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5 Reasons Your Energy Sucks At Practice

It seems like every gymnast I talk to is always just so tired! For many, it feels like that is just the way things have to be as a high level gymnast.

I mean, a competitive gymnast's schedule is jam packed! Between 20-30+ hours a week in the gym, traveling for meets and camps, school, homework, family and friends, extra curricular activities and other responsibilities, it's like there aren't enough hours in the day!

But, often times, that constant tired feeling catches up to you.

You doze off during school...

Routines that used to be easy for you get you out of breath...

You're dragging through your conditioning...

You're falling behind your teammates progress...

You're sore and everything hurts. You need to modify assignments...

It seems like you're sick all the time, constantly having to miss practice...

You got injured...

You just don't even want to go to the gym any more. You'd rather stay home and lay in bed...

But guess what gymnasts! It doesn't have to be this way! Here are 5 reasons why you don't have energy you'd like to have at practice and what you can do to improve your energy!


5 Reasons Your Energy Sucks At Practice

You're pre-workout meal was lackluster

Being your best in the gym means showing up with full energy. And that is not likely to happen if you don't eat before.

Depending on what time of the day you practice really determines what and how much you’ll need to eat before. If you train in the afternoon or evening, it’s important to keep up with meals and snacks on your schedule so you don’t fall behind and lose out on valuable energy in the gym. If you practice in the morning, that means breakfast is all that more important.

The goal of pre-workout meals and snacks is to top off your energy stores with foods that make you feel your best. If you eat within 90 minutes - 2 hours of training, it is important to still eat a balanced plate, but you may need to decrease your portion of foods too high in fiber (like some whole grains, and veggies) and higher in fat, and focus more starchy foods, fruits, and a little bit of protein.

A few of my favorite pre-workout meal and snack ideas include:

  • Cheese board (cheese, fruit, crackers)

  • A rice or grain bowl

  • Greek yogurt parfait

  • Cereal or Oatmeal + Fruit

  • Trail Mix (nuts, granola/cereal, dried fruit, etc.)

  • Protein power pack + pretzels

  • Turkey or PBJ Sandwich or Wrap

  • Fruit + nut butter

If you eat within 1 hour of training, try to have a snack to top off your energy stores that is mostly quick carbs and maybe a small amount of protein. A few of my favorite snacks to eat within 15-60 minutes of a workout starting include:

  • Fresh fruit like a banana, kiwi, melon, berries, peaches, mango

  • Dried and freeze dried fruit

  • Applesauce

  • Dried cereal

  • Pretzels

  • Crackers

  • Fig, oat, or granola bars

You didn't pack a high-carb mid-practice snack (or any snack at all)

If you want to keep your energy level high, it is very likely that you will need a snack during training.

The energy the body uses for intense exercise like gymnastics comes from:

  • Circulating in the blood stream (when food was just eaten)

  • Stores in muscles and the liver

This immediate and stored energy is limited. Even the most highly trained athlete will notice a drop in energy after 60-90 minutes. If you are expecting to train your best for the entirety of a 3, 4 or 5+ hour practice with no intra-workout refuel, you are setting unrealistic expectations for your workouts.

If your training is 3 hours long, include a fueling snack around the half way point. If practices are 4 hours or longer, it is likely that you'll benefit from including a fueling snack every 90 minutes.

Mid-practice snacks should be made up almost entirely of simple carbohydrates. These foods will be the easiest for the body to digest and will be turned into usable energy the quickest.

A few of my favorite mid-workout snack ideas include:

  • Mini Bagel

  • Oat bars, Fig bars, granola bars, Honeystinger

  • Crackers (like baked goldfish, animal crackers, or graham crackers)

  • Pretzel Sticks

  • Mini Muffins

  • Energy Bites or Bars

  • Dry Cereal

  • Fruit leather

  • 100% Fruit Juice or Fruit Popsicle

  • Applesauce or GoGo Squeeze

  • Dried Fruit (dates, raisins, dried cherries, etc.) or Freeze Dried Fruit

  • Fruit cup

  • Fresh Fruit (berries, grapes, melon, etc.)

  • Sports Drink

If practices are 4+ hours and you are lucky enough to get a mid-practice meal break, this meal should be similar to the pre-workout meal from 90 minutes - 2 hours before, and include starches, fruit, easy to digest protein.

You're missing out on the recovery window

Recovery nutrition is best thought of as a window of opportunity, meaning there is a short period of time after your workout where the body optimizes its ability to replenish it’s energy stores, begin muscle and tissue recovery and repair, and replenish fluids and restore the fluid-electrolyte balance lost through sweat.

There are 2 optimal windows for recovery nutrition, one starting immediately – within 30 to 60 minutes, and the second being within 1-3 hours of training.

Within 30-60 minutes of practice ending, fuel with a minimum of a recovery snack. Usually, you'll hear that a recovery snacks should include 3:1 carbs to protein. That means your snack should be approximately 75% carbohydrate (usually from grains and fruit) and 25% protein. For more specific portion, this recovery snack should include:

  • 1.2-1.5g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight.

  • 4-.5g of protein per kg of body weight

A few of my favorite recovery snacks for gymnasts include:

  • Chocolate Milk

  • String Cheese, Fruit, Crackers

  • Greek yogurt parfait

  • PBJ or Turkey and Cheese sandwich/wrap

  • Trail Mix (nuts, granola/cereal, dried fruit, etc.)

  • Protein power pack + pretzels

  • Fruit + nut butter

  • Pasta salad

  • Oat + fruit + nut bars

  • Protein muffins

  • Protein bar or bites

Within 1-3 hours of practice ending refuel with a balanced plate according to your Athlete's Plate. To help maximize recovery, look to include foods with the following nutrients in your recovery meal:

  • Grains & Starches to refill energy stores

  • Protein to promote muscle building and tissue repair

  • Foods rich in Omega-3s / Unsaturated Fats which promote recovery and help reduce inflammation

  • Foods with Vitamins A & C which help aid in the recovery process

  • Foods with Anthocyanins promote recovery and help reduce inflammation

A few of my favorite recovery snacks for gymnasts include:

  • Grilled Salmon, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli

  • Turkey and Cheese Sandwich (on whole grain bread with lettuce, tomato, and avocado) with a side of mixed berries

  • Cherry Smoothie (with cherries, strawberries, Greek yogurt, oats, chia seeds)

  • Burrito Bowl (brown rice, lean ground beef, peppers, red onions, salsa, corn, guacamole, lettuce, purple cabbage, and cheese)

  • Spaghetti, grilled chicken, and sauce, with a side salad

When you refuel during this window, your body is more likely to prioritize recovery, be more prepared to train again the next day, prevent injuries, and your body is more likely to grow and adapt from your workout, meaning you will build strength, endurance, and muscle memory for skills in the gym.

You're Dehydrated

Hydration means providing the body with enough fluid, as water is necessary for every system in the body. If you are dehydrated this means that the body does not have enough fluid to do all of these functions.

Hydration status can have a major impact on energy and performance in the gym. Being dehydrated can lead to:

  • Fatigue and drop in energy

  • Muscle cramps and muscle fatigue

  • Decreased endurance

  • Trouble focusing

  • Slowed reaction time

Additionally, factors like heat, physical activity, and excessive sweating, you may be more likely to become dehydrated.

Most gymnasts need to be drinking a minimum of .4-.6oz of liquid per pound of body weight each day. To be adequately hydrated for gymnastics, most will need to drink an additional:

  • 8-16oz in the 2 hours prior to training

  • 8-16oz per hour of training

  • 16-24oz in the 1 hour after training

Hydration also requires more than just water. Staying hydrated requires the right amount of fluid balanced with electrolytes and carbohydrates. Electrolytes are minerals that help maintain fluid balance in your body. Those that play a role in hydration are mainly:

  • Sodium

  • Potassium

  • Chloride

  • Calcium

These can easily be eaten through food (like salty pretzel sticks) or drank in a sports drink (like Gatorade, Propel, Nuun, Liquid IV, Scratch, UCan, etc.).

As a gymnast, being your best and having enough energy means staying hydrated. A few of my favorite tips to help you stay hydrated include:

  • Drink with each meal and snack

  • Carry and sip from a water bottle all day long (at school and at home)

  • Drink in the car before and after gymnastics

  • Bring a large enough bottle to drink at practice (or multiple bottles or drinks, or have a plan to refill when empty)

  • Use electrolyte and sports drinks when necessary

You're not getting enough sleep

For day-to-day recovery, gymnasts need to get enough sleep every night! Sleep is the best time for your body to rest, recover, and repair itself so that you're ready to train your hardest and get better in the gym the next day.

Gymnasts should aim to get enough sleep each night:

  • 6-12 year olds: 9-12 hours per night

  • 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours per night

  • 18+ years old: 8+ hours per night

If you're not getting enough sleep every night, you will feel tired, sluggish, and not at 100% in the gym. AND athletes who sleep less than 8 hours per night are at a 1.7x higher risk of injury, compared to those that get enough! If you're not at 100% in the gym, your goals will be more challenging to reach.

Commit to a sleep schedule that maximizes your sleep and stick to it. Even schedule in short naps (20 or 90 minutes) when needed!

Prioritize getting enough sleep by going to bed early enough! If you have trouble falling asleep, building a bedtime routine can help. This may include things like:

  • Using blue light blocking glasses for screen time

  • Setting a tech curfew 60-90 minutes before bed

  • Taking a hot bath or shower

  • Writing daily gratitudes

  • Preparing for the next day (pulling out snacks, setting out clothes, making to-do lists, etc.)

  • Breathing, meditation

  • Stretching

  • Reading


Want to feel energized during practice from start to finish? As a registered dietitian, I help competitive gymnasts fuel their bodies, prevent injuries, and reach their highest potential. I have a few opportunities for high level gymnasts to work with me this month. Curious about how working together could improve your performance in the gym? Apply to work 1-on-1 with me today and let's chat!


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