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Essential Nutrition Tips for Summer Training: Fueling Gymnasts for Success

Summer practice is upon us (or will be soon!) and it can be a huge adjustment for your body. 


Between longer and more frequent practices


An emphasis on endurance, strength, conditioning and learning new skills


Increased drills and repetitions… 


Your body is going to feel exhausted! Not to mention, you’re likely practicing at a completely different time of day than you’re used to and at a much different intensity and type of training (more cardio and endurance, LOTS of conditioning…). 


If you're going into summer practices with a clear mindset and ready to tackle your goals, but are not also focusing on what you're doing outside of the gym, it can seem like a daunting task.


Remember, it’s not only the drills, conditioning sessions, and endless tumbling passes that impact your performance this summer and set you up for success for next season, but also what you do when you’re not at the gym.


This includes your sleep habits, how you’re fueling and hydrating, and how you are recovering and spending your time outside of the gym.


Some of the biggest challenges I see for gymnasts during the shift to summer training have to do with remembering to fuel with the lack of structure and schedule compared to what they had during the school year, knowing how to or remembering to fuel in social settings with friends and family who may not have an intense practice schedule like you do (you still need to eat a meal after practice even if you are at the pool with friends and no one else is eating!), and getting acclimated to the sudden change and increase and intensity of training.


You are going to have to quickly figure out how to fuel and prepare your body for the change in training, different routine (or lack of) compared to your normal school schedule, and learning how to fuel while still enjoying the fun that comes with summer! 


Your body and mind are going through lots of changes all at once and having to adapt can be challenging, especially when it comes to fueling and making sure your body is recovering how it should. 


Feeling lost on how to start the summer off on a high note? Here are a registered dietitian's 3 biggest tips so you feel your best for the grueling summer practices ahead!





1. Stay Hydrated! 


Hydration is KEY during the summer months. You’ll be practicing more, likely earlier in the morning (with less time to hydrate before practice), training in warmer temperatures (even if you’re inside!), and spending more free time outside. All of these activities can quickly lead to dehydration you if you’re not careful or conscious! 


During the summer months, you are likely to be sweating quite a bit more due to the high temperatures. It is crucial to hydrate with not only water, but with electrolyte and sports beverages or salty snacks as well to help replace electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Your body needs these electrolytes to help maintain fluid balance in the body, as well as to prevent cramping, the feeling of exhaustion and confusion, and to improve performance. 


Some of my favorite beverages to feel hydrated and energized include (but are not limited to):

  • Gatorade or Powerade (Regular Gatorade for workouts when you need extra carbohydrates (aka sugar) or Zero outside of a workout when you are able to incorporate meals and snacks with carbohydrates)

  • Propel 

  • Fruit Juice 

  • Milk (extremely hydrating because it is packed with electrolytes - bonus that it helps build strong bones too!)

  • Chocolate Milk (Great to drink after a practice because of the additional carbohydrates!)


Another great way to stay hydrated during the summer is to consume fruits and vegetables with a high water content. Berries, melon, pineapple and cucumbers are a great way to increase your hydration while also sneaking in some micronutrients and fiber into your diet. 


A great rule of thumb is to drink a minimum of ½ your body weight in ounces per day PLUS additional fluids to compensate for training. For example, a 100 lb athlete should consume about 50 ounces of fluids per day PLUS 12-24 oz in the 2 hours before training, 8-16 oz each hour you’re training, and another 16-24oz the hour following your training. 


2. Eat Enough Meals and Snacks! 


Your increased training will leave you feeling hungry and sluggish all day long if you don’t focus on fueling. An active and growing athlete should be eating some kind of meal or snack every 2-3 hours - that is probably much more often than you were thinking! Summer training doesn’t always allow for consistent or “traditional” meal times, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect your fueling habits that you worked so hard to establish during the season! You may just need to readjust and shift the timing of meals and snacks to find what works best for you and your training schedule. 


Even with early morning practices, you should be eating before, during, and after practices to replenish your energy stores and avoid the recovery gap. You may not like the idea of practicing on a full stomach, but something is better than nothing. If you are not used to eating before an early morning workout, try eating even just a simple high carbohydrate snack like cheez its and apple sauce before practice to help train your gut to start accepting food, and slowly increase your morning intake as your body gets used to the feeling of eating in the morning. 


Focusing on carbohydrates before practice will give you the energy you need to make it through a long practice, as well as “topping off your fuel tank” with salty snacks, fruit chews, or a sports drink every 60-90 minutes during longer training sessions. 


After practice you will want to eat a variety of carbohydrates, protein, fat, and additional hydration in the form of a performance plate to help optimize recovery.  





3. Prioritize Sleep! 


It may feel impossible to prioritize sleep in the summer when you’re having endless sleepovers with friends, the days are so much longer, and you’re taking family vacations. It’s important to remember that the body does most of its recovery while you’re sleeping! 


This means that you need to aim for a minimum of 8-10 hours each night to ensure you are well rested and recovered going into another long day of practices and training. Those under 12 years of age may need as much as 12 hours of sleep each night! 


Drinking tart cherry juice (or incorporating other blue/purple fruits rich in anthocyanins) can be part of a great bedtime routine - not only does it contain natural melatonin to help promote a deeper sleep, but it also contains antioxidants that help fight inflammation in the body. Win Win! 


Other great ways to promote restful sleep include:

  • Sleeping in a dark room with no distractions (no tv or phones nearby)

  • Eating enough throughout the day so you are not waking up hungry in the middle of the night

  • Staying hydrated - keep a large bottle of water on your nightstand to sip on throughout the night 

  • Staying off electronics at least an hour before bed to help your brain relax and wind down

  • Doing light stretches or meditation before bed

  • Reading or journaling

  • Relaxing in the shower or bath 


By prioritizing sleep, you will have a lower risk of injury due to allowing for adequate recovery and repair time of your muscles and joints. Sleep is often an overlooked and undervalued part of an athlete’s performance and training plan, so make sure you are putting a bigger emphasis on it this summer to help recover in time for your next practice. 



When you skip meals and snacks, avoid foods, and don't make performance fueling and recovery a priority, you can't expect make the most progress in the gym this summer (and beyond). 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 summer!



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

AND

  • 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.


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Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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