Halloween, Candy, and High-Level Gymnasts
Halloween is such a fun holiday! I remember as a young gymnast getting the night off of practice and just getting to spend time with my friends being a "normal" kid!
Running around the neighborhood, collecting candy -- I always looked forward to Halloween!
As a gymnast, this week can seem a little confusing and conflicting, especially if you've ever been told that sugar is "bad" or that "gymnasts don't eat candy".
I mean, a whole holiday centered around eating food that's supposedly "bad" or is usually "limited" or "off limits". What mixed messages! What are you going to do?
As a gymnast with meet season right around the corner, it seems like you only have 2 options:
1. You go NUTS, collecting and eating as much candy as you possibly can until you feel sick to your stomach... (I mean, when is the next time you're going to be allowed to eat candy anyway?) Then, come November 1st, get that candy out of the house! You feel so guilty and you never want to see it again!
2. Do you avoid the holiday and the candy all together and miss out on a fun time with your friends?... But then, you see the candy (in your house, at school, WHEREVER) and it's like you can't help yourself! You feel like you have no willpower and eat the candy anyway! Instead of eating a satisfying portion, you go nuts! You feel sick and out of control, and you'll start your "diet" again tomorrow. You'll just try harder next time.
Neither of these scenarios sound like much fun to me...
But but that's the price of being a gymnast - disciplined and with a ton of willpower...
I'm here to tell you that one night of fun and candy will not ruin your training. And that there is another way to approach Halloween!
So, you're saying I can eat sugar?
Gymnastics (and being a functioning human being in general) takes A LOT of energy, and carbohydrates (aka sugar) are your body's favorite source to get that energy from. This energy is what powers everything from your trick-or-treat walk around the neighborhood to your gymnastics, conditioning, and recovery.
The idea that eating excess carbohydrates will ruin your training, change your body, or automatically turn into body fat is not true. Since your body really likes to use carbohydrates for energy, it will first use carbohydrates as an immediate form of energy to power the activity you are currently doing.
Second, your body will then store excess carbohydrates (not as fat) but as a molecule known as glycogen, which is stored in your muscles and in your liver to be easily broken down and give your body energy between meals or during workouts. As a high-level athlete with increased muscle mass, it is likely that your body can store more energy this way compared to a less-active person.
For carbohydrates to be turned to fat in the body, you would have to be eating carbohydrates well beyond your immediate needs and these glycogen stores over a period of time (not just on one meal or one day). And since gymnastics takes a lot of energy (and 50-70% of that coming from carbohydrates), it's unlikely that a gymnast would actually eat such an excess of carbohydrates that they would be turned into fat and stored in the body this way. Even on Halloween.
But, if I allow myself candy, I won't be able to stop!
I've seen it time and time again - a gymnast falls into a cycle that leaves them craving sugar and carbohydrates. Restriction can mean a few things:
You don't allow yourself to eat a food (I can't eat candy.)
You only allow yourself a limited amount of a food or only on certain occasions (I'm only allowed to eat 1 piece of candy. OR I can only eat candy on Halloween.)
You attach a moral value to food that causes you to feel guilty after eating it (Candy is bad.)
For whatever reason, you avoid a certain food (or group of foods) for so long, causing your craving to keep building, to a point that, when you finally eat it, it's like the flood gates have opened! And of course the resulting guilt, shame, and "I'll do better next time" cycle begins again...
The brain always wants more of what it can't have...
But realize, this binge-restrict cycle and the guilt and mental stress that goes along with it is way more harmful than any food or meal will ever be.
Instead, we need to work towards having unconditional permission to eat all foods.
The reality is, foods with sugar can be a regular part of any person's diet, weather you're a high level athlete or not. The more regularly you include candy into your fueling routine, the less special it's going to feel and the less likely you are to feel out of control, scared, or guilty around it, even on special occasions like Halloween.
The same way if you ate broccoli every single meal or every single day, eventually, you'd no longer want to eat broccoli. This idea of food habituation can (and will) happen with desserts too.
Sugar truly is just a simple carb. Fruits, vegetables, starches, and Halloween candy all break down into sugar.
Remember: Every day doesn’t have to be “perfect” in order to fuel your body 🎃
Nutrition and fueling is not black 𝗢𝗥 white, good 𝗢𝗥 bad, on 𝗢𝗥 off. Nutrition is a spectrum. An average of what you eat over the course of a day, a week, a month, or even years!
I encourage the high-level gymnasts that I work with to shoot for an 80/20 spread: 80% of the foods you eat over time you choose for their nutritious attributes. 20% of the foods you eat you choose for other reasons (like fun, enjoyment, and celebration).
For example: If over the course of your day (3 meals and 3 snacks) you eat 20 different foods. And 1 or 2 of those are more fun, then you’re still >90%.
Even on a day like Halloween, where you might eat more candy and sweets than normal, that’s just a drop in the bucket of your overall nutrition!
Don’t be so hard on yourself today.
If you're feeling stressed or guilty over what you've eaten try using And Mentality.
Instead of using “OR” try using “AND” instead:
“𝘐 𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘣𝘴 𝘈𝘕𝘋 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘪𝘯.”
“𝘐 𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘷𝘦𝘨𝘦𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘈𝘕𝘋 𝘩𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘰𝘸𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘤𝘢𝘯𝘥𝘺.”
There’s room for both. Both can be true at the same time.
So gymnasts, on a day like Halloween, look for balance. You can eat foods that fuel your body AND enjoy your favorite Halloween treats too! Drink some water. Enjoy ALL of the treats this season has to offer and the time spent with your friends. This time of year, there’s plenty of room on your plate for both vegetables and desserts.