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Don't Let An All or Nothing Mindset Around Food Ruin Your Summer Vacation

And how to find that middle ground instead...

Whether you are going on a vacation or a staycation this summer, I know that a change in routine can cause a lot of stress around what to eat. Leaving home to stay somewhere different means unfamiliar restaurants and foods. Taking some time off from practice to relax is so important for your body, but I know for many gymnasts a few days without structured workouts can cause stress over what or how to eat.

For many gymnast, vacation or time off from the gym can lead to an all or nothing mentality around food. On one hand, it can feel like a time to cut loose now that season is finally over! It can feel like an opportunity to *indulge* on foods you don't normally -- waffle sundaes for breakfast, pizza, greasy burgers, and fried food for every meal, not a fruit or vegetable in sight! And while this sound fun, most often, I hear gymnasts tell me that by the end of their vacation, they feel sluggish and their body is all out of whack.

For other gymnasts, time off from the gym means time to crack down on the "clean eating" -- no carbs, no fun desserts, no fun. And at the end of their vacation, they're more stressed out and they missed out on so many amazing memories with their family and friends!

So many gymnasts that I talk to feel like if they don’t workout that they need to cut back on food. This is not true! If no one has ever told you before, you never have to “earn” your food by working out or being "good" earlier in the day. You need enough food and a variety of foods from all the food groups whether you are in the gym practicing for hours or at the pool relaxing with your family.

Please know that no matter if you move your body or not, you still need to eat. Your body is using this time to recover, and you’ll need to provide your body with the nutrition it needs for this recovery to occur. (You might even need the same amount or even more food during recovery, as your body is working hard behind the scenes to heal and grow).

If you are a gymnast that is very worried about what or how much you could potentially eat on vacation please remember that one meal, one snack, one day, or one trip will not have a long-term impact on your performance or abilities in the gym (nor will it cause significant or permanent changes to your body) - the same way that eating one salad will not automatically change your body.

So, what should you eat while you are on vacation?

If neither of those extremes sound like a good idea to you (trust me, they're not...) you can look to build a Performance Plate. The great thing about fueling your body with an athlete's plate is that you can do so anywhere with all types of foods! You can even follow an athletes plate on vacation (if it feels right, if you want to, and if it doesn't cause you stress). Vacation is not a time for guilt and stress over food -- it is your time to relax and have a good time!

Keep in mind that there are all types of vacations you may take, requiring all different amounts of energy.

A relaxing beach vacation or chilling by the pool all day is a pretty low intensity activity and you can model some meals after the low intensity plate.

For a vacation where you might be walking around new towns/cities, going on short hikes and bike rides, baseline/moderate intensity plate can be used as a guide here.

Or, if your vacation consists of climbing mountains, walking all day through amusement parks or a day full of water activities like water skiing, kayaking and wakeboarding, then the high intensity plate might be best for you. Make sure to follow your body cues when choosing a plate to follow. If you are following the low intensity plate and still feel hungry it is okay to listen to your body and add in more starches!

If you are wondering how to build your performance plate while you are on vacation here are a few fueling scenarios you might come across while on vacation!

Drive Throughs/Fast Food

While on vacation you might find that your family stops at a fast food restaurant. Fast food is sometimes seen as "off-limits" for gymnasts, but the reality is that most fast food restaurants offer many great and convenient options that fit into a performance plate, so there is no need to stress out about eating at a fast food restaurant. Focus on including at least one source of protein, a fruit or veggie, and starch to help you fuel and reach your energy needs. Almost all fast food restaurants will have options available to you to choose from to build your balanced plate, For example:

Chick Fil-a:

Grilled chicken sandwich + fruit cup + milk = protein (chicken, milk), color (fruit cup, sandwich toppings), starch (bun)

Grilled nuggets, fries, fruit cup, chocolate milk = protein (chicken nuggets, milk), color (fruit cup, starch (fries)


Greek yogurt parfait, plain bagel with cream cheese = Protein (yogurt), color (fruit in parfait), starch (bagel)

½ sandwich + half salad + apple = Almost all the sandwiches and salads will provide color, protein, and starch!


Chicken quesadilla with salsa, guacamole and black beans = Protein (chicken, cheese, beans), color (salsa, guacamole), starch (tortilla)

Burrito bowl with chicken, rice, lettuce, cheese and corn salsa, fajita mix = Protein (chicken, cheese), color (lettuce, corn, fajita mix), starch (rice)


Cheeseburger + small fries + apple slices + milk = protein (burger, milk and cheese), color (apple slices), and starch (bun, fries).

McChicken + garden salad + fries = protein (chicken, milk), color (salad, veggies on sandwich), starch (bun and fries)

Hotel Breakfasts

A lot of hotels include a continental or buffet breakfast in the morning. At least in my family, whenever we stayed at hotels like this we always try to take advantage! Staples at these breakfasts are usually different types of breads (english muffins, bagels, sliced bread, waffles), eggs, bacon, cereals, yogurts, oatmeal and different fruits. I know that depending on the hotel this might change, but I typically find these foods at almost all hotel breakfasts. So how can you build a balanced breakfast at the buffet?

Bagel + peanut butter + yogurt + banana = Protein (yogurt, peanut butter), color (banana), starch (english muffin)

Oatmeal + Peanut Butter + fruit + english muffin with eggs = Protein (eggs, peanut butter), color (whatever fruit is available), starch (english muffin, oatmeal)

Toast + Eggs + Bacon + apple = protein (eggs, bacon), color (apple), starch (toast),

Pool or Beach Day

When my family goes to the pool or the beach it can be fun and convenient to bring a cooler full of snacks and lunch so that we can stay at the beach all day long! Choosing what to pack in the cooler might seem a little overwhelming, so here are some ideas for some meals to bring with you.

Sandwich with turkey, cheese and lettuce + bag of pretzels + apple = Protein (turkey, cheese), color (apple, lettuce), starch (bread + pretzels)

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich + sun chips + Orange slices = protein (peanut butter), color (orange slices), starch (bread, chips)

You'll also want to make sure to pack snacks! Some of my favorite summer day snacks include:

  • Frozen grapes

  • Freeze dried fruit

  • Harvest Snaps

  • Roasted chickpeas

  • Multigrain and corn chips

  • Kodiak Bear Bites

  • Oatmeal bites and squares

If you are spending the day in the sun, remember to hydrate! It is easy to get super dehydrated when spending the whole day in the sun. Pack plenty of water or bring your water bottle and find places to refill and if you notice you get easily dehydrated you can also bring an electrolyte drink or options like coconut water or watermelon juice!

… And I know that at so many beaches there are fun ice cream trucks, concession stands, or boardwalk goodies. If you want that popsicle, have that popsicle! If you want an ice cream cone, have one!

This vacation, instead of getting caught up in the "should's" and "what-if's", shift your focus away from the food, and have a fun, relaxing and enjoyable vacation (whether you are staying at home or going somewhere). Make tons of fun memories (instead of stressing about the food). You can almost always find options to build a balanced plate wherever you are. Remember though, you do not have to follow the athlete's plate while on vacation, it is just an option for you if you choose to do so. And remember, one meal, one snack, one day, or one trip will not have a long-term impact on your performance, abilities in the gym, or body.


Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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