As exciting as competitions season is, let's be honest... I know you're looking forward to the the end (at least a little bit)! You've been grinding for months on end now. So many full routines... So many hard landings... So few days off... So little sleep... Competition season was long! You likely dug yourself into a bit of a hole. You need time to catch up on things like energy, sleep, rest, recovery, and other things that fill your emotional bucket.
Before you start your preparations for next year, you need to get yourself back to 100%. Or else, you'll be at risk for injury and burn out this summer and next year.
So what can you focus on to make sure you can get your body back feeling good before training ramps up again?
What you put into your body will help you catch up from the long season! Focusing on proper nutrition will help you feel your best in the gym and recover outside of the gym (especially after the stress your body is dealing with now that season is over).
Should a gymnast eat less during a recovery phase?
So often, gymnasts need to ramp up their nutrition and increase the amount of energy they take in during competition season. The logical step after competition season might seem to be that a gymnast needs to back off. But, before making any significant changes to your eating habits, consider this...
While yes, it is true that your energy and nutrient needs during competition season increased, if your priority during the first few weeks after season ends is recovery, please realize that this process still takes energy and nutrients, weather you are in the gym or taking some time off.
Most gymnast (aside from those working with a registered dietitian to build out their own personalized fueling strategy) likely were not eating enough during competition season to begin with. By cutting back, eating less, or making significant changes to your eating habits that impact the amount of energy dense foods you eat, your body will not have the energy or nutrients it needs to prioritize recovery after competition season, leaving you vulnerable to stalled strength, progress, and injuries over the summer.
Realistically, many gymnasts might even need to increase their intake to meet their needs after competition season ends to close that recovery gap.
After all, even though meets are over, as you head into off-season training, you are likely still practicing A LOT - a lot of hours at a time, multiple days each week (even if practices look different over the off-season than during season).
So, what does proper nutrition for recovery look like?
Fuel With An Athlete's Plate To Get Enough Energy
Weather you take 2 weeks off after your last meet of the season or you jump right into up-training, your body still needs adequate energy. This can be achieved by building a Performance Plate at most of your meals.
A Performance Plate is an intuitive way to visualize your meals to help ensure you get enough energy and nutrients to support your training and the portions and proportions of the sections can be adjusted to support your training and recovery.
If you plan to take a week or two off after your final meet of the season to help you prioritize recovery after season, you can transition your plate back to baseline and follow a Moderate Intensity Plate, approximately:
1/3 to 1/2 grains and starches
1/4 - 1/3 protein
1/4 - 1/3 fruits & veggies
contain a food with fats
If you do not intend to take any rest time after season, or as you transition back into your normal practice schedule (>4hrs/day), you likely do not need to make any adjustments and will want to continue fueling with the high-intensity plate.
It may feel like you are doing "less" in the off season BUT if you are still training 3+ hours a day, 5+ days a week, your energy needs really do not change all that much after season. As a gymnast, I remember training MORE hours in the off-season compared to competition season. Practices were still intense, with a lot of turns on the equipment, many drills and side stations, and even more conditioning! Learning new skills took focus and strength. This seems to be the story for most gymnasts that I talk to. Many don't change your training hours in the off-season (and actually many gymnasts are even in the gym MORE during this time of year!). If you're still training 15, 20, 30+ hours per week, you still need to be eating enough food to support that.
If you plan to take more than a week or two off of training without incorporating high-intensity workouts (like lifts, runs, cardio, conditioning, other sports, etc.) lasting more than 1 hour per day, it may be appropriate to transition to a Low-Intensity Performance Plate
A Low-Intensity Performance Plate incorporates:
1/4 - 1/3 grains and starches
1/4 - 1/3 protein
1/3 - 1/2 fruits & veggies
contain a food with fats
Prioritize Foods for Recovery
Energy and protein alone cannot build the body back up after a long competition season - your body needs help! The following nutrients can help promote recovery and healing after a long competition season.
Protein: especially complete proteins or those rich in leucine, including chicken, turkey, beef, pork, salmon, seafood, eggs, dairy, beans, soy, lentils
Unsaturated Fats & Omega-3: salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, lives, olive oil, avocados, seaweed, hemp hearts, edamame
Vitamin A: spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, apricots, papaya, pumpkin
Vitamin C: oranges, kiwi, strawberry, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe
Zinc: Beef, pork, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, whole grains, peas, legumes
Polyphenols & Anthocyanins: blueberries, blackberries, cherries, pomegranates, beets, figs, grapes, plums, acai, pineapple, papaya, banana, kiwi, ginger, turmeric/cucurmin
Magnesium: Leafy greens (like spinach, kale), Nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts), Whole grains (whole wheat, oats, potatoes, etc.), Black beans, Edamame, Cow's milk
By incorporating these foods throughout the day and week and meeting your nutrient needs, you can actively help you body recover from a long and intense competition season.
If your goal this off season is to get better, stronger, and faster in the gym so the 2024 competition season is better than 2023, fueling your body can help with that and learning from a Registered Dietitian can help you develop the best strategy for you to recover and feel your best in (and out of) the gym!
Registration is now open for your 2023 Competition Season Fueling Report Card, my brand new masterclass for parents and gymnasts to see if you made the grade in 2023 and so you can get a head start on getting an A+ in 2024!
In this 60 minute masterclass, you'll learn:
✅ The truth about fueling your gymnast for optimal performance at every phase of their season
🧩 The missing piece for your gymnast in 2023 and how to make sure 2024 is their best season yet
😎 3 simple strategies to take your gymnast from missing the mark to passing with flying colors this summer
It's all happening Sunday, April 30th at 12:30pm ET! Can't wait to see you there!