“I come home from practice late and I’m not hungry at all ….”
"I eat dinner before practice. I don't need to eat again..."
“When I get home from practice I have a lot of homework to do so I don’t have time to eat dinner…”
"I can't eat late at night; it'll make me gain weight..."
Does this sound like you?
Dinner (or any meal or snack at the end of a long day) can be a difficult meal to figure out for many gymnasts because of the logistics of gymnastics practice.
However, it is essential that a gymnast eats after a long hard practice. During a long, difficult workout, it is likely that you have used up essentially all of the energy your body had stored up (even with a great pre and mid workout fueling strategy). Additionally, the demands of gymnastics can also cause micro-damages to muscles, bones, and accumulate a lot of byproduct's of exercise (like lactic acid and inflammation) A solid recovery meal or snack is essential to refill energy stores, repair damage, and eliminate any of the byproducts of exercise. Without solid recovery nutrition, a gymnast is likely to see a decrease in future training, stagnant strength and endurance, a decrease in overall energy, increased and accumulating soreness, and increased risk of injury.
Recovery nutrition is best thought of as a window of opportunity, meaning there is a short period of time after your workout where the body optimizes its ability to replenish it’s energy stores, begin muscle and tissue recovery and repair, and replenish fluids and restore the fluid / electrolytes balance lost through sweat. Research has found that there are 2 optimal windows for recovery nutrition, one starting immediately – within 30 to 60 minutes of the end of training, and the second being within 1-3 hours of training.
When you refuel during this window, your body is more likely to prioritize recovery, be more prepared to train again the next day, prevent injuries, and your body is more likely to grow and adapt from your workout, meaning you will build strength, endurance, and muscle memory for skills in the gym.
The components of a solid recovery nutrition strategy include:
Eating enough (throughout the day and over time)
Eating after practice during the recovery window
Making certain nutrients a priority
In order for the body to start replenishing its energy stores and begin the process of muscle and tissue repair, the body needs carbohydrates. After a workout, the most energy dense sources of carbohydrates are likely going to be grains, starches, and fruit. While you can get some energy from vegetables, the volume you would have to eat to get enough energy would likely be very large and the amount of fiber would slow down digestion.
Recovery from a workout requires about half your body weight in pounds in grams of carbohydrates as a part of that recovery snack or meal. For example, a 100lb gymnast would need at least 50g of carbohydrates in their recovery meal. This is equal to 1C of grains, 3 pieces of fruit, 3/4C of dried fruit, 12oz of fruit juice, or 4.5 cups cooked vegetables or 9 cups raw veggies. A 125lb gymnast would need about 60g of carbohydrates, or 1 1/3C of grains, 4 pieces of fruit, 1C of dried fruit, 16oz of fruit juice, or 6 cups cooked vegetables or 12 cups raw veggies.
Proteins are the building blocks for the body, so it only makes sense that they are an essential part of that recovery meal or snack. Since we are looking to have a 3:1 carb to protein ratio, some simple math can tell you how much protein your body likely needs as part of that recovery meal or snack. For example, if you require 45g of carbohydrates, pair that with 15g of protein. 60g of carbs would pair with 20g of protein.
When choosing a protein food as part of your recovery meal or snack it is important to include what is known as a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids – or building blocks for the body. All animal sources of protein, like chicken, beef, pork, game, seafood, eggs, and dairy, as well as soy are considered to be complete sources of protein. Most plant based sources of protein are considered incomplete, meaning they are missing at least one essential amino acid. If you choose a plant based protein as part of your recovery meal, you can pair it with a complementary food to ensure you’ve gotten all of the building blocks your body needs. Some examples of complementary proteins include rice and beans, hummus and pita, Tofu with quinoa, Noodle stir fry with a peanut or sesame seed sauce, Chickpeas with pasta, or Lentil soup served with bread
With the backbone of your recovery meal or snack being carbs and protein, it may also be important to incorporate some foods with the following micronutrient:
Omega-3s and Unsaturated Fats (like Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Sardines, Herring, Cod liver oil, Anchovies, Oysters, Shrimp, Seaweed/Algae, Eggs, Flaxseed. Chia seed, Hemp seeds, Walnuts, Edamame, Plant oils (ex. canola oil, olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil)
Calcium Rich Foods (like milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified non-dairy substitutes, fortified orange juice, seafood (with edible bones), tofu, greens, and chia seeds)
Vitamin A & C Rich Foods (like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage cantaloupe, carrots, cauliflower, citrus fruits, kiwi, mango, peppers, pumpkin strawberries, spinach, sweet potato, tomatoes)
Anthocyanin Rich Foods (like acai, blueberries, blackberries, beets, purple cabbage, cherries, eggplant, figs, grapes, plums, pomegranates, raspberries, red onion, strawberries)
The Challenge With Dinner
Many gymnasts practice right after school. If you and your family are first getting home at 6, 7, 8pm after a long day, the last thing any gymnast or gym parent wants to do is first start cooking (and you are HUNGRY!) At that point, many gymnasts want an easy meal you can quickly heat up, or maybe even something you can eat in the car ride home.
Or, for some gymnast, practice might not even end until 9pm! That might mean "dinner" is more of a pre-workout meal but still need to eat a second dinner as a recovery meal or snack afterwards. All practice schedules are different, and practice at any time can create stress around planning meals.
Maybe you find it challenging to have food already prepared for when you get home from practice? Or are you finding it hard to find a dinner that you can easily bring in the car to eat on the way home from practice? Or maybe you are finding it difficult to eat after practice because you ate dinner before, but still need to fuel your body after practice?
Below I have different recipes for different challenges that many gymnasts face surrounding dinner time. No matter what please keep in mind the importance of getting enough fuel in after practice is over! Providing your body with the nutrition it needs is not just important before practice, it is super important after practice as well. You need that fuel to help you recover so that you are feeling strong and ready for your next practice. Your body won’t have the nutrients it needs to help it recover from a long hard practice if it isn’t given the fuel to do so!
The recipes shared below are ones that you can meal prep, dinners that you can bring in the car, dinner ideas for when you aren't feeling as hungry and also five minute recipes to quickly make something when you get home from practice.
Meal prepping is an easy way to plan ahead. If it works for your family, it might mean cooking a full meal ahead of time that you can just reheat and eat; but it does not have to! Meal planning really can just be taking steps to prepare some foods or cook some staple items you ahead of time to make things a little easier on those busy weeknights.
Sheet Pan Shrimp Fajita
This type of is super easy for planning ahead of time because you can make it all on a single sheet pan. If you have any leftovers you can even eat this another night by swapping out the tortillas for some rice… now you have a balanced bowl instead of a fajita!
1 1/2 pounds of shrimp peeled and deveined
1 yellow bell pepper sliced thin
1 red bell pepper sliced thin
1 orange bell pepper sliced thin
1 small red onion sliced thin
1 1/2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
several turns of freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoon of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
fresh cilantro for garnish
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine onion, bell pepper, shrimp, olive oil, salt and pepper and spices.
Toss to combine.
Spray baking sheet with non stick cooking spray (line with parchment paper or foil for an easier cleanup)
Spread shrimp, bell peppers and onions on baking sheet in one even layer
Cook at 450 degrees for about 8 minutes. Then turn oven to broil and cook for additional 2 minutes or until shrimp is cooked through.
Squeeze juice from fresh lime over fajita mixture and top with fresh cilantro.
Serve in warm tortillas.
Recipe by No.2Pencil
Curried Chickpea Bowls with Garlicky Spinach
This meal is packed with plant based protein and also makes a performance plate meal with grains, protein, and color that can stay in the fridge ready for you to heat up and eat for dinner any day of the week.
2 teaspoons olive or avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 15 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons curry
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
3 Tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
fresh cilantro, chopped (for topping)
green onion, chopped (for topping)
3 cups cooked brown or white rice
For the Spinach:
1 teaspoon avocado oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
5 oz baby spinach
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 lemon juiced
Cook rice, if it’s not cooked already.
Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add baby spinach to the skillet and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until spinach has started to wilt. Toss in sea salt and lemon juice. Toss to coat, remove from heat and place spinach on a small plate.
In the small skillet you used to cook the spinach, add another 2 teaspoons oil over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook (stirring frequently) until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add spices (curry powder, cumin, cinnamon), chickpeas and tomato paste into the skillet. Toss to combine and quickly add water as the pan will start to dry out. Add sea salt and pepper, toss everything together and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and prepare bowls — each one with brown rice, chickpeas and spinach. Top with cilantro and green onion.
For meal prep, allow all ingredients to cool and then grab 3 glass storage containers. Fill each with 1 cup rice, 1/3 of curried chickpeas and 1/3 of baby spinach. Top with cilantro and green onion. Place in fridge until ready to eat.
Recipe by eatingbirdfood!
Make Ahead Freezer Burritos
Something that I have found that is super easy to meal prep are burritos. I make a bunch of them, wrap them tightly in tinfoil and then stick them in the freezer. When I am ready to eat them I can just easily heat them up in the microwave or oven (wrapped in foil). Feel free to follow this recipe or fill yours with anything you'd like. To make it a fueling performance plate, I recommend adding in a starch (like rice or sweet potato) so that it can soak up any of the liquid so the burrito doesn't get soggy, protein, and some veggies! Also, avocado and non-cheese dairy (like sour cream) does not freeze well but you can always add these later or have them on the side to dip!
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
1 lime, juice only
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 red or green peppers, sliced
1 yellow onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3teaspoons taco seasoning (or 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin)
1 cup salsa verde
16 ounces grated colby jack cheese
8 large 12-inch burrito-sized flour tortillas, or 32 small 8-inch flour tortillas
To make the cilantro rice, cook the rice according to your package's instructions. Stir in lime juice and cilantro.
To cook the peppers and onions, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, sliced peppers, and onions. Cook until peppers and onions start to caramelize in places, 8-10 minutes. Scoop out onto a plate and set aside.
To make the chicken and bean filling, in the same skillet over medium heat, add another 1 tablespoon olive oil, the shredded chicken, and beans. Stir together until warm. Add the seasoning and stir to combine. Then add the salsa verde and stir to combine. Remove from heat.
To assemble the burritos, wrap one 12-inch tortilla or four 8-inch burritos in a few paper towels. Microwave on high for 15 seconds to make the tortillas warm and flexible. In the lower-middle section of the tortilla, add 1/3 cup cilantro rice, 1/3 cup peppers and onions, 1/2 cup of the chicken and bean mixture, and 1/4 cup grated cheese. (If you're using smaller 8-inch tortillas, divide these amounts evenly among the four tortillas). Tightly roll the tortilla, folding over the ends, to form a burrito. Once formed, wrap the burrito in heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Recipe by Simply Recipes!
On the Go Dinners
For those of you who have a long car ride home after practice, eating dinner on the way home might be the most efficient use of your time. Here are some recipes for dinners that you can easily bring in the car! Pack these with you in a lunch box for after practice, or have a parent bring it when they pick you up.
Copycat Starbucks Bistro Box
This snack plate is inspired by the Starbucks bistro box and perfect to eat in the car on the way home after a late night practice.
2 large eggs, hard boiled
2 carrots, cut into 1/2-inch sticks
3 celery stalks, halved
1 medium or large apple, sliced
2 tablespoon peanut butter
2 ounce sharp cheddar cheese, cubed
2 Whole Grain Pita Rounds (lik Ozery Bakery Morning or Stonefire)
Place egg, carrot, celery, apple, peanut butter, cheese and pita bread into your favorite containers
Recipe by DamnDelicious!
Simple Sandwich Sushi
This meal is super fun and a lot easier to make than actual sushi.
Sliced sandwich bread
Sliced Turkey Lunch Meat
Prepare your ingredients by cutting off the crust of each bread, then flattening it with a rolling pin. Use a vegetable peeler to make thin slices of your carrot and cucumber, and use a knife to cut your string cheese into strips.
Spread ranch dressing over the entire slice of bread.
Lay a piece of turkey on top. Make sure you cover the whole piece of bread then fold over the extra.
Layer your cheese and veggies on top of the turkey in a pattern- carrot, cucumber, cheese. Then repeat once more.
Roll Up the bread, cut off both ends so they are straight, then cut the bread in half, making 2 rolls from each piece of bread.
Serve it with ranch or your favorite dipping sauce... and that's it!
Recipe by SomeWhatSimple!
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
12 ounces dry pasta (I used farfalle)
1 English cucumber, diced
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2/3 cup sliced kalamata olives
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese
half of a medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
Lemon-Herb Vinaigrette Ingredients:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano, minced
1 teaspoon honey (or your desired sweetener)
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Cook the pasta al dente in a large stockpot of salted water according to package instructions. Drain pasta, then rinse under cold water for about 20-30 seconds until no longer hot. Transfer the pasta to a large mixing bowl.
Add cucumber, tomatoes, olives, cheese, and red onion to the mixing bowl, then drizzle all of the vinaigrette evenly on top. Toss until all of the ingredients are evenly coated with the dressing.
Smoothies & Smoothie Bowls
For times when you feel like you just can’t stomach a traditional meal, a smoothie is a good option. If you are choosing a smoothie as your after practice fuel, it is important that you create a balanced smoothie. Try choosing fruits and veggies that promote recovery.
Here is a blueprint for fueling with a smoothie as your recovery meal (remember, exact portions/proportions will vary based on your needs):
1-2c yogurt or milk
2c fruit or pieces of fruit
½ C veggies
⅔ C Oats or 1C cereal
1-2T nut butter or seeds
Tart Cherry Smoothie Bowl
Instead of a smoothie, try a smoothie bowl for some extra fuel by adding some additional fruit, nuts/seeds/granola on top! This tart cherry smoothie bowl is great for recovery and is loaded with anthocyanins, which have been shown to be both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, giving them an important role in recovery. Other foods high in anthocyanins include: pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, beets, purple cabbage and acai (as well as their juices).
2 cups frozen tart cherries
¾ cup milk
1 tablespoon nut butter
1 tablespoon cacao
More cherries for on top
Recipe by Ambitious Kitchen!
Five Minute Meals
For those nights when you don’t have time to prepare meals, and you don’t have anything meal prepped in advance, here are some dinner ideas that only take five minutes.
Tortilla, Naan bread, or Flatbread
Your favorite veggies (like spinach, mushrooms, or whatever veggies you want)
Additional pre-cooked protein toppings (like shredded chicken, turkey pepperoni, chicken sausage, meatballs, etc.)
Top your bread with sauce, cheese, veggies, and other toppings and then bake in the oven or air fryer at 375 for 5 minutes until everything is warmed through and melted together!
Breakfast For Dinner
Breakfast for dinner is always a good go to when you need a quick and easy meal at night. When making breakfast for dinner, still aim for a performance plate with grains, protein, color, and fats! For example, a good option would be a veggie and cheese omelet, avocado toast, and a piece of fruit on the side.
Another lighter post-practice meal idea is a hummus plate/platter. Simply fill a plate with veggies, pita, pretzels, hummus, bean dip…really whatever you like! A platter like this is an easy way to build a balanced plate when you are feeling more snacky than an actual meal!