Your body is really smart!
All day every day, your body is constantly doing 1000s of tasks to keep you alive!
It regulates everything from your heart rate to breathing to digestion...
And it's also really good at telling you what you need...
The key is, are you listening?
Many people aren't great at picking up on and listening to the signals their bodies send them...
Society tells us that we can't trust our body. That we have to live by a set of external food rules in order to stay "healthy". For example:
Don't eat after 7pm or too close to bed.
Don't eat sugar.
Don't eat too many carbs.
So, instead, we try to live by these rules and ignore what our body is saying.
And then, when we can't follow these rules...
I shouldn't eat so late, but I'm so hungry...
I can't believe I ate so many cookies at that party...
I shouldn't eat all this pasta, but it just tastes so GOOD!
We start to feel guilty. Like we don't have enough willpower.
And we end up stuck, frustrated, and in a never ending cycle.
So... are you listening to what your body has to say?
So what are some of the biggest signs your body will give you that you need more fuel?
If you're not providing your body with enough energy to meet its needs, it will tell you!! Try looking out for some of these signs and revise your fueling plan to reach your body's energy demand!
You feel like you're always running on empty.
Food = fuel. You wouldn't expect your car to be able to drive if you didn't fill it up with enough gas to get you where you need to go. Similarly, you can't expect your body to feel its best and reach your peak performance in the gym if you don't provide it with enough fuel from the food you eat!
As a high level gymnast, you're not doomed to a life of being constantly tired (contrary to popular belief). But, when you don't have the fuel you need, you'll feel pretty tired and exhausted throughout your day and at practice, which will make it difficult to build strength and endurance in pre-season and meet your gymnastics goals. Additionally, this lack of fuel may catch up to you over time - for example, if Monday's practice is great, but by Friday or Saturday you feel dead tired, it's likely you've fallen behind throughout the week.
Instead, be sure to give your body the gas it needs to power your busy day! Eat regular meals and snacks every 2-3 hours (even on days you're not in the gym), and remember to build meals and snacks using your gymnast's plate as a guide!
You feel hungry.
Sounds obvious...right? Hunger is the main way that your body signals you need food! Hunger can be an indicator on how well you're fueling both in the short-term and the long-term.
Hunger is a cue that your body needs more fuel at the time you're hungry.
But, if you feel like you're constantly hungry--or feel as though you're never completely full--this is likely a sign that your overall food intake over days and weeks is not enough to meet your body's energy needs. You're not giving your body all the energy it needs to fuel basic processes, your heavy training demands, and your daily activities. And gymnasts, you need A LOT of food to fuel all of these things, so listen to your body if it tells you it needs more fuel!
But what if you just ate? ("I can't still be hungry, can I?")
What if you already ate a lot of food today (or yesterday...)
What if you're busy and just don't have time (or forget to eat)?
Many people disregard their hunger signals due to busy schedules, lack of preparation, or fear of eating "too much". But the thing is, if your body is telling you it's hungry, then it needs fuel and you should eat!
Your goal is to have your meal or snack keep you full for about 2-3 hours (hence your eating schedule). The easiest way to do that is to include a combination of foods with fiber (from grains, fruits, and veggies), protein, and fat (from avocados, full-fat dairy foods, nuts, seeds, oils, and dressings).
You have a hard time falling and/or staying asleep.
If you're not meeting your energy needs, you may feel tired and sluggish all day throughout school and practice. But as soon as it's time to actually go to sleep, you feel wide awake and struggle to fall and/or stay asleep.
This may seem counterintuitive, but it has to do with our bodies' survival mechanisms. If you're not fueling properly, your body is pushed into a "starvation" state in which basic survival strategies--such as preserving energy for absolutely necessary processes--are prioritized. Your brain reverts to its primal instincts in order to find more food to support your body, meaning your brain will stay alert, and sleep may be troubling.
Eating a snack before bed can help you meet your daily fueling needs, as well as easing these survival instincts to find food, since you just provided food to your body. Look for a balanced snack with carbs (like cereal, crackers, toast, or fruit) and protein (like milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, or nut butter) to help give your body the fuel it needs to get quality sleep.
You have trouble focusing.
Gymnasts, your brain needs a lot of energy!! Specifically, your brain needs energy from carbohydrates (the equivalent of 8 slices of bread just to maintain normal brain function)!
Take a second and just think about how much your brain does (both things you are aware of and not). Your brain needs energy to signal to your heart to keep beating; your brain needs energy to run the nerve impulses that are helping you read this sentence; and your brain needs energy to gather information about your surroundings, process them, and respond. Your brain also is key to helping you do all of your skills, routines, and conditioning.
If you feel as though your brain is foggy or if you have a hard time focusing, these could be indicators that you need more fuel! Practice good fueling habits to keep your mind sharp by including enough carbohydrates at meals and snacks (especially leading up to and during training) - and have the focus you need for all of your skills and routines!
You're often sore or injured.
Gymnasts, recovery takes EXTRA energy on top of what is required for daily living and gymnastics training!!! When you don't fuel with enough energy, your body won't have extra energy in the tank to rebuild itself and recover. This can show up in the short-term as feeling sore for days after a workout and feeling like you can't recover or just aren't getting stronger. Over time, being under-fueled may lead to repeat injuries, especially breaks, tears, and stress fractures.
Additionally, often, when a gymnast does get hurt, the belief is that they must eat less or cut back on foods like carbs and sugar (since they feel as though they are working out less and being less active)... The reality is, gymnasts actually need the same amount of food--or possibly even more--when injured in order to give their bodies the energy to recover and heal 100%.
If you're always sore or battling injuries, you may not be eating enough, which doesn't give your body enough energy to fully recover so you never real fully recovered!
So, if your recognize any of these 5 signs, your body is likely telling you that it needs more fuel. It's time to make fueling your body adequately more of a priority. Try these 3 simple steps to help fuel your body adequately for gymnastics:
Eat every 2-3 hours. This means you should have multiple snacks throughout your day as well as 3 full meals each day. Planning ahead, being prepared, and knowing your schedule (and therefore when you have time to fit in meals and snacks) will help you meet your fueling demands even amidst a busy, on-the-go day that's typical for gymnasts.
Use your athlete's plate as a guide for meals and snacks. Your meals should include grains & starches, protein, fruits & veggies, and fats! Your snacks should include at least 2 of these, and which 2 you should aim for depends on the timing of the snack.
Support your workouts with fuel: Eat a snack before, during, and after practice! Your pre-practice snack should include simple carbs (starches, fruit) for quick energy and possibly a low-fat protein source (low-fat yogurt, grains) if tolerated. Your mid-practice snack should include simple carbs again for the quick energy boost to refuel you for the rest of practice. Great mid-practice snacks include fresh or dried fruit, pretzels, applesauce, Goldfish, crackers, and fruit juice. Your post-practice snack (if you don't eat a meal within an hour after practice) should include carbs and protein to help aid in recovery after practice. Some great post-practice snacks include chocolate milk, trail mix, a protein smoothie, apple slices and peanut butter, and a protein bar.
Not sure if you're fueling enough? Take my Gymnast Fueling Quiz to check on how you're doing.