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.
What are the BEST snacks for your competitive gymnast?
First off, healthy, nourishing snacks are really important for gymnasts. Snacks can help bridge between meals and provide needed energy for long days of training. And, snacks play an important role fueling in and around a workout.
Snacks often get a bad rap because parents of “junk foods” or things with low nutritional. This doesn’t have to be the case. You can easily make high quality, nutritious snacks (that taste good!) with a wide variety of foods.
But, there is a big difference between snacking for hunger and strategically snacking in and around workouts to fuel performance. For gymnasts with big goals and dreams, it’s essential they how to fuel for optimal performance. And, this includes learning what kinds of snacks are needed “when”.
Unfortunately, gymnastics’ parents often make 3 big mistakes with snacks:
Let’s talk about some simple mindset shifts around snacking that can improve your gymnast’s health and performance. And, stay tuned to learn my top 10 snacks for your gymnast.
It’s important to serve a wide variety of foods to your children and teens, including the “fun foods”. “Fun foods” are the often less nutritious, higher in fat/salt/sugar foods and snacks that many feel are “bad” or “fattening”. These are those beloved cookies, maybe some chocolate, or your favorite salty snack like chips, etc.
Now, I’m not saying you serve these to your gymnast all day, every day.
But, it’s really important that your children know how to interact with and enjoy the “fun foods” without going “overboard”. Many gymnast’s issues with food stem from parents who over-restrict foods (including those higher in sugar, carbohydrate, etc). This increases the wanting, liking, and obsession which can be managed in a healthful way.
The reality is that your gymnast needs to know how to handle “all foods”, including yummy snack foods. When parents try to over-restrict the “fun foods”, this deprivation increases wanting and often leads to food sneaking and overeating.
When all foods are morally “neutral”, we can enjoy what we want and not feel the need to FOMO eat (fear of missing out).
Sometimes (most of the time) you can serve nutritious “mini meals” at snack time that include several food groups for energy and staying power (learn more in The Balanced Gymnast Method course). Other times you serve more “fun foods” like warm chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk.
When you step back and look at your gymnast’s nutrition in “averages”, it takes away the pressure for every single meal and snack to be “perfect”.
As children get older, pediatricians and nutritionists often recommend just 3 meals and 1 snack per day. This is often inadequate for the competitive gymnast training 15-30+ hours a week. Most competitive gymnasts need 3 solid meals and at least 2-3 snacks, which is in addition to Performance Nutrition or the pre/intra/post workout nutrition and hydration used to level up performance and energy throughout 4+ hour workouts.
Snacks should be a combination of food groups; carbohydrates like fruit or grains to provide energy, paired with fat or protein for blood glucose stabilization. We want to think of a snack like a “mini meal”, not just grabbing a single item like a packet of fruit snacks, granola bar, or some other quicker digesting carbohydrate that won’t give prolonged energy.
It’s often been said that 6 small meals a day is better than 3 bigger meals as it “increases your metabolism”, but this isn’t true. Multiple studies have shown there is no “metabolic advantage” between 3 vs 6 meals per day.
There is a lot to be said for most of us from a satiety perspective about having a solid meal 3 times a day. In between the meals snacks can be used to bridge hunger and provide energy. But, enjoyed a well-balanced, full meal can help with the psychological side of hunger.
If your gymnast is always wanting snacks between meals, they meals might not be big enough OR the the right combination of foods for staying power (i.e. having fat, protein, and fiber present). Or, another issue we often see is the meal not having some sort of “satisfaction factor” to help with the enjoyment of the meal.
As you can see, there is a lot of misinformation out there in the gymnastics world about snacks. But, snacks can be strategically used in the gymnast’s diet to level up performance and increase longevity in the sport.
To get you started, here are my favorite snacks for gymnasts!
But wait, there’s more! There are some other snacks you should know about, specifically when fueling a competitive gymnast training 10-15+ hours per week.
These are the pre-workout, intraworkout, and post-workout snacks!
The pre-workout snack is different than what one might just grab to satisfy in-between meal hunger or support overall fueling. This snacks needs to be mostly carbohydrate, the gymnast’s fuel, with some fat and/or protein for staying power.
The intraworkout snack isn’t really a snack. We should view intraworkout snacks, necessary for gymnasts training ~4-5+ hours at a time as FUEL. Fueling a workout, specifically intraworkout or during the workout is based on the intensity and duration of training.
A recreational gymnast training 2-3 hours likely does not need a snack during practice; a well-balanced meal or snack prior to their workout is sufficient. But, a high level optional or elite gymnast training 4-5+ hours at a time will very likely benefit from intraworkout carbohydrate to sustain energy levels and thus work output, delay fatigue, and improve focus/concentration.
Gymnastics is a high-intensity, anaerobic sport and thus “runs on carbohydrates”. The more intense an exercise is, the more the body relies on carbohydrate as the main fuel source. Examples of intraworkout snacks for gymnasts include:
Does every gymnast need a sports drink during practice? No. But, a typical sports drink or 6-8% carbohydrate solution contains about 20g carbohydrate per 12 oz and can strategically be used as a quick source of carbohydrate during a long, intense workout. This can especially be helpful if the gym doesn’t allow snacks in the gym.
The post-workout snack can be used to enhance repair and recovery for a competitive gymnast. It can also be used to help support their overall fueling, especially as gymnasts training 4-5+ hours per day are burning hundreds of calories per hour.
Natures “recovery beverage” is known in the sports world as chocolate milk because it has the right combination of fluid, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein to support muscle recovery and glycogen store repletion.
Some sort of carbohydrate plus protein combo post-workout can help jumpstart the repair and recovery process, perfect for a long car ride on the way home to gym. This can also support the post-workout “hangry” (hunger + anger) which is seen in young athletes who haven’t eaten enough prior to the workout or ran out of energy during a long, 4+ hour workout.
If you know that your gymnast needs more help with her nutrition and fueling, join The Balanced Gymnast® Program our signature 3 month live program for parents of competitive gymnasts. Inside the program you learn how to fuel your gymnast day in, day out; how to bulid meals and snacks that she’ll actually eat; get support with with picky eating, and so much more!