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Fueling A Gymnast On Vacation

Summer is a popular time for vacations or staycations with family and friends. While the gymnastics calendar is relentless, this period might coincide with gym closures or family getaways. Vacation time is exciting, but it can also cause stress for gymnasts who miss practice and disrupt their routines.

Common Concerns for Gymnasts on Vacation

Without regular gymnastics training, some gymnasts become more conscious of their eating habits. Some may indulge in all the “fun” foods they've been avoiding all competition season long, while others might try to eat extra "healthy" or “clean” to compensate for reduced physical activity.

Neither of these scenarios are ideal for a gymnast (let alone any person) for a variety of reasons, and are the two extremes of an “all or nothing” mindset. Either one of these mindsets may leave you feeling more stressed than you were before the vacation even started! 

Remember, vacation is also not a time to change your habits or “cut back” on food just because you may not be as physically active!

If you’re someone who tends to stress out about your nutrition, keep in mind that one meal, one weekend, or even a whole week of not training and not eating the same way you would during periods of intense training will NOT derail or cause a setback in your progress during the offseason. Your body is excellent at self regulation and will tell you what types of foods it is craving and how much it needs to help recover!

You may be wondering, what SHOULD I be eating on vacation?

While there are no specific foods you MUST eat (and none that need to be avoided) during recovery or rest periods, follow these 3 tips to still feel your best without worrying about your nutrition.

1. Loosely follow a performance plate

A low-key vacation spent poolside or at the beach without much intense activity won’t require as much energy as hiking a 14,000 foot mountain. In this case, you can follow a Low Intensity Training Plate. 

If you find yourself doing lots of walking tours in a new town, or playing games outside with your family, you may require more energy than what is provided on a Low Intensity Performance Plate. Instead, you can include more grains and protein on your plate, which would be more in line with a Moderate Intensity Performance Plate. 

If your vacation is full of hiking, biking, and other strenuous activities that leave you feeling tired at the end of the day, you may still need a High Intensity Performance Plate to help replenish all that energy you are expending.

Be sure to listen to your body on what it needs - some days it may be needing more energy than others, and that is completely normal! Just because you think you may need a Low or Moderate Intensity Training Plate, doesn’t mean you have to stick to that. Your body may crave more grains, even if you feel like you weren’t that active throughout the day. Like I said before, your body is great at telling you what it needs, so be sure to listen! 

Don’t spend too much time worrying about how every food you eat fits on the performance plate, but this can be a great way to still keep fueling habits as normal as possible while still allowing yourself to indulge in treats and “fun foods” without stressing over it! 

But what does that actually look like while on vacation?! 

While on vacation, it is extremely likely that many meals will come from different kinds of restaurants, shops and stores. For a normal meal, continue to look for the different components of a performnace plate.

Here are some examples that could be found at common types of restaurants.

Fast Food/ Drive Thrus

Chicken Restaurant (ex.Chick-fil-a)

  • Grilled Cool Wrap + Fruit Yogurt Parfait + Lemonade = Protein (Chicken in the wrap and the yogurt) + Carbs (Tortilla wrap) + Color (Fruit in the parfait and veggies in the wrap)

  • Cobb Salad + Waffle Fries + Milk = Protein (Chicken in salad and the milk) + Carbs (Waffle Fries) + Color (Veggies in salad) 

Burger Restaurant (ex. McDonald’s, Burger King, Five Guys, In & Out)

  • Cheeseburger + Fries + Apple Slices = Protein (burger) + Carbs (Fries + apple slices) + Color (Apples)

  • Chicken Sandwich + Apple Slices + Milk = Protein (Chicken + milk) + Carbs (Bun + apples) + Color (Apples) 

Fast Mexican (ex. Chipotle, Qdoba) 

  • Burrito bowl with Chicken + Brown Rice + Black beans + Fajita Vegetables + Guacamole + Cheese = Protein (Chicken, black beans, cheese) + Carbs (Brown rice) + Color (Fajita Vegetables and Guacamole) 

  • Steak Quesadilla + Salsa + Guacamole + Black Beans = Protein (Steak and black beans) + Carbs (Tortilla) + Color (Salsa and Guacamole) 

Deli, Bagel Shop, Sandwich Shop

  • Toasted Bagel with cream cheese + Fruit cup + 100% Apple or Orange Juice + Yogurt = Protein (Cream Cheese and Yogurt) + Carbs (Bagel and Juice) + Color (Fruit cup and Juice)

  • Ciabatta Sausage, Egg, and Cheese sandwich + Yogurt Parfait + Milk = Protein (Egg + Sausage + Cheese + Yogurt) + Carbs (Ciabatta) + Color (Fruit on parfait)

How to build a Performance Plate at a Hotel

Oftentimes, hotels will have continental breakfasts or a buffet open in the morning. Usually, they aren’t too fancy, but they have plenty of basics that will fit into training plates! 

  • 2 Hard boiled eggs + Cereal with milk + Apple + Muffin = Protein (Eggs and milk) + Carbs (Muffin and cereal) + Color (Apple) 

  • Biscuits and Gravy + Yogurt + Orange = Protein (Yogurt) + Carbs (Biscuits and Orange) + Color (Orange) 

How to pack snacks for the pool. beach, or day at the waterpark:

Packing your own snacks for a beach, pool, or waterpark day can not only help you save money, but also allow you to stay all day and soak up the sun! Load up your cooler and snack bag with these foods for your next outing! 

Sandwich with turkey, cheese and lettuce + bag of pretzels + apple = Protein (turkey, cheese), color (apple, lettuce), starch (bread + pretzels)

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich + sun chips + Orange slices = protein (peanut butter), color (orange slices), starch (bread, chips)

  • Grapes (Want a sweet treat?! Sprinkle washed grapes with jello powder, Liquid IV mix, or Crystal Light powder for a fun treat that tastes like sour candy!) 

  • Watermelon 

  • Berries

  • Pineapple

  • Deli Meat + Sandwich toppings

  • Cliff Bars

  • Beef Jerky 

  • Mini muffins 

  • Pretzels 

  • Cheese sticks 

  • Guacamole Cups

  • Tortilla Chips

2. Eat Regular Meals and Snacks

Vacation days can be a nice break from your normal, everyday busy schedule. But, so often when our days have less structure, regular meals and snacks also seem to get lost. As a result, many gymnasts spend their precious vacations tired, hangry, and cranky.

While it may look different than a normal day, still try to incorporate a meal or snack every 2-4 hours. For most athletes on vacation, this still looks like:

  • Breakfast within 1 hour of waking up

  • AM snack (depending on what time you woke up, if there is >3 hours between breakfast and lunch)

  • Lunch

  • Afternoon Snack

  • Dinner

  • Dessert or Bed Time Snack

When adding balanced snacks into your day with the purpose of keeping your energy levels high, assisting in meeting daily energy and nutrient needs, and bridging the gap between meals (that are more than 3 or 4 hours apart) so you don't feel overly hungry by the next meal, look to incorporate at least two food groups:

  1. A food providing energy (like a grain, fruit, or veggie)

  2. A protein or fat (for your muscles and help you feel full and satisfied)

Some of my favorite everyday snacks for gymnasts that are perfect for travel and vacation include:

Remember, just because you're eating differently on vacation and there may be more exciting dinners at restaurants, parties, and special meals, there is no such thing as "saving up" for a big meal. Skipping meals or snacks will only leave you uncomfortably hungry and in a bad mood.

3. Stay Hydrated!

Remember that if you are spending several hours in the sun or doing physical activities (like biking, hiking, or paddle boarding) you will need to hydrate! Additionally, travel by car or airplane, changes in elevation, and even hotel air conditioning can increase your hydration needs.

Most people will aim to drink 40-60% of their body weight (in pounds) in ounces of fluids daily. Heat, humidity, physical activity and travel means that you will likely need to drink more than that and incorporate electrolytes through foods and drinks.

Pack a reusable water bottle that you can fill up, as well as a few disposable bottles in case you can’t find a water fountain. You can enhance your water with flavors like Mio or Crystal Lite or fresh fruit, vegetables, and herbs to give it a summery twist. 

Incorporating fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, in addition to cool summer treats like smoothies, popsicles, snow cones, and more can also help you stay hydrated while on vacation.

This vacation, instead of getting caught up in the "should's" and "what-if's", shift your focus away from the food, and have a fun, relaxing and enjoyable vacation and find time to relax (whether you are staying at home or going somewhere). Remember though, you do not have to follow the athlete's plate while on vacation, it is just an option for you if you choose to do so. And remember, one meal, one snack, one day, or one trip will not have a long-term impact on your performance, abilities in the gym, or body.

When you skip meals, avoid foods, and don't make fueling a priority in and out of the gym, you can't expect to get the most out of your summer training. 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. This is the best time of the year to start learning more about nutrition and implementing fueling strategies that have you feeling and training your best.

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.


Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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