As a dietitian for gymnasts, I hear story after story from high-level gymnasts struggling. 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 do not eat enough overall energy throughout the day.
So if you're wondering if you're eating enough, here are the top 5 common symptoms I see among gymnasts who are under-fueling:
1. You're always tired: You wake up tired. Your have a hard time sleeping. 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 of it, it is constantly trying to conserve that energy and everything else begins to suffer.
2. You have brain fog: Trouble focusing at school? Having a hard time concentrating at practice? Your brain needs carbs to function! If you’re not eating enough (and enough of the right foods), your brain wont work right. You need (at minimum) 120g of carbs for your brain to get the fuel it needs (and that's before the carb demands of a 4 hour practice and recovery).
3. You're always hungry. You feel like no matter what or how much you eat, you never feel full. You eat and then 30 minutes later, you're ready for another meal. You wake up hungry in the middle of night. You're constantly thinking about food. These are all signs your body is telling you it needs more food!
4. Your progress has slowed: You're struggling through your skills. You're having a hard time getting through routines and assignments. You see your teammates running laps around you (literally). Not eating enough hurts not only your energy at practice, but your body's ability to recover and grow stronger.
5. You’re having missing/irregular periods (or haven't started yet). When you’re not giving your body enough fuel, it shuts off reproductive functions and slows important hormones to save energy. If you haven't started your period by the time you're 16 or have missing or irregular periods, it might be time to talk with your doctor. Not only is this bad for your (future) reproductive health, but also your bone health.
If you (or your gymnast) has any of these signs listed above, you may need more food. Be sure to talk with your pediatrician about your personal growth chart and make sure all systems (especially skeletal, endocrine, and gynocological) are growing and developing normally. Additionally, you may also really benefit from a diet assessment from an RD, which could help identify any gaps in your current fueling plan.