The school year is in full swing for most gymnasts, which means there have been a lot of changes in your life this past month...
Not only are these changes something that you personally must adjust to, but your body must adjust to these on a physiological level too -- that is all the processes that keep you alive must adjust to keep running smoothly in the face of the changes you're dealing with.
And often, these physiological adjustments require more energy... so you need to eat more and be more strategic to ensure your body has all the fuel that it needs to meet the demands your daily life at school and the gym place on it!
There are many external factors (that is factors outside of your own body) that can cause a gymnast's energy needs to increase meaning they have to increase the amount of food they eat to meet these demands.
So what are those factors?
Long days are now a daily occurrence - between a full school day, homework, extracurriculars, and of course, gym. Schedule changes and jam-packed days can lead to an increase in stress and an increase in activity in your life - -both of which increase your body's daily energy needs! This means you'll need more fuel for your body so that it can keep powering you through your busy day!!
Increase in Training Amount
As I've stressed often, gymnastics practice takes A LOT of energy!!! Therefore, it takes a lot of food to fuel your practices. If your time in the gym increases (added days, extra hours, high-school team, private lessons, clinics, competitions, etc...), your body faces an even bigger energy demand that you must meet in order to fuel your training, feel your best at practice, and avoid pre-season fatigue, burn-out, or injury.
Increase in Training Intensity
As with an increase in training amount, an increase in training intensity also requires more energy and therefore more food! This time of year, you're taking more turns, doing harder skills, combinations, routine parts, and full sets as you enter the full swing of pre-season...
Think about it - getting through a full floor routine takes more energy than doing a single tumbling pass. So as your training intensity increases, switching from single passes to dance throughs to half routines to full routines, the energy cost for your body also increases, requiring you to give your body more energy by eating more and fueling properly.
Gymnasts, hard landings also take more of an energy toll on your body! They take more precision, and they're more taxing on your bones, muscles, ligaments, and joints as well. All gymnasts know that hard landings are more strenuous on the body than resi and pit landings. You have to absorb the force of the landing, resulting in more wear and tear to your body. This means you need to fuel more to provide the energy your body needs to support this type of training and for recovery (to repair itself so you feel your best each practice). This also will help you make it through preseason and season feeling healthy and strong!
So how do gymnasts make sure to meet their increased energy demands?
One of the best ways to determine if you need to eat more is to listen to the cues from your body it gives when it needs more fuel!!! While the most obvious of these cues is hunger, other signs that you need to eat more include feeling fatigued often, irritability, trouble sleeping, feeling sluggish, and having trouble focusing.
Additionally, it will be difficult to meet your energy and nutrient needs without a little strategy. Be sure to prioritize your good fueling practices in order to meet your increased energy demands:
Look to eat every 2-3 hours. This means you should have multiple snacks throughout your day as well as 3 full meals a 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.
Remember to use your athlete's plate as a guide for meals and snacks (and most likely. a moderate or hard day plate)!! Most meals should include fruits and/or veggies, starches, protein, 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.
Fuel for the work ahead: Make sure to eat a snack before, during, and after practice!
Your pre-practice snack should include simple carbs (like starches and fruit) for quick energy and possibly a low-fat protein source (like Greek yogurt, eggs, etc.) if tolerated.
Your mid-practice snack should have more simple carbs for a 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.
Prioritize recovery! Your goal is to eat after practice, no matter what time (or how late) it is. Try:
A post-practice snack within 1 hour of the end of practice, including 3:1 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. AND/OR
A post-practice meal no more than 2-3 hours after practice, that follows your athlete's plate. Make the most out of your recovery by using your athlete's plate and including omega-3 healthy fats (like salmon, chia seeds, or walnuts), Vitamins A & C (found in red and orange fruits and veggies), and Anthocyanins (found in blue and purple fruits and veggies)
Still not sure if you're meeting your fueling goals? Take my Gymnast Fueling Quiz and see how your current fueling routine stacks up.
Or do you feel like you need more 1-on-1 help from a dietitian to feel your best and strongest this pre-season and season? Join the waitlist for my personalized nutrition programs for gymnasts (spots are avaubeginning in October!