Finally, you feel like you found your rhythm this summer...
You've caught up on sleep...
You've figured out when and what to eat to fuel your summer training...
You're having fun with your friends and teammates...
You're enjoying the absence of school and homework...
Maybe you went on a vacation or attended a gymnastics camp or two...
Just as things got comfortable, now somehow it's August! Which means school is right around the corner and your daily routine will have to change once again....
Change can be challenging to deal with in any aspect of life and a change in your practices and fueling schedule can certainly be a daunting one. I know how overwhelming this can feel! Especially if you've changed schools, changed training groups, changed practice times, or any thing else in your life has changed.
However, it doesn't have to be!
Gymnasts, you can head into the school year and fall practice schedule prepared by remembering the keys to being at your best during practice:
6 Tips to Feel Confident Heading into Your School Year Schedule
1. Know Your Schedule Each Week:
With school starting back up, your schedule each week is probably going to be busier and your to-do list is probably going to only get longer (between homework, extra-curricular activities, family obligations, gym, and more). Keep yourself organized with a planner or calendar (either physical or electronic) to write down everywhere you have to be, when you have to be there, and what you have to do each day can help alleviate some of the stress in a busy schedule. Additionally, having a written down schedule and to-do list can help you find the times in your day to fuel, along with reminding you when you should eat, since it's built into your day.
2. Stay Hydrated:
Gymnasts, hydration is always SUPER important! As your schedule changes and you head back to school, it's easy to forget to drink, making it more likely you could show up to practice dehydrated.
Dehydration can increase your risk of injury or a serious medical emergency. Symptoms of dehydration include feeling tired, thirst, decreased performance and energy, headache, dry or sticky mouth, dark yellow urine or not able urinate, dry cool skin, muscle cramps, dizziness, or a rapid increase in heartbeat or breathing. If you're dehydrated, you will be unable to perform your best in the gym and struggle to reach the goals you want during your training.
You should be drinking at least 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water each day. Make sure you bring a water bottle with you to school and any other extracurricular activities to help you stay hydrated (and refill it when needed).
Gymnasts also need extra fluid for training: In the 2 hours before practice, try to drink between 12-24oz of water (or an electrolyte drink). During practice, you should be drinking about 8-16oz every hour. Within 1 hour of practice ending, drink another 16-24oz of water.
Water, electrolyte drinks (like Propel, Gatorade 0, Nuun, or Liquid IV for example), and carbohydrate drinks (Gatorade, Powerade, or 100% Fruit Juice for example) can all be great sources of fluids for gymnasts during practice. Additionally, carrying your water bottle around with you to each rotation can make staying hydrated during practice easier!
3. Remember to Recover:
In the sport of gymnastics, injuries can happen. While some gymnastics injuries are just the result of a freak accident in a high risk sport, the majority of injuries occur as a result of poor habits over time. You can prioritize many things outside the gym to help prevent the preventable injuries and recover faster from the injuries you do face.
Remember: Recovery Requires Building Blocks, and those building blocks come from food! It is essential to eat after practice, no matter how late at night it is (or how tired you are). Ideally, gymnasts should eat a full recovery meal including all of the components of an athlete's plate. It is especially important to prioritize carbohydrates (from grains/starches, and fruit), protein, fats (from seafood or plant-based sources), as well as micronutrients like Calcium (from dairy or leafy greens), Vitamins A & C (from red and orange fruits and veggies), as well as antioxidants (like those found in blue/purple fruits and veggies). If a full meal just isn't possible, prioritize a snack with 30-60g of carbohydrates and 10-20g of protein.
Find time each week in your schedule to include a preventative or recovery practice. Try adding some extra stretching or yoga, preventative mobility training, physical therapy (as needed) and physical therapy exercises, mental toughness and visualization, and proper fueling to your week. All can help you prevent and/or recover from injuries. If you build a specific time into your weekly schedule for these recovery practices, you'll be more likely to actually complete them, so be sure to set aside this time! It's better to take the time now to prevent and/or recover from injuries than having to sit out the season to recover from an injury that could've been prevented!
4. Get Enough Sleep Every Night:
Gymnasts, sleep is SO IMPORTANT for your recovery! You should aim to get adequate 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
Since the body is most relaxed and doing the fewest additional functions, this is the best time for your body to recover and repair itself.
Inadequate sleep will not only make you feel tired and sluggish, but it can also lead to increased injury risk and/or increased recovery time from an injury since you're not giving your body enough time to recover. Actually, studies show that:
Teen athletes who get less than 8hrs/night have 1.7x greater risk of getting injured compared to athletes who sleep >8hrs a night.
Athletes who get 8+hrs of sleep AND eat 5+ servings of fruits and veggies per day are 64% less likely to get injured.
Prioritize 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.)
5. Eat Every 2-3 Hours
As I mentioned before, having a schedule for each day and week with all of your activities and tasks for the day can help to alleviate some of the stress of a busy schedule. It can also help you figure out when to eat your meals and snacks to stay fueled and keep your energy up throughout the day. Fall schedule likely means that your practices will shift to the afternoons, so it's important for gymnasts to make sure they eat enough throughout the day to make sure their energy levels are high for practice!
Gymnasts, you should be eating at least every 3 hours. Whether it's a full meal or a snack, it's critical that you find the time in your schedule to eat this often to ensure you have the fuel and energy you need for practice to maximize your training and performance! Additionally, remember that you should be eating a snack (or meal depending on timing and if your stomach can handle it) before practice, a snack halfway through practice, and likely a meal (or a snack depending on the timing of your practice and your commute home) after practice! These are especially important to your fueling plan and training performance!
Remember, there's no such thing as "perfect nutrition". Be flexible with your nutrition. Make sure you're eating enough by eating often enough and getting enough protein, color, carbs, and fat throughout your day, and you will be fueling for success.
6. Turn to a Professional If You Need One:
Gymnasts, it's critical that you take care of both your mental and physical health to feel and perform your best at practice. If you're struggling with mental blocks, injuries, and/or under fueling and low energy--especially surrounding this shift in your routine--you don't have to face these problems alone. Turn to a sports psychologist, physical therapist, and/or Registered Dietitian to help you face and overcome these challenges so you can maximize your training and reach your goals!