Competition day as a high level gymnast can be both exciting and nerve-wracking. The pressure to perform at your best can sometimes lead to pre-competition jitters for many athletes, which can have a major impact on a gymnast's ability to prepare appropriately and perform up to their potential. As a registered dietitian specializing in helping gymnasts fuel their body to perform their best on and off the competition floor, I cannot stress the importance of fueling your body adequately to ensure optimal performance. But, so many gymnasts struggle to eat before a competition as a result of nerves and pre-meet anxiety, and end up struggling with increased mental stress and poor performance as a result.
In this blog post, I'm sharing 3 essential tips to help you or your gymnast eat before their competition, even with pre-competition nerves, so they can feel fueled, focused, and confident for the competition and perform their best.
3 Tips For Fueling With Pre-Competition Nerves
1. Practice Makes Perfect – Plan Your Competition Day Nutrition
One of the keys to eating before a competition, even with nerves, is to create a normal, everyday routine for your nutrition. In the days, weeks, and months leading up to a competition, learn what types of foods, meals, and snacks you enjoy eating, sit well in your stomach, and keep you full and energized. Every day can be an opportunity to get more comfortable with the foods you're going to eat on meet day:
Breakfast before school or a morning workout becomes breakfast on meet day.
Pre-practice meals and snacks become pre-competition meals and snacks.
Mid-practice snacks become mid-meet snacks.
Post workout recovery meals become dinner the night before the competition.
During practices, focus on how your body responds to different foods. This way, you can make informed choices about what works best for you on competition day. By establishing a familiar routine, you'll be better prepared to tackle pre-competition nerves (and it will feel it easier for you to eat when nerves are at their peak) and ensure your body has the energy it needs to shine on the competition floor.
2: Settle Your Stomach and Brain With A Balanced Meal
Pre-competition nerves can often lead to a fluttery stomach, making it challenging to eat a full meal. However, it's crucial to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to perform optimally. Choosing a balanced meal with a mix of low-to-moderate fiber carbohydrates and lean protein around 2-3 hours before the competition can help settle your stomach and feed your brain while ensuring you have the energy required for the demands of gymnastics. When dealing with a nervous stomach, look to limit foods that are too high in fat or fiber close to competition time, as they can cause discomfort and may take longer to digest.
Tip 3: Incorporate Low Volume Foods or Liquid Fuel
When nerves are running high, the thought of consuming a large meal may feel daunting and overwhelming. In such cases, incorporating low volume foods (like dried fruit, nuts, and seeds) or liquid fuel (like smoothies, protein drinks, milk, or juice) can be a game-changer. These options feel much easier to consume before a meet for many gymnasts and can still provide the necessary nutrients to support your performance.
Bonus Tip: Some Food is Better Than Nothing
It's essential to understand that in the midst of pre-competition nerves, eating or drinking something is always going to be better than nothing. Even if you or your gymnast can only manage a small snack or a few bites of a meal, it's crucial to provide your body with the fuel it needs to perform at its best.
If the thought of eating a full meal seems overwhelming, focus on consuming easily digestible snacks like crackers with cheese, a piece of fruit, a small handful of pretzels, or even a juice or sports drink. These options are light on the stomach but still contribute valuable carbohydrates to fuel your performance.
Remember, the goal is not perfection in your pre-competition nutrition but rather ensuring that you give your body the nutrients it needs to perform at your best. Every gymnast's body reacts differently to stress, so find what works best for you through trial and error during your training sessions.
Mastering pre-competition nerves is a journey that involves both mental and physical preparation and may also require guidance from a mental health professional. By practicing your competition day nutrition, settling your stomach with a balanced meal, and incorporating low volume foods or liquid fuel, you can enhance your performance and compete with confidence. Additionally, always remember that some food is better than nothing, and finding the right balance for your body is a process that takes time and self-awareness. With these tips, you'll be better equipped to navigate the challenges of pre-competition nerves and showcase your gymnastic prowess at its peak.
When you skip meals, avoid foods, and don't make performance fueling a priority, you can't expect your body to be at its best come competition time. It's not just about giving 100% when you're in the gym, but also making what you do outside of the gym a priority. It's not too late to get your nutrition sorted out and see major improvements this season!
The Fueled Gymnast Academy is the is the simplest way for busy gymnast (and those who feed them) to learn the ins and outs of fueling their body as a high level gymnast so they can
have more energy, reduce the risk of injury, and perform their best
feel confident and empowered to make their own food choices (and not just have someone tell them what they have to eat)
Fueling your body doesn't have to be a guessing game. And you don't have to figure it out on your own.