As a gymnast, athletes put in countless hours of preparation each week to have a successful competition. So often, parents and athletes are so concerned with what they need to eat before the competition to be at their best... But what are they doing after the meet to help recover and prepare for another long week of practices and another competition not far away?
So many gymnasts struggle to recover (physically and mentally) after a competition. They wake up sore and tired the next day and have a hard time making the most out of the next week of practice. Why is this so often the case?
While we spend so much time thinking and planning for what to eat before the competition, what and when a gymnast eats after can be the difference between fatigue, injury, and burnout and getting to the final meets of the season energized and peaking in performance.
What's happening on meet day?
Competition day can be extremely long. The time between the pre-competiton meal or snack to awards are over can be 4, 5, even 6+ hours (not to mention, if nerves have impacted a gymnast's ability to eat normally...). By the time gymnasts get to their parents, most are feeling exhausted, sore, fatigued, hangry, and irritable (amongst other things...) regardless of how the competition went.
For many families, there are three common food scenarios I hear often as a Registered Dietitian for Gymnasts: the concession stand, a quick drive-through meal (so you can get on the road and get home), or a sit down restaurant. Regardless of the outcome of the meet, most gymnasts are ready to leave the competition and have a fun evening with friends and family to wrap up a long day. Whether you are going out to eat with teammates, hitting up the local fast food drive-thru, or quickly getting something from the concession stand, the post-meet meal should be a positive and exciting experience for your gymnast AND also provide the energy and nutrients they need to recover. No gymnast should feel that they have to compromise on what they really want to eat in order to build a winning performance plate and boost recovery BUT, post-competition meals and snacks also should not just be a free-for-all.
Let’s discuss 3 strategies to optimize fueling after a competition to reduce recovery time in between competitions and practice, reduce the risk of injuries, and replenish energy so that your gymnast is ready to tackle another week of competition preparation.
A Registered Dietitian's Best Post-Competition Nutrition Tips
Tip #1: Eat A Snack During Awards
The time in between finishing your final competitive routine and the end of the Awards ceremony can feel like hours.
Even though most gymnasts wait until they sit down with their family to eat, it is crucial for recovery to eat within an hour after competition concludes (not after the awards ceremony!) - this is sometimes referred to as the first recovery window or “Power Hour.” During this first hour after a workout, your gymnast’s body is deprived of energy and nutrients and is extremely exhausted from the nerves and effort exerted during competition. This is a critical time period to take advantage of recovery nutrition and consume carbohydrates to replenish those glycogen stores (aka the energy) and pair it with protein to help muscles recover. While gymnasts doesn’t necessarily need an entire meal immediately after competition (although that would be nice - just not always realistic), they can get a jumpstart on their recovery by having a recovery snack during the awards ceremony to tide them over until you can make it out for a full meal (and they just might not be as hangry by the time they get to you).
It is important that this awards time snack is rich in both carbohydrates and protein, before heading out for a celebratory meal. This can help both curb the ravenous hunger (or emotional roller coaster) that is often follows (we’ve all been there), allow your gymnast to be in a good headspace when getting to that post-meet meal (where they'll be more inclined to make a more balanced food choice) AND will help a gymnast’s body begin the recovery process!
Some of my favorite awards time snacks for gymnasts include:
Apple slices and peanut butter
Cheese and crackers
Pairing their favorite candy-gram with any high-protein snack
Tip #2: Navigate The Concessions Stand Like A Pro
There are many reasons why a gymnast may want or need to eat at a concession stand after a competition. And while there is a lot of variety in terms of what you might find it is important to look for items that check off the components of a performance plate, including a grain or starch, fruit or vegetable, and a source of protein.
Some examples of snacks or other items to build a recovery plate at a concession stand may include:
Goldfish or crackers
Fruit (fresh or prepackaged)
pasta, pasta salad, baked ziti
Get creative with how you pair these items together, just remember to include both carbs and protein!
Not all concession stands will have the same items available, which is why you can remove some uncertainty and pack a snack bag ahead of time. As previously mentioned, a recovery snack or meal doesn’t have to be fancy, just something that is easy on the stomach and easily digestible (meals like a sandwich or wrap with some fruit can go a long way) to provide some energy and start the recovery process after a long day.
Tip #3: Build A Winning Plate At A Restaurant
Weather your plan is to eat at a sit down restaurant or just make a quick pit stop on your way home, a common theme you’ll hear with post practice or competition plates is grains + protein + color, which can be found almost anywhere!
While it may get a bad reputation sometimes, don't be afraid to get food from other places when you need to - a fast food restaurant or even a convenience store can still provide options you can use to build a recovery plate. Some great on-the-go fueling options from include grilled chicken sandwich and fruit cup, a full sandwich, a loaded salad plus a roll and side of fruit, or a burrito bowl. All of these options include protein, carbs, color, and fats - everything you need on your gymnast's plate to help you fuel properly.
If sitting down to eat at a restaurant (and especially if you're with family and friends) this meal is a time to do both celebrate and spend time with others and give your body what it needs for recovery. A gymnast can choose to eat any food that they wish (especially after a competition), but, this meal should not be a free-for-all. Remember, restaurant meals can still be satisfying and fit your performance plate, and you should never feel like you have to compromise and not enjoy the meal you really want. Order a pasta dish and add grilled chicken and a side of roasted veggies, or try a pizza loaded up with your favorite vegetables (like margherita pizza with extra tomatoes and add in some mushrooms and spinach) and share an appetizer of meatballs. Another great meal that sneaks in some extra nutrients is to order nachos or tacos. Add in your favorite meat, 3-4 kinds of vegetables, some guacamole for healthy fats, and you’ve got yourself a winning combo!
Remember to drink plenty of water (1 glass for every soda or other fun drink) to prevent dehydration and a longer recovery time. Staying hydrated is important for nutrient delivery through the body and can help decrease your risk for injury. If your gymnast has a hard time drinking plain water, feel free to add in fruits to add a little extra flavor. Cucumber or lemon mixed in can be very refreshing after a long day of competition.
A gymnast shouldn’t have to feel deprived of your favorite foods when you’re spending time with friends and family after a long day! Understanding how to implement little changes to your performance plate and meet day eating habits is key to enjoying your meal and maximizing your recovery so that you are ready to hit the ground running with plenty of energy for your next practice. Don’t underestimate the power of nutrition for optimal recovery!
When you skip meals and snacks, avoid eating, and don't make performance fueling a priority, you can't expect your body to be at its best come competition time. 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. It's not too late to get your nutrition sorted out and see major improvements this season!
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.