Competition season is over and now it’s almost time for summer training!
As a gymnast, I remember I always had mixed emotions about summer in the gym. School is wrapping up, and the competition season has come to an end. There was always so much excitement around training now that competitions were over (no more routines!!), but there was also always some nerves and stress that went along with the excitement. Summer was the time to build strength and endurance, learn the new skills that you needed for next season (especially if your goal is to move up a level). It’s like a big gray cloud looming over your summer fun. You might feel a lot of pressure to reach all of your goals before the summer ends. But remember, the summer is LONG (and especially coming right off of a long, intense competition season) - if you want to achieve your big goals by August, there is one more piece to the puzzle you need to focus on, especially early on in your off season training … RECOVERY!
Competition season was long and intense. Your body has gone through a lot. If you want to achieve your summer goals, you need to make sure that you focus on recovery first. It can be easy to jump right into learning those new skills, but addressing what your body needs will allow you to achieve your goals and feel your best this summer.
A major major component of recovery from the competition season is nutrition - how you fuel your body! So how can you fuel for a productive summer season to achieve your goals? Let's discuss 5 ways you can use nutrition to prioritize recovery this summer.
Five Ways To Use Nutrition to Prioritize Recovery this Summer
1. Continue to Eat Enough!
Eating enough in gymnastics is so important to be fueled for success and it continues to be important even during the off season. For most gymnasts, your training time and intensity doesn’t actually change all that much… Most of you will probably be training either the same or even more hours during the off season than during competition season. To fuel for your maximum performance while considering your recovery needs, fuel using an Athlete's Plate and adjust your fueling schedule and continue including 3 meals and multiple snacks (including, before, during, and after workouts) daily.
2. Maximize Your Recovery With Micronutrients!
Gymnasts prioritizing recovery should make it a point to meet the daily recommended intake for:
Vitamin A plays an important role in the growth of new cells, which is necessary for recovery. Try including 3 servings (>600mcg/day) of foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, spinach, carrots, cantaloupe, bell peppers, mango, tomato each day to help you reach the daily recommended amount.
Vitamin C helps build and maintain collagen tissue, which is a component of tendons and ligaments. Try including 3 servings (>45 mcg/day) foods like oranges, grapefruits and limes, also bell peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi and broccoli, and consider having one of these servings in your pre-workout meal along with a collagen-rich protein source.
Anthocyanins have been shown to be both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory, giving them an important role in recovery. Try including 1 or 2 servings of a blue or purple fruit or vegetable, like cherries, pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, beets, purple cabbage, acai (as well as their juices) daily, and consider incorporating one of these foods after your workout or before bed to help maximize recovery and improve sleep.
Zinc plays a role in healing as well as building cells and muscle tissues. Try including 3-4 servings (>8 mg/day) of foods that contain zinc into your diet such as beef, pork, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, whole grains, peas, legumes.
Omega-3s are an important nutrient that promotes recovery and helps reduce inflammation after a tough workout. Try incorporating 2 servings of fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines each week and include 1-2 servings of foods like walnuts, avocado, and flax seeds daily to help you to get more omega-3s into your diet.
3. Bone healing nutrients!
Competition season (and all of the hard landings that went along with it) was likely tough on your bones. In order to avoid bone injuries like stress fractures, OCD, and breaks, it is also important to eat foods that contain bone healing nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.
Calcium is required for bone growth, development, and maintenance, can help keep your bones strong, as well as supply the building blocks to repair any damage. Try to include 3-4 servings of calcium from foods ( >1000mg/day) like dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt, leafy green vegetables (like broccoli, spinach, kale), tofu and soy, chia seeds and fortified foods (like OJ, or some plant based milks).
Vitamin D is also very important for strong bones and muscles. This is because without enough Vitamin D, the body cannot absorb calcium. We actually make most of the Vitamin D we need through our skin when we spend time in the sun. However, you might be at risk for vitamin D deficiency for many different reasons such as: the time of year (winter), not spending enough time in the sun (like if you spend the majority of your day inside for practice or school), not being exposed to direct enough sunlight (because of umbrellas, windows, clothes, or even sunscreen).
Vitamin D is also found in some foods, including oily fish like salmon and trout, and fortified foods like some cereals, milks, and orange juice. Some mushrooms are treated with UV light and will also contain vitamin D (so read your labels!).
Most gymnasts should get their vitamin D levels screened once or twice per year and discuss possible supplementation with their doctor if it is found they are deficient.
If you just completed your competition season you need to give your body time to rest. I understand that it can be difficult to do this. Depending on your gym they might give you time off, or they might not. Some gyms give a week or two before getting back into practice after the season ends. There are also gyms that don’t do that and encourage their gymnasts to get right back into practice. Try your best to get a couple of rest days in before starting your summer season (and continue to take rest days throughout the season!). It is also important during recovery to make sure you are still eating and sleeping enough. Sleep is the best time for your body to rest, recover, and repair itself so that you're ready to train your hardest and get better in the gym the next day. All types of sleep related troubles can be impacted by food and if you are interested in learning more about how what we eat can impact our sleep, click here!
5. Don’t Forget to Hydrate!
Hydration is also an important piece to recovery. Think of the body like a water slide - without turning on the “hose” it will be difficult for all of these recovery nutrients to get around to the body, and it will be difficult for the body to get rid of the “damaged” waste.
How much should you drink though? Most gymnasts need to drink around half your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day, minimum, without considering any exercise. Before practice make sure to drink 16-24oz of water so that you are properly hydrated before the practice begins. At practice, try your best to sip on your drink at least every 15-20 minutes (or aim for 8-16oz per hour). Recovery depends on both staying adequately hydrated during practice AND hydrating in the hours after. Aim to drink at least another 16-24oz in the 2 hours after practice.
It is so important to stay hydrated during practice, especially as the weather gets warmer, because the body loses more water through sweat to stay cool. (Some gyms get super hot if they don’t have air conditioning (I know mine wouldn't turn the air conditioning on until mid-July and temperatures got really high in the gym!)). The hotter or sweatier it is, the more you’ll need to drink before, during, and after gym to feel your best.
And while water is very important, gymnastics is a high intensity sport that can require more than just water for hydration. After a 1-2 hours of practice, it is likely your body will start to need electrolytes (like sodium, potassium & calcium) and carbohydrates (aka some sugar) to maintain fluid balance and keep you hydrated. There are sports drinks with electrolytes like Propel, Nuun tablets, and Liquid IV and also sports drinks with carbs like Gatorade, Powerade, Skratch, or even 100% fruit juice with a pinch of salt. These liquids can help you stay hydrated and keep you from feeling the effects of dehydration (like low energy, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, or nausea) during long, hot practices.
If you are looking to use nutrition to prioritize recovery and reach your goals this summer, but are struggling to figure out how, I am here to help. As a registered dietitian for gymnasts, I work with highly motivated athletes who are ready to fuel their body to be the happiest, healthiest, highest performance of themselves. Apply to my 1-on-1 program today!