For most gymnasts, back-to-school is here (and for many of you, in person classes are starting up again for the first time in a year and a half)! It's exciting that we're mostly returning to a new normal with the ability to have more in person activities and personal connection again. I think we all have a bit of Zoom fatigue by now... (I know I do😅).
While this transition is (hopefully) exciting, it also presents a change in routine, once again, which can be challenging, especially for gymnasts who will be on the go a lot more again. Fueling during the school day is so critical to keep your energy levels up throughout the day and for afternoon/night practice. But, it can also be more difficult to fuel during the school day -- there are fewer opportunities and options to eat during the day than when you're at home.
HOWEVER, this is not an excuse to let your fueling routine get lost in the transition miss out on your fueling routine and eating enough to fuel your body (especially with competition season right around the corner).
So how do you navigate fueling during the school day?
One of the most obvious times in the school day to take advantage of is lunch time. No matter how long or short your designated lunch break is, use that time to fuel your body!
A gymnast's fueling lunch should have:
Colorful Fruits & Veggies
Know How to Fuel with Cafeteria Lunches
Growing up, cafeteria lunches were usually seen as a "treat". My mom rarely let me get school lunches often because cafeteria lunches seem "less healthy" than packed lunches to her and many other parents (usually because of the many options presented to students as opposed to the control parents get over their kids' lunches).
But guess what?! It is entirely possible (and actual pretty simple) to build a gymnast's plate from school cafeteria options! School lunch menus are generally designed following the USDA's My Plate guidelines.
See the similarities between MyPlate and a gymnast's plate?! Both include grains, protein, and color (fruits and vegetables). Since school lunch menus are designed to make it easy for students to make a plate following the MyPlate guidelines, school lunch menus also offer a lot of options for gymnasts to build their fueling plates and get the energy and nutrients they need from a lunch!
Aside from the daily hot lunch options, some cafeteria lunch options for gymnasts (depending on what your school offers) could include:
A grilled chicken sandwich or burger + fruit and/or veggie of choice + milk
A loaded salad (with veggies, protein, and dressing from the salad bar or a pre-packaged option) + bread roll + pretzels + milk
Build your own sandwich + Greek yogurt + fruit
Soup + saltine crackers + fruit + string cheese
Remember Your Gymnast's Plate for Packed Lunches Too
When packing lunches for the school day, use your gymnast's plate as a guide to make sure you're getting all the energy and nutrients you need in the meal! Include at least one source each of grains (carb), color (fruits and/or veggies), protein, fat, and hydration! These will help you refuel for the rest of your day, especially in advance of your afternoon practice (although remember to still have a pre-practice snack!).
Need some packed lunch inspiration? Try these ideas:
Mexican Chicken Pita – Fill whole wheat pita with grilled or baked chicken pieces, lettuce, 2 Tbsp. shredded cheese and salsa. Serve with low-fat yogurt, orange slices, & water.
Turkey Pretzel Wrap – Place 2–3 oz. turkey, avocado slices (or a guac cup) and pretzel sticks in a whole wheat wrap. Serve with baby carrots, cherry tomatoes & ranch for dipping and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Salmon Salad Pita – Mix salmon (from pouch, can, or leftover) with plain Greek yogurt and chopped celery and put in a whole wheat pita. Serve with baby carrots and grapes and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Pizza Rollups – On a whole wheat tortilla, spread tomato sauce and top with ¼ cup shredded mozzarella cheese, turkey pepperoni, & favorite veggies like peppers or baby spinach. Roll and slice into pieces. Serve with bell pepper sticks and hummus and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Ricotta Cheese Sandwich – Spread 2T ricotta cheese with chopped peppers and cucumber slices on whole wheat bread. Serve strawberries and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Egg Salad and Veggie Pita – Mix a sliced hard-boiled egg with plain Greek yogurt, chopped bell peppers, tomatoes and shredded carrots in whole wheat pita. Serve with graham crackers, apple slices and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Dipping Day – Make a plate of whole wheat crackers, baby carrots, celery + nut butter or hummus, fresh salsa, or guacamole. Serve with Greek yogurt, dried fruit, and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Hummus Rollups – On whole wheat tortilla, spread 2 Tbsp. hummus, baby spinach leaves and shredded carrots. Roll and slice into pieces. Serve with string cheese, a cup of mixed fruit and water, low fat milk, or 100% fruit juice.
Preparation is key to be able to fuel your best during the busy school day. Packing a lunch the night before can help you save time in the morning while also making sure that you have the food you need during the day.
Additionally, pack extra snacks to eat throughout the day, since gymnasts should eat every 2-3 hours to keep up with their energy needs. It's likely you'll need should a snack:
Either between breakfast and lunch or lunch and the end of the school day (depending on what time your lunch is)
Between school and practice (or eat dinner before practice depending on your practice time)
A mid practice snack
A snack after practice (if you eat dinner before practice and/or if you have an hour or more drive home from practice before you eat dinner).
Eating the same meal every single can get boring. If you really like a certain lunch or combination for your meal, go for it!
But if you easily get sick of eating the same thing every day, include variety in your lunches. Whether this means switching between packed and cafeteria lunches or varying what you pack for lunch each day, switch things up so that fueling doesn't become boring! If you're sick of eating the same thing every day and therefore just don't eat it, this can be super harmful to your training since you're missing out on energy to power you through the day and gymnastics practice.
There are so many options to choose from at the store to help you switch up your lunch routine and still meet your fueling goals. Gymnasts, consider going to the grocery store with your parent to choose options for your lunch so that you have options YOU want to eat!!
Realize That It's Okay (and Necessary) to Eat More Than Your Classmates
As a high level athlete, gymnasts need to be eating a lot to power all your body's processes along with your practices. You'll most likely need to eat more than your classmates. I get it, this can make you feel self-conscious because of the unfortunate stigma in society to eat as little as possible.
But gymnasts, you need SO MUCH ENERGY every single day to power your basic body processes, feed your brain at school, and fuel your training. Don't be afraid to eat more than your peers. Everyone's bodies are different, and everyone needs different amount of foods. Eat what works for you to feel your best, keep your energy levels up, and be your strongest in the gym.
So, this school year, make your fueling plan a priority. Be prepared, be consistent, and be confident!