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Are You Struggling With Willpower or Are You Just Hungry?

As a gymnast, I know you try to eat healthy and fuel your body. To do this, do you focus on:

  • Eating enough food at meals and snacks

  • Eating often throughout the day

  • Include a variety of foods from grains, protein, fruits, veggies, dairy, and foods with fats

  • Fuel before and during practice and refuel after your workout

  • Drinking enough water

Or, do you:

  • Swap grains for vegetables (like cauli rice or zoodles)?

  • Eat only when you're think you're supposed to?

  • Avoid sugar? Processed foods? Gluten? Dairy?

  • Avoid fast food or eating out?

  • Avoid eating anything you didn't know what was in it?

  • Find the lowest possible calorie snack?

No matter what you are doing, you know that eating healthy is key to your performance in the gym.

Many gymnasts (and even coaches and parents) believe that in order to fuel your body to be the best gymnast, you have to eat "low calorie", "clean", and give up your favorite foods like desserts, snack foods, carbs, gluten, or dairy.

So you try and give up your favorite foods. You try to stop eating desserts...and it works for a day or two...but then, it's like you can't help yourself! You feel like you have no willpower!

Instead of eating a satisfying portion, you go nuts! You feel sick and out of control. And you promise yourself you'll just start your "diet" again tomorrow. You'll just have to try harder next time.

The truth is, as a high level gymnast, what you eat does matter. Food is fuel for your body. It keeps you healthy, growing, and recovering. But maybe it's more important to focus on what you can add to your routine and less on what you think you should be avoiding. Maybe its not willpower or discipline you lack around these foods...maybe your body's just trying to tell you that it's just hungry.

As a high-level gymnast myself, growing up I felt like I was always hungry. And I thought I ate enough...I mean I ate a lot! And I tried to eat "healthy". Fruits with breakfast and lunch. Veggies with dinner. No fast food. But every time someone offered me food - especially bagels, donuts, and cookies - I couldn't say no! And I struggled! My energy was always low (I was definitely known to fall asleep in class). I was always injured. I struggled to build strength and endurance. It wasn't until I really started studying nutrition that I truly understood WHY.

As a gymnast, if you're not eating enough energy overall (and yes energy = calories) then it does not matter how healthy your food choices are.

And research shows that upwards of 75% of high level gymnasts do not eat enough overall energy (which mean's it's pretty likely that this applies to you...).

So really, it doesn't matter that you don't eat sugar, gluten, or dairy. Or that you eat clean, don't eat processed or fast food. Your body's #1 priority is to survive. If you're coming up short in your nutrition, your body will do whatever it needs to do to get you to eat more. And it's first line of defense is making you feel hungry. While for many people, hunger can feel like a stomach growl or pain, it can also feel like:

  • Low Energy

  • Head Ache

  • Mood Swings

  • Thoughts About Food

And your brain isn't dumb or trying to sabotage you. It's not that you lack willpower and it's definitely not that you're not disciplined or trying hard enough to stick to your "diet".

Your brain's goal is to get your energy levels up as fast as it possibly can (so it can "survive"). So ask yourself this:

What foods have the most quick energy packed in, you ask? Carbs, sweets, and sugar.

And what foods, while still having other nutrients, are typically low in energy, you ask? Your beloved vegetables (and veggie swaps like cauli-rice and zoodles) and low-calories snacks (like rice cakes and popcorn).

Less is not better for a gymnast. Enough is best.

So next time you're feeling frustrated because you're craving dessert or some other food that someone told you, at some point, you shouldn't eat -- reflect back on what you've eaten over the past day or 2: Was it enough? Did you follow your athlete's plate and put enough and enough variety of foods on your plate? Did you skip snacks before or after practice?

Be kind to your body, honor your cravings to feel satisfied. And use it as a learning experience for the future.


Want to feel confident with your fueling plan and learn to fuel success? 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. Curious about how working together could improve your performance in the gym? Apply to my program today and let's chat!


Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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