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3 Ways A Gymnast Can Fuel Up To Reverse The Mid-Season Slump



But, if you're like most of the gymnasts that connect with me at this point in the season, you’re tired, exhausted, motivation is low, and your body is aching and sore.


These are all very common feelings amongst gymnasts this time of year - the mid-season slump - if you will. Burnout is real; you’ve pushed your body to its limits throughout the season and now you’re paying for it. You just can’t wait for the season to wrap up so you can finally get some much needed rest and recovery time (and not have to hear that floor music again). 


Just because so many gymnasts feel this way towards the end of the season, does not mean it has to be a “rite of passage” and that you have to feel that way too.


As a gymnast, I know you're more than likely to power through. You may be thinking you need to do more cardio and conditioning, keep up with physical therapy, reach for the supplement bottles, and go to the chiropractor/massage/cryotherapy/acupuncture etc... routinely to stay healthy.


While these things are important and may be helpful for you, they all have a time and place. None of this (the extra work in the gym, extra invested time and energy going to (and paying for) appointments) will do much to help you recover and stay healthy if you aren’t properly fueling


You may be thinking that there’s no way nutrition can really make or break your performance on the competition floor... But, inadequate nutrition and under fueling are actually very likely culprits for why you can’t seem to get over this mid-season slump! 


But how do my fueling habits really affect my performance? 


Many gymnasts and their families don’t realize how high their energy needs really are, especially compared to peers who may not be training as often or as long. As a result, it's likely that upwards of 75% of high level gymnasts are under fueled by at least 25%. Chronic under fueling can lead the body to fatigue and exhaustion (as well as a decline in mental health) much quicker than someone who is well-fueled, ultimately increasing risk for injury and a longer recovery period. 


Additionally, the increased energy demands that come along with competition season make it even more difficult for a gymnast to be adequately fueled for the long season. So, at this point in the season, if you do not have a personalized fueling strategy, as a gymnast you are likely feeling the effects of burnout and finding yourself on the brink of injuries. While you may be doing just enough to avoid any serious injuries, continued over training combined with under fueling can take its toll on your body, and you will be paying for it sooner or later. Overuse leading to fatigue and exhaustion are signs and symptoms of Low Energy Availability (LEA) and may even develop into RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport). Adequate fueling can prevent many of these issues from occurring in the first place and help you perform your best well into the post season. 





What kinds of foods can I eat to improve my performance and increase energy?


If you're looking to fuel your body that will improve your energy, recovery, and performance, building performance plates will be your new best friend! Performance plates are a great fueling blueprint that will help you visualize what foods you should be eating routinely to give you energy and help decrease your recovery time.




Your other best friend will be eating enough carbohydrates.


Carbohydrates are your body’s main source of energy, so it is important to eat enough, especially during times of intense training and stress on your body like competition season. Without enough carbohydrates you will begin to feel more exhausted and find it difficult to make it through a 4 hour practice multiple days a week. If you are not eating enough carbohydrates it is very difficult to meet your energy needs for the day which leads to under fueling.


Carbohydrates can come in several different forms, but as an individual with high energy needs you will want to focus on consuming more starches and grains like pasta and rice because they are so rich in carbohydrates and can help meet your energy needs quicker than you would by eating foods not as rich in carbohydrates. 


What about recovery? Are there any specific foods I should focus on?


Adequate recovery is often associated with protein consumption


Protein is the main nutrient responsible for building muscle and new cells in the body. To optimize the recovery process, focus on consuming high quality proteins, like seafood, poultry, pork, and beef. There are also plant-based sources of protein like beans, nuts and seeds, and tofu, however these are not metabolized as well by the body as animal based protein is. In order to hit your protein goals for the day, most gymnasts will need to eat between 20-30g of protein at each meal and then 10-15g of protein at 1-3 snacks throughout the day. It will be extremely hard for your body to recover from overuse and prevent potential injuries if you are not eating enough protein throughout the day. 


Antioxidants - the unsung heroes of effective fueling


Antioxidants help fight off inflammation and soreness, helping you recover as quickly as possible from a long practice and allowing you to be at your best the very next day to do it all again. Thinking back on your performance plate you’ll realize there is not a designated section for antioxidants, but don’t worry, that doesn’t mean they aren’t there! Antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables and one of their most important functions is to fight off free radicals in your body- a fancy way of saying inflammation. The general rule of thumb is that the darker the fruit or vegetable is, the more antioxidants it has (think along the lines of blackberries, blueberries, cherries…). The best way to ensure you are consuming enough antioxidants in your diet is to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your performance plate at each meal. Some great ways to sneak in more produce in your diet is to make a fruit smoothie before practice (a great pre-workout option because of the carbohydrates. You can get even more bang for your buck by adding in some greek yogurt for some protein!) and adding spinach, squash, tomatoes or any other favorite veggies to pasta sauce or pasta bakes. Nothing is worse than feeling like you haven’t fully recovered from the previous practice. You are tired, sore and are putting yourself at an increased risk for injury. Often times, inflammation in the body is to blame for these feelings. By ensuring you’re not only eating enough, but also including enough fruits and vegetables (aka sources of antioxidants!) at each snack and meal is critical in fighting off that pesky inflammation! 


What else can I do to help prevent burnout?


There are numerous other habits that go hand in hand with adequate fueling to give you enough energy and help with the recovery process, but none are more crucial than getting enough sleep each night. You’ve probably heard 1000 times how important sleep is, but did you know that while you’re sleeping, that’s when your body is doing many physiological processes and is recovering the most?! It is important to give yourself enough time to fully recover and this starts by allowing yourself to sleep 8-10 hours a night. This may seem difficult with your school and practice schedule, but making sleep a priority can have a major impact on how strong you finish the competition season.


The Bottom Line…


The best ways to reverse the mid-season slump so many gymnasts are experiencing right now is to make sure you are adequately fueled and getting enough sleep! Nutrition and sleep play a much bigger role in athletic performance than you may be giving them credit for. Everyone is so focused on the amount of conditioning and how many repetitions or full routines you are doing at practice, but what you really need to be focused on is how you are fueling and recovering to allow yourself to be as successful as possible during your practices and competitions. 


As a gymnast you are likely willing to do just about anything to gain an edge over your competition and to stay completely healthy throughout the season. Luckily for you, having a personalized and effective fueling strategy can check both of those boxes! Adequate fueling can be a long road, especially if you are coming off an extended period of excessive under fueling. With time and hard work, you will find that by improving your nutrition habits and following your fueling strategy, you will have more energy, feel less fatigued and exhausted, and bypass those pesky injuries that are common towards the end of the season. 


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!




The Fueled Gymnast Academy is the is the simplest way for busy gymnast (and those who feed them) to learn the ins and outs of fueling their body as a high level gymnast so they can


  • 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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