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.
For all my gymnasts, coaches, and fellow judges…meet season is in full swing and it is BUSY with lots of travel for many of us. Nutrition can be easier when you’re at home, with your own kitchen, groceries, etc. But when you’re on the go, what’s the plan? What is your tried and true method of nutrition when traveling with your gymnast?
Are you just “winging it” during a meet weekend, hoping the hotel has an edible breakfast, the venue has some decent concession (rarely), and then going out to dinner “wherever”.
Does your gymnast have major tummy troubles while traveling which can jeopardize their performance? “Nervous stomach” is a real thing, but other tummy issues like constipation, reflux, etc. can usually be prevented with appropriate planning.
I’m not a fan of being militant about meal-prepping every single meal for traveling (though this may be necessary for certain situations). There are food safety issues with this (hello stomach bug from spoiled food) and a lot of times there are plenty of resources in the meet location to procure nourishing foods.
Here are my key strategies for managing your nutrition while on the go:
I love breakfast. Research supports breakfast, especially for young athletes. See my post here. Most hotel breakfasts are better than they used to be. 2-star hotels like Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn usually offer the following:
Hotels that are 3-star and up will often offer all of the above plus a breakfast buffet that has an omelet station, a wider variety of fruits and veggies, and more dairy choices (plain Greek yogurt, smoothies, etc.).
Check out my meal plan subscription that can help you with new, creative ways to build a better breakfast (which can easily be adapted to hotel food selection)
I’m a big believer in making the best of any situation; here are my strategies for handling any breakfast situation:
For traveling, it’s helpful to have some snacks on hand, especially for long gaps during gymnastics meets and minimal healthful options at most meet venues (yellow processed cheese jalapeño nachos aren’t going to leave you feeling very good during competition). Make sure to maintain your normal meal/snack patterns (3 meals per day, 1-2 snacks per day with something every 3-4 hours). It’s easy to mindlessly eat snacks the entire car ride in absence of hunger and throw off the appetite for the rest of the meals.
Check out my top 10 healthy snacks blog here for more ideas!
For parents, do a little scouting ahead of time to see what dining options are in the area. Choose a restaurant that has vegetables available and you’ll probably do well with the rest.
There is NOTHING wrong with enjoying something fried from time to time. But, super heavily fried foods contain a lot of grease that could set you up for some tummy-troubles and that are not ideal the night before a meet. I’m not going to stress if something is “lightly breaded” as it will not retain as much oil as something with a thick batter. Chik-fil-a nuggets with a salad, fruit/yogurt, and a healthier starch (preferably not french-fries) are a fine option when in a pinch.
You hopefully don’t eat fried foods at home on the regular, so why would you do this the night before the big meet? Stick with foods you know, like grilled chicken, lean hamburger, pizza, etc. Restaurants like Qdoba, Chipotle, Chili’s, etc. all offer a good selection of lean protein, veggies, and starches to keep you fueled.
You’ll notice I mention pizza under “adequate carbohydrate”. Yep, we want the muscles to be topped off with muscle glycogen (stored energy), especially if you have an early morning meet and find it difficult to get an adequate breakfast in. Pizza is not inherently bad. You probably know by now I don’t believe any food is bad. Pizza used to be so scary to me as a gymnast because it was always lumped in the “junk food category”. Sure, a quadruple meat lover’s pizza is going to have a lot of extra fat and isn’t the best choice before a practice/meet. But 2-3 slices of cheese, veggie, or leaner meat pizza (chicken, Canadian bacon, fewer pepperoni) is just fine. It has carbohydrates from the crust, protein from the cheese/toppings, and fat from the cheese/toppings, etc. Add a big side salad and that’s a meal (for most; some gymnasts may need to add a glass of milk or fruit to round out the meal or have a snack later).
The “grease” that appears on top of pizza is just a natural separation of the milk fat when the cheese is heated. If your gymnast will eat cheese out of the fridge (which you likely do all the time), it is no different once it’s heated and looks “greasy”. You can try to find a whole-wheat crust, but no worries if it’s not available. Gluten-free crusts are not healthier in any way-shape-or-form, so don’t bother unless your gymnast has a medical reason to go sans-gluten (celiac disease, wheat allergy, etc.). At the end of the day, the carbohydrate will still be used in the muscles and liver regardless of how “nutritious” it is. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Gymnastics is not an endurance sport where you’d want to “carb-load” for days leading up to a meet. Enjoying a normal dinner with at least 30-60g of carbohydrate (depending on the athlete’s gender, age, needs) will help fill muscle/liver stores and leave your gymnast prepared for the work ahead.
Meet day nutrition MATTERS. This is not the time to try new foods pre/intra workout. You want to be able to rely on tried-and-true go-to meals that leave you feeling energized.
If you struggle with knowing exactly when to feed your gymnast based on her competition time, check out my Competition Season Nutrition Toolkit. I’ll teach you what a gymnast should eat before, during, and after a competition (and how to navigate crazy meet times that are between meals).
Travel can often lead to dehydration (hello flying!) and constipation due to lack of consistent meals (less stool “bulk” which helps with regularity). A lot of gymnasts can get “nervous stomach” which is exacerbated when they are unable to go to the bathroom as usual. I know, I know, TMI but I’m a pediatric dietitian with expertise in all things GI and don’t mind talking about poop. Sure, these are “taboo” topics that leave most young gymnasts feeling embarrassed, but there is no reason for tummy troubles to ruin your meet–so let’s talk.
I hope this helps ease the burden of travel nutrition worries and helps you and your gymnast prepare for great success this meet season!
If you have questions or want to learn more, let’s chat! Apply here and we’ll reach out to schedule a free 20 min consult to help answer questions and work together if you need further help.