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3 Ways Nutrition Will Help You Reach Your Gymnastics Goals This Off Season

Competition season is finally over! Whether you want to admit it or not, I know you're at least a little bit excited!


So many long practice days…


So much travel to and from competitions…


So little sleep and time for a full recovery… 


During competition season, you have been so focused on preparing for competition (and fueling your body for that). I know you're ready for a break from all of stress and hard work.


But, fueling your body does not stop being important after competition season


The off-season is a valuable time for gymnasts to focus on recovery, strength building, and learning new skills.


As a registered dietitian specializing in working with gymnasts, I understand the critical role nutrition plays in your performance, recovery, and overall health. By optimizing your nutrition during this time, you can set yourself up for success this summer and for the upcoming season.



Nutrition Keys For The Off Season


1. Enough Energy, Always

For most gymnasts, "off season" does not necessarily mean a decrease in training. After a short break, most athletes are training just as many hours each week (if not more) compared to in-season. Additionally, off-season practices may move at a faster pace with more turns, drills, and side stations, and usually include increased strength training and cardio. As a result, most gymnasts do not see a decrease in energy needs in the off season.


Follow A Performance Plate

A Performance Plate is a more intuitive way to visualize your meals to help ensure you get enough energy and nutrients to support your training.


By taking a more intuitive approach to fueling, gymnasts are able to be successful and fuel their performance without:

  • Going on a "diet"

  • Restriction

  • Cutting out your favorite foods

  • Feeling hungry all the time


Most often, a competitive gymnast should model their plate after the Moderate Intensity Training Plate.


A moderate intensity plate is built with approximately:

  • 1/3 grains and starches for energy

  • 1/3 protein for muscle building and recovery

  • 1/3 fruits and vegetables for micronutrients

  • 1-2 servings of fat for energy, fullness, and recovery






When the time spent in the gym or intensity of workouts increases, so does the amount of energy the body needs to stay fueled. To help keep up with these workouts, the body will require more carbohydrate, which you can get most easily through an increased amount of grains and starches. A gymnast can keep up with this by following a high intensity plate.










Follow A Fueling Schedule

Following a fueling scheduling where you eat a meal or snack every 2-3 hours is another important way to ensure the body gets enough energy and nutrients, consistently throughout the day.


A gymnast training in the afternoon will likely eat

  • Breakfast

  • Snack At school

  • Lunch

  • Pre-workout meal or snack

  • Mid-practice snacks

  • Dinner after practice


A gymnast training earlier in the day will likely eat

  • Breakfast before practice

  • Mid practice snacks

  • Lunch after practice

  • An afternoon snack

  • Dinner


2. Balance

After a long, intense competition season, it is normal for a gymnast to want to relax and let loose, both with their training and their eating habits.


With the end of the school year and summer comes lots of parties, celebrations, travel, and vacations. Its times like these where many gymnasts struggle with an all-or-nothing mindset (where they feel like they HAVE to either eat completely "healthy" or eat anything and everything you want but feel out of control).


In my experience as a registered dietitian for gymnasts, neither of these mindsets around food and eating end well. When a gymnast is too restrictive over food, they will likely end up under fueling (even if taking a rest from training), risking their health, recovery, and mental health. Eating without respecting one's body's signals often also results in fatigue, increased soreness, and poor mood.


What works for many gymnasts that have a positive and healthy relationship with all foods this time of year is to find a middle ground, where you can incorporate both nutrient dense foods and fun foods on your plate. While not every day will look "balanced", and some days will have more vegetables and some days will have more dessert, balance is achieved over days, weeks, and months.



3. Fuel Your Specific Goals


Recover From Injuries (and reduce the risk of new ones)

If your goal this off season is to recover your body and finally break through the cycle of injuries, incorporating a variety of foods with Omega-3 fats, Vitamins A and C, zinc, anythocyanins, calcium, and Vitamin D can help.


Vitamin A

Vitamin A plays an important role in the growth of new cells, which is necessary for recovery. Try including 3 servings (>600mcg/day) of foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, mango, tomato each day to help you reach the daily recommended amount.


Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps build and maintain collagen tissue, which is a component of tendons and ligaments. Try including 3 servings (>45 mcg/day) foods like oranges, grapefruits and limes, also bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi and broccoli, and consider having one of these servings in your pre-workout meal along with a collagen-rich protein source.


Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins, the blue/purple pigment found in many fruits and vegetabels have been shown to be both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, giving them an important role in recovery. Try including 1 or 2 servings of a blue or purple fruit or vegetable, like cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, beets, purple cabbage, acai (as well as their juices) daily, and consider incorporating one of these foods after your workout or before bed to help maximize recovery and improve sleep.


Zinc

Zinc plays a role in healing as well as building cells and muscle tissues. Try including 3-4 servings (>8 mg/day) of foods that contain zinc into your diet such as beef, pork, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, whole grains, peas, legumes.


Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3s are an important nutrient that promotes recovery and helps reduce inflammation after a tough workout. Try incorporating 2 servings of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines each week and include 1-2 servings of foods like walnuts, avocado, and flax seeds daily to help you to get more omega-3s into your diet.


Calcium

Calcium is required for bone growth, development, and maintenance, can help keep your bones strong, as well as supply the building blocks to repair any damage. Try to include 3-4 servings of calcium from foods ( >1000mg/day) like dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, leafy green vegetables (like broccoli, spinach, kale), tofu and soy, chia seeds and fortified foods (like OJ, or some plant based milks).


Vitamin D

Vitamin D is also very important for strong bones and muscles. This is because without enough Vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium. We actually make most of the Vitamin D we need through our skin when we spend time in the sun. However, you might be at risk for vitamin D deficiency for many different reasons such as: the time of year (winter), not spending enough time in the sun (like if you spend the majority of your day inside for practice or school), not being exposed to direct enough sunlight (because of umbrellas, windows, clothes, or even sunscreen).


Vitamin D is also found in some foods, including oily fish like salmon and trout, and fortified foods like some cereals, milks, and orange juice. Some mushrooms are treated with UV light and will also contain vitamin D (so read your labels!).


Most gymnasts should get their vitamin D levels screened once or twice per year and discuss possible supplementation with their doctor if it is found they are deficient.


Build Strength, Endurance, and Learn New Skills

If your goal this off season is to build strength and endurance, and translate that into upgraded skills, incorporating a variety of foods rich in carbohydrates, protein, iron, and B-vitamins can help


Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy, especially during high-intensity workouts like gymnastics. Look to fuel your workouts with simple digesting, low-to-moderate fiber carbohydrates (like simple starches and fruit), and incorporate more complex carbohydrates (like whole grains, vegetables, and fruit) throughout the remainder of the day to keep your energy levels high.


Protein

Protein is essential for building muscle, which is crucial for gymnasts who will spend a lot of time this off season doing strength, conditioning, and skill preparation. Most gymnasts will need about .7-.9g of protein per pound of body weight each day (1.6-2g/kg). Look to incorporate a protein rich food at most meals and snacks throughout the day, and especially after practice.


Iron

Iron is an important mineral for gymnasts, as it plays a crucial role in carrying oxygen to tissues, supporting muscle growth, healthy connective tissues, growth and development, and hormone health. Gymnasts are at an increased risk for iron deficiency as a result of the repetitive pounding in the sport. Female gymnasts are also at risk for low iron as a result of the menstrual cycle. Additionally, inflammation as a result of under fueling can also put a gymnast at risk for poor iron absorption and anemia.


The recommended daily intake of iron is 8-10mg per day for male and young female athletes and 15mg per day for post-menarche female athletes. To increase iron in the diet, look to incorporate at least 2-3 iron rich foods daily (including beef, chicken, pork, clams, muscles, oysters, liver, fortified cereals, beans, tofu, pumpkin seeds, apricots, wheat germ, nuts, peas). When eating a plant based iron-rich food, look to pair it with a food high in Vitamin C (like tomatoes, peppers, citrus fruit, kiwi, broccoli, and brussles sprouts) for improved absorption.


B-Complex Vitamins

B-Vitamins, specifically vitamins B6 and B12 also play a crucial role in energy in gymnasts, as they are important for energy conversion and hemoglobin formation (which works with iron to carry oxygen throughout the body)


B-vitamins can be found in foods including •beef, seafood (salmon, tuna, trout), dairy, nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, chicken, eggs, chickpeas, fortified cereals, tuna, salmon, chicken, potatoes, turkey, bananas. Vegetarians need to be especially conscious to get enough Vitamin B12, since it is rarely found in plant-based protein sources.



Working With A Registered Dietitian

Every gymnast is unique, and individualized nutrition guidance can make a significant difference in your performance and overall well-being. If your goal this off season is to get better, stronger, and faster in the gym so the 2024 competition season is better than 2023, fueling your body can help with that and learning from a Registered Dietitian can help you develop the best strategy for you to recover and feel your best in (and out of) the gym!


f you and your gymnast are looking to learn the ins and outs of fueling as a high-caliber athlete and make fueling a priority this summer, I put together this exclusive bundle in a way is going to help you and your gymnast absolutely CRUSH IT this summer




Inside The Summer Training Bundle, You'll Get: 3 1-on-1 Summer Check In Calls:


1️⃣ A personalized nutrition assessment before the start of your summer training schedule so you can optimize the meals and snacks you're already eating and build a strong foundation as you head into your new routine (to be used in May or June)​

1️⃣ 1-on-1 coaching session mid-summer to help you troubleshoot and fine-tune your summer fueling plan AND strategize for any upcoming performance camps (to be used in June or July)

1️⃣ 1-on-1 coaching session at the end of the summer to help you adjust your fueling routine as you head back to school (to be used in July or August)

AND

As an added bonus, you'll get access to ALL the amazing essential gymnast fueling information inside The Fueled Gymnast Academy 🤯

That's right! You'll also get access to

  • 6 Jam packed learning modules

  • Worksheet pages to help you take the essential information you learn in both the modules and our personalized sessions and implement it in a way that works best for you

  • Fueling guides, fact sheets, information, and handouts packed with information essential to keeping gymnasts healthy, happy, and high performing

  • Family friendly recipes, meal and snack ideas, and fueling inspiration

AND MORE!

This is the PERFECT opportunity for you and your gymnast to learn the ins and outs of fueling as a high level athlete and build a strong foundation that you'll be able to build on for years to come!



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