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5 Things That Happen To A Gymnast When They Don't Fuel At 100%

As a gymnast, I know you are under a ton of pressure to perform your best. You have big goals for yourself. You have to live up to your coach's expectations. You want to make your parents proud. And you want to make the most out of your practice time. Only a few weeks until that next meet. States are right around the corner. You've got to post that progress video for the college coaches. And you hear other gymnasts, coaches, and even parents say that the most successful gymnasts "look a certain way" or "have a gymnast body". -- Like what does that even mean?!? Or maybe you hear them say that "gymnasts should eat less" or "gymnasts shouldn't eat sugar" (or carbs, or gluten or dairy or fat, or WHATEVER). So you think to yourself: "I should go on a diet. Maybe I'll get better...Maybe the judges will score me higher. Maybe the college coaches will notice me..." "I'll just eat less. I'll give up sugar. I'll stop eating carbs. I'll lose those 5lbs, my skills will be easier, I'll look better in my leo, and college coaches will notice me." But the reality is, by trying to put yourself on a strict diet, none of those things actually happen... More often than not, actually the opposite is more likely to happen instead...

As a Registered Dietitian for gymnasts, these are the consequences I see when gymnasts are not fueling their body 100%:

1. You're hungry all the time:

Hunger is your body's 1st line of defense for getting more energy. Signals such as your stomach growling, feeling tired, head ache, mood swings (aka hanger), and even thinking about food (especially sugary, starchy, or high-fat foods) are all ways your body tells you to eat more. If you feel these frequently, it means you're not eating enough food, enough of the foods that will fuel your body, or frequent enough.

2. Your energy tanks:

You wake up tired. You have a hard time sleeping at night. You fall asleep in school. You feel tired, sluggish, and weak during practice. You always wake up feeling like you've been hit by a bus (this was me...). If your body doesn’t have enough energy to do all the things you're asking it to do (aka live, go to school, train 15+ hours a week, recover and stay healthy), it is constantly trying to conserve energy (think about your phone when you let the battery go down to 20% and you have to put it on lower power mode...). Things have to slow down (and some "functions" even turn off).

3. Your progress stalls:

With season right around the corner, I know you're feeling the pressure to be routine ready. But, you're struggling through your skills. You're having a hard time getting through routines and assignments. You're frustrated and even dealing with mental blocks. You see your teammates running laps around you (literally). Not eating enough hurts not only your energy at practice, but your focus, mental game, and your body's ability to recover and grow stronger.

4. You cant stay healthy (injuries and sickness):

Your immune system, your bone health, your ligament, tendon, and muscle health, all require the building blocks from food to form and stay strong. Without eating enough food, your body has to prioritize survival (aka keeping your heart beating, lungs breathing, brain functioning) first, and that comes with sacrifices.

5. Your body composition changes (likely in the form of decreased muscle mass and increased fat mass):

This actually sounds counter-intuitive for many gymnasts (If I eat less, I'll just get skinny...right?...WRONG!). For many gymnasts, the opposite is actually true. Your body is smart and learns patterns. When you're frequently under-fueling for training and recovery, your body is more concerned with survival and storing energy to survive the "famine". This means that instead of using food for energy and building blocks, your body will store a portion in case you need to use later (aka you're more likely to store body fat).

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 or make it through the long season. 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. You can't just expect to eat one meal before big competition and magically everything happens perfectly (this doesn't work with your training and it certainly doesn't work with your nutrition)! As a dietitian for gymnasts, I hear story after story from high-level gymnasts struggling. They're trying to follow the rules, but it's just not working. They are FRUSTRATED! And time and time again, when I do a deep dive into their fueling routine, they're coming up short. They're not eating enough to support their body (keep you alive and healthy, growth, development, and recovery), everyday activities (like school, PE class, or walking your dog), and training. And they're not alone in this struggle. Actually, research shows that upwards of 75% of high level gymnasts don't eat enough. I get it, eating more can be scary or overwhelming! Our sport and our society tells us to eat as little as possible and avoid foods. That feeling hungry is a bad thing that should be ignored. But, if you want to achieve your goals, get new skills, win meets, make teams, earn a scholarship, you need to fuel your body at 100%.


Remember gymnasts, nutrition is not something you have to figure out on your own. The Fueled Gymnast Academy has now been adapted as a self-paced, self-study program. This Fueled Gymnast Academy Self Paced Program is the simplest way for gymnasts to learn how to fuel their body to stay healthy and perform your best THIS SEASON, and now fits even more seamlessly into your busy schedule!

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


Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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