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3 Reasons A Gymnast Is Likely Unintentionally Under Fueling Right Now

For most gymnasts, spring time usually means just trying your best to keep up with everything going on in life. Between midterms, finals, and major school projects, extracurricular activities, and of course gymnastics practice to prepare for States and Regionals, it can feel like you have a million things going on and there just isn't enough time in the day to get it all done.


Unfortunately, for so many gymnasts and their families this time of year, performance plates and proper fueling often fall by the wayside. As a former gymnast and registered dietitian for gymnasts, I get it. Feeling overwhelmed is totally understandable and expected at this time of year. But, did you know that throughout this time of year, it is extremely easy to unintentionally underfuel?! 


Under fueling is extremely common in gymnasts because very few understand what it actually means to adequately and appropriately fuel for a high intensity sport like gymnastics, where a young and growing athlete spends 15, 20, 30+ hours a week in the gym. Want to better understand why you may be unintentionally under fueling and how to correct it? In this blog, I'm sharing 3 reasons why a gymnast is likely under fueled right now and more and how to get back on track to have more energy and perform better for the end of the competition season.


3 Reasons A Gymnast Is Likely Unintentionally Under Fueling Right Now





1. Busy Schedules


No matter how hard you try to plan ahead and keep your schedule clear, spring time is inevitably busy. The combination of 8 hour school days (and work days for parents), 3-5 hours a night in the gym, extra curricular activities, family obligations, and trying to get enough sleep - there's never enough hours in the day it seem! And unless you're being intentionally strategic about it, it often feels like you're left with essentially no time to dedicate to anything else (like eating meals and snacks, cooking, and grocery shopping). BUT, if being busy means meals are skipped or skimped on, it's likely that a gymnast will come up short with their nutrition and end up under fueled.


Even if your schedule is not any different than it has been from the past few months, you likely are putting increased stress on your body from things like extra gym sessions and private lessons to perfect your routines or even just the internal stress of school or worrying about how you will perform at your upcoming meets. Yes, even just sitting idly and worrying can increase your energy needs, and if you aren’t eating enough to begin with, you’re unintentionally under fueling. 


2. Increased Recovery Needed


Injuries, from the bumps and bruises, to nagging aches and pains, and the season ending breaks and tears, are all too common during competition season. Hopefully you did not suffer an injury this year, but if you did or have been increasingly sore and not feeling 100%, your body likely has increased energy demands as a result, meaning you need more energy and nutrients to recover compared to any other time of year.


Oftentimes, even the “silly” injuries or bumps and bruises happen because you’re under fueled to begin with. These fluke things can happen because you’re lacking cognitive awareness/ clarity (not thinking straight!) and don’t have as much energy in practice so you are training skills with poor form or little to no power. Both your mental clarity and power/form can increase your chances of suffering an injury if they are not at 100%. 


If you are recovering from an injury, you still have fairly high energy needs despite not practicing as much. Just because you aren't as active as you were pre-injury, doesn’t mean your body doesn’t require nutrition in the form of performance plates in order to recover as quickly as possible. With common injuries like a bone fracture or muscle tear, your body needs more protein than it did before your injury to help repair that damage. Again, you were likely under fueling to begin with, so this is NOT the time to try and cut back!


3. Energy Demands Have Built Throughout The Season 


Gymnastics training during competition season is intense. Practice hours may be increased and during your time in the gym, a gymnast is doing more high-level skills, more hard landings, more reps, and more full routines than any other time of the year. Additionally, with competitions every few weekends, a gymnast also has fewer days off and less recovery time.


That extra work in the gym may help clean up your routines, but they don’t come without a cost, and that cost is in the form of increased energy demands! Did you know that a gymnast training 15-20+ hours a week is going to require about 2500-3,000+ calories a day to stay properly fueled (and even more for older, higher level athletes, and those training more hours)?! The reality is, that is A LOT of food (and probably quite a bit more than most expect)! If you are consistently not meeting this energy goal, you are unintentionally underfueling. And during a long competition season, if you're not closing the recovery gap day in and day out, the deficit will only build, leaving you exhausted, sore, injured, burnt out, and not competing your best this post-season.




So what now…


There’s no need to panic about this higher energy requirement. You can easily reach that goal by taking a look at your daily schedule to identify any fueling gaps. Most gymnasts should try incorporating 3-4 meals and 2-3 snacks throughout the day, while “beefing up” their performance plates by including more carbohydrates, protein, and fats at most meals and snacks. A great place to start “beefing up” your plate is at breakfast! Instead of just grabbing cereal and fruit, try adding a cup of yogurt or cottage cheese for extra protein, as well as a bagel sandwich with eggs and deli meat or some avocado toast.


And if you're struggling with busy schedules, don't feel like you have to do too much! Look to implement meal shortcuts (like microwaveable grains, frozen vegetables, and even pre-cooked proteins), use your kitchen gadgets (like air fryers, instapots, and slow cookers), and batch cook items (like chicken) that can be used in meals throughout the week.


While no gymnast is intentionally trying to sabotage their performance, increase risk for injury or make recovery more difficult, but these are the unfortunate impacts of under fueling, even if it is happening unintentionally. With a few weeks left in the competition season, there's still time to get your fueling plan and sleep schedule back on track to set yourself up for success for the end of the competition season! It’s not too late to learn new habits, and by implementing these changes now (like eating a bigger breakfast and more snacks throughout the day), you will start to notice an increase in energy, concentration, and recovery. You’ll not only feel better and more prepared going into States and Regionals, but you will also be able to start summer workouts and upgrade season on the right foot! 


When you skip meals, avoid foods, and don't make performance fueling a priority, you can't expect your body to be at its best come competition time. It's not just about giving 100% when you're in the gym, but also making what you do outside of the gym a priority. It's not too late to get your nutrition sorted out and see major improvements this season!






  • have more energy, reduce the risk of injury, and perform their best

AND

  • feel confident and empowered to make their own food choices (and not just have someone tell them what they have to eat)





Fueling your body doesn't have to be a guessing game. And you don't have to figure it out on your own.

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Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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