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5 Common Nutrition Mistakes Gymnasts Make Before Training and How to Avoid Them

Gymnasts and their families invest so much into the sport in hopes of reaching their goals. Most gymnasts practice 3, 4, or even 5+ hours a day, 4, 5, 6 days every week. There's no off-season in gymnastics - no break. That's a lot of time and ener


gy invested!


But, ask yourself this. Are you actually investing in the things that make the biggest impact?


Sure you need to invest in a great coach and place to train...


Sure you need a well-fitting competition leo...


But, are you actually invested in doing what it takes to make the most out of your gym time?


So many gymnasts are not actually able to make the most out of that investment, with so much practice time spent tired, sore, hurting, or just *over it*.


I might be a little biased, but gymnastics really is the greatest sport. I have such a special place in my heart for the sport and all the athletes that dedicate so much of their lives to being the best they can be.


As a Registered Dietitian for gymnasts, I see so many gymnasts making major mistakes! Mistakes that are actually hurting their performance (instead of helping). I want you to feel your best, practice and compete your best this season and beyond.


Let's explore the five common nutrition mistakes many gymnasts make before working out and how to steer clear of them.



1. Skipping Pre-Workout Meals:

Fueling your body properly is crucial for peak performance in the gym. Many gymnasts avoid eating before practice due to concerns about upset stomachs, bloating, or appearance in their leotards. However, skipping pre-workout meals can lead to energy depletion, fatigue, and increased injury risk. To be adequately fueled, aim for a balanced pre-workout meal 3-4 hours before training and a high-energy snack (like pretzels, granola bites, apple sauce, or fruit) 15-60 minutes before if possible OR have a high intensity mini-meal 1-2hours before.


Some of my favorite pre-practice snacks for gymnasts to eat 1-2 hours before a workout include:


  • A PBJ with pretzels

  • Oatmeal, berries, and nut butter

  • Veggies, Pita, and Hummus

  • Cottage Cheese, Cantaloupe, and mixed nuts

  • Peanut butter and banana wrap

  • Cereal, milk, and blueberries


2. Relying on Caffeine:

Turning to caffeine for an energy boost before practice may sound like a great idea, but is actually a very common mistake so many gymnasts make. While caffeine may offer a temporary sense of energy, it cannot replace the real, sustained energy derived from a balanced meal (and even "tricks" your body into thinking it has energy, making you crash even harder when it wears off). Excessive caffeine intake can also have adverse health effects and negatively impact training, sleep, and performance. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends caution, advising that daily caffeine intake for teens (12-18 years) should not exceed 100 mg, or the equivalent of 8oz of regular coffee (most energy drinks like Celsius, Prime, and Alani have 200-300mg caffeine). Focus on proper pre-workout nutrition for sustained energy rather than relying solely on caffeine.


3. Overemphasis on "Too Healthy" Foods:

Nutrition advice for gymnasts often centers on eating "healthy" or "clean". While these intentions are often coming from the right place, relying on foods that seem healthy (like vegetables and sugar-free snacks) before a workout may not be the best strategy. These foods are often low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, leading to low energy, sluggishness, and upset stomachs. Pre-workout meals and snacks should prioritize energy and performance. Choose high-carb options like oatmeal, sandwiches, wraps, smoothies, and grain bowls for meals or snacks like yogurt-covered fruit, granola bars, or fruit for the hour before a workout.


4. Protein-Only Fueling:

Protein is essential for gymnasts, but relying on protein-only pre-workout can hinder performance. Protein takes time to digest, and an exclusive protein-focused snack won't provide readily available energy for a workout. Save protein for meals and snacks more than an hour before, or after training.


5. Dehydration Factor:

Hydration is crucial for optimal performance. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, muscle cramps, decreased endurance, and impaired focus, and yet, so many gymnasts do not drink enough in the hours before practice, meaning they show up dehydrated. Gymnasts should aim to drink 0.4-0.6 ounces of liquid per pound of body weight daily, with additional hydration before, during, and after training. Optimal hydration includes a balance of fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. Some of favorite hydration tips to help you show up to practice hydrated include:

  • Drinking something with every meal and snack

  • Carrying a water bottle to sip on between meals

  • Using electrolyte drinks when necessary (like for morning workouts, hot days, or mid-workout)


*BONUS TIP* 6. THEY'RE TRYING TO FIGURE IT OUT ON THEIR OWN


There is so much nutrition information out there: between Instagram and TikTok influencers, Netflix documentaries, your parents and coaches, even your teammates, everyone is always looking for that perfect answer that solves all their problems. Diet talk can feel NON-STOP!


It can all feel so conflicting. But what you really want to know is what's right for ME.


Many gymnasts feel like they don't need to work with a Registered Dietitian. That dietitians are only for those with a problem. That they can just eat "healthy" and figure it out on their own...


When I was a gymnast, I was in your same spot, trying it on my own, spending countless hours trying to figure out what would work best for me with no real strategy. As an athlete, I made all the mistakes. I struggled with my energy, with injuries, and came up short on a lot of my goals. Investing in education, mentorship, and support will make nailing down your fueling routine so much simpler.


When you learn about fueling your body from a licensed nutrition professional who also understands the sport of gymnastics (and the culture that comes with it), you can guarantee that the information you are learning is backed by science and specific to the unique challenges you face as a gymnast so you can actually make adjustments and move closer to your goals.


 

Avoiding these common nutrition mistakes can significantly enhance your performance in gymnastics. Prioritize proper fueling, stay hydrated, and consider seeking guidance from a Registered Dietitian to optimize your nutrition strategy.


Navigating the abundance of nutrition information out there can be overwhelming. Many gymnasts attempt to figure it out on their own, but seeking guidance from a Registered Dietitian can simplify the process and make sure your strategy works for your unique needs. Working with a professional who understands both nutrition and gymnastics ensures personalized, science-backed advice tailored to the unique challenges gymnasts face. Investing in education and support from a licensed nutrition expert can significantly improve your fueling routine and move you closer to your goals.


As a registered dietitian for gymnasts, I'm here to help you fuel your body so you can have more energy to train better, reduce your risk of injuries, and reach your highest potential. If you're ready to elevate your performance, apply for a 1-on-1 consultation with me today. Let's chat and work towards achieving your gymnastic goals together!

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