Article by: Jane Pokou
“What should my gymnast eat?” This is a question that most parents ask themselves.
As much as we want our gymnasts to succeed in their sport, it is important to remember that a gymnast exercises much longer than a non-gymnast, so their nutritional needs are different. The demands that gymnastics puts on a gymnast’s body is beyond any other sport out there. Without proper nutrition, gymnasts are more prone to injuries, suffer from frequent stress fractures, have decreased performance, feel lethargic and could potentially develop hormonal imbalances.
Nutrition can be a challenge for both parents and gymnasts especially if your gymnast resembles ‘Little Paisley’ the picky eater, ‘Jimmy’ the junk eater, or, ‘Suzy’ who seldom eats at all. Perhaps nutrition has never been an issue and you may find you only need some new healthy snack ideas. Although there is no hard and fast rule, here is a general caloric intake breakdown of what a gymnast can aim for on a daily basis and includes only the basics of proper nutrition. As gymnasts train more, or go through periods of growth, gymnasts may need to tweak this guideline to fit their changing needs.
1. Carbohydrates 60-70%
· Since gymnastics is primarily an anaerobic sport, gymnasts need the majority of their calories to come from carbohydrates to help fuel their body.
· Carbohydrates are the most readily available for the exercising muscle and energy is mostly derived from carbohydrates.
Fruits, Vegetables & Legumes
|Healthy Options||Corn, carrots, sweet potatoes, beans, chickpeas, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, peppers, apples, pears, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, oranges, grapes, peaches, plums||Whole grain pastas, bread, brown rice, oatmeal, barley, buckwheat, millet, bulgar|
(little nutritional value)
|Potatoes, French Fries, white rice, white bread, pastries, refined or enriched grains|
2. Protein 10-20%
· Gymnasts need protein to help their muscles recover and repair.
· Protein is important because it helps the gymnast’s muscles repair the microscopic tears that occur during practice. It is the repairing of these tears that causes muscles to grow and protein is a vital component in this process.
· Since proteins get absorbed by the body in smaller amounts, it is important to include it in every snack and meal instead of packing it into only one meal like dinner.
· The exact amount of protein has yet to be scientifically determined, however, researchers agree that young gymnasts need 1.0-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body fat per day.
Types of Protein
|Animal Protein||Lamb, pork, beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs|
|Plant Protein||Peanuts, tree nuts, chickpeas, quinoa, lentils, chia seeds, tofu, edamame|
3. Fat 25-35%
· Young athletes rely more on fat sources than adults do, especially for gymnasts.
· Fat surrounds the nerve cells, insulates organs and is vital for proper functioning.
· It is common for gymnasts to avoid fat for fear of gaining weight, however, their bodies need fat to survive and function at optimal levels.
· Omega 3s and 6s are the best sources of fat rather than fried foods and saturated fats.
|Healthy Options||Nuts, nut butters, avocados, tuna, salmon, coconut oil, avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil, olives, chia seeds|
|Unhealthy Options||Fried foods, donuts, packaged and processed foods, fatty meats such as bacon, sausage, pepperoni, salami|
HEALTHY EATING SCHEDULE
A healthy eating schedule is equally important for gymnasts in order to maintain energy. Here is an example of how many times a gymnast might need to eat in one day:
- Mid-morning snack
- Pre-workout snack
- Mid-workout snack
It’s important that gymnasts eat prior to their workout and have a mid-workout snack to keep up their energy.
HOW MUCH WATER SHOULD A GYMNAST DRINK?
The average person needs to drink about half their body weight in order to stay hydrated. If you weigh 100 pounds you would need 6 glasses of water. Gymnasts of different weights and sizes have varying hydration needs. Depending on how much they sweat and how hard they work out, their water intake will be different from day to day. A gymnast should carry a water bottle with them and sip water throughout the day. Gatorade and other electrolyte sport drinks are a source of hydration, but the dyes in them can cause more harm than good. All juices, even 100% fruit juice should be avoided as they are made up primarily of sugar.
HEALTHY SNACKS FOR GYMNASTS
It is important that your gymnast eats every few hours whether they are at home or at practice. Snacks should be between 100-300 calories and should include carbohydrates, protein and some fat. Here is a list of some healthy snacks for gymnasts:
- An apple/banana/celery sticks with nut butter
- Pita chips/baby carrots/peppers with hummus
- Whole grain English muffin with nut butter and a drizzle of honey
- Avocado toast
- Cold pasta salad with veggies and a drizzle of oil
- Hard boiled egg or tuna with a whole grain English muffin
- Smoothie made with frozen fruit, avocado and water
- Turkey and avocado roll up with whole wheat crackers
- Wraps with hummus and sliced cucumbers
- A protein bar
It is important to maintain a balanced diet, however, there is always room for ‘treats’ from time to time. Ultimately, a healthy body is essential for a gymnast’s growth and performance. So whether in the gym, or at home, what you put into your body is what you get out of it.
* Much of the information shared here is from:
NUTRITION FOR GYMNASTS