarding performance nutrition. Often, gymnasts are told they “don’t need anything but water” during long, intense 3.5-4+ hour workouts. This is not physiologically true. Can most gymnasts “make it” through long workouts with just water? Sure. But, this doesn’t make it optimal and can keep a gymnast underfueled, and underhydrated, and ultimately impair performance and recovery.
Competitive gymnasts who have big goals and dreams will not reach their full potential if they ignore the power of performance nutrition to fuel long, intense workouts.
What is performance nutrition? This is very different than just “eating healthy”. Performance Nutrition is the specific use of sports nutrition principles to help athletes perform better, last longer, and recover more efficiently. Every athlete trains, competes, etc., but those who unlock the power of performance nutrition in and around workouts can gain a competitive advantage.
Gymnasts need to be able to “fuel for the work required”. In other words, they need to match their nutrition intake to the intensity, duration of trainings and support their ongoing growth, development, and recovery needs. This is especially crucial for growing, young high level adolescent gymnasts who are at extremely high risk of underfueling-related injury and setback.
Going into a gymnastics workout underfueled is one of the surest ways to decrease performance and miss out on valuable strength and skill adaptation. The whole purpose of training in gymnastics is to provide a stimulus that tells the body to build back stronger. Without proper nutrition, this adaptation cannot happen to its fullest potential.
Gymnasts who neglect performance nutrition in and around workouts may show any of the following symptoms:
Younger gymnasts who train 3.5-4+ hours a day will often miss the signs that they need additional nutrition during a workout and end up “hangry” after practice. Some may even struggle with focusing, following directions, or have a “bad attitude”. All of which could just be signs their brains need additional fuel, specifically glucose from carbohydrates.
Learning to unlock the power of performance nutrition is one of the most advantageous things a competitive gymnast can do to enhance their training and recovery.
Gymnasts who learn to properly fuel their 3.5-4+ hour workouts may experience the following improvements:
Most gymnasts do not understand the differences between “fueling” versus “snacking”. If gymnasts are allowed to eat during a 3.5-4+ hour workout, most will only consume small amounts of food if they “get hungry”. Applying sports nutrition principles to enhance workouts and recovery is not subject to hunger. “Fueling” a workout is about knowing how long it is and strategically planning what kind of fuel is required and when. Which happens before and during the workout to enhance performance, decrease fatigue, and accelerate recovery.
Additionally, gymnasts must use the right source of nutrition to fuel a workout. This is based on timing, digestion, and the intensity/duration of the workouts. Gymnasts who train 3.5-4+ hours per day will need carbohydrate intraworkout to help sustain focus and work output. Eating protein or fat during these kinds of workouts won’t digest fast enough to provide the energy needed.
Gymnasts need to consume adequate amounts of overall nutrition including protein, carbohydrate, and fat post-workout to optimize the repair/recovery process which leads to training adaptations or the “getting better, strong, faster”.
As a result of not eating enough prior to the workout, it’s common for high level gymnasts to be starving post-workout. Or, they aren’t hungry at all due to the appetite-suppressing effects of high intensity exercise and increases in core body temperature.
It’s necessary for gymnasts and their parents to use their nutrition knowledge to prepare appropriate post-workout meals and snacks that provide the necessary building blocks to support repair, recovery, and adaptation to training. In addition to providing sufficient calories and macronutrients to support his process, certain nutrients, phytonutrients, and supplements could strategically be used to decrease soreness and support ongoing recovery.
If you want to learn more about how to fuel your gymnast in and around their workouts, 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. Not just in and around workouts but in the day to day through proven strategies that are realistic and sustainable.