In our society, and especially in the sport of gymnastics, we are surrounded by so much false information regarding nutrition and (for so many reasons) it can be really hard to separate the facts from fiction.
We are bombarded by instagram posts with false claims that are not backed up by any scientific evidence. We are constantly shown TikTok influencers selling miracle pills, powders, and diets. In the sport of gymnastics, false information often even comes from friends, teammates, coaches and family members sharing information they read, heard themselves or was passed down to them, and believe it to be true without a second thought. Some nutrition information has been floated around for so long that it has often just been accepted as true when, in fact, it is not! This is what makes it so hard to understand what nutrition information is true and what information is false.
Where is your nutrition information coming from?
Where you get your nutrition information from is so important, as it can give you a clue as to if the information is true and evidence based or not. So, where is your nutrition information coming from?
Is it social media? The internet? Word of mouth? Television ads? It may be difficult to tell if information from these sources are true and reliable. With platforms like the internet (especially websites or blogs) or social media, anyone can essentially make a page and talk about whatever they want. No one is checking or verifying their credentials. No one is asking them to cite their sources. And they certainly are not showing you the whole picture (like what they really eat in a day or if any parts of their mental or physical health are struggling...) Additionally, many of this type of content is sponsored, meaning companies are paying for influencers to talk about their products (whether they use them or have truly seen results or not).
If you are using the internet to find out nutritional information make sure to keep in mind where the information is coming from. Ask yourself these questions:
Is it a .org, .gov, .edu or a .com website?
Who developed the website/info. sheet, blog, or social media page? Look for an “about us” page – what are their credentials (if any)?
There is a big difference between a site that says, "I developed this site after my heart attack" and one that says, "This page on heart attack was developed by health professionals at the American Heart Association."
Do they make promises, use deliberately obscure language, use sensational writing styles (too many !!!, bold or all CAPS)? This is typically a sign that the website can not be trusted.
It is important to trust information that comes from an accredited source. Examples of trustworthy sources are:
Registered Dietitians (they will have the RD, or RDN credentials)
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Mayo Clinic
Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics / Eatright.org
Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association / CPSDA.org
Scientific Journals like:
British Journal of Sports Medicine
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition
Government Organizations like:
USDA / Myplate.gov
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Lastly, keep in mind that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Those videos and posts from fitness influencers can be pretty tricky to ignore, but ask yourself "is it too good to be true"? Do they…
Promise you a quick fix?
Claim you need to detox or cleanse?
Promote “magic” foods or combinations of foods?
Try to sell you something - particular foods, beverages, powders, pills, diet plans?
Tell you to exclude or severely restrict food groups or nutrients (carbs, fat)?
Promote eating an excess amount of a limited number of foods or nutrients (ex: fats)?
Makes claims based on a single study, testimonials, anecdote, or internal tests only ("this worked for me...")?
Common Nutrition Myths In Gymnastics, BUSTED!
This brings me to some of the common misconceptions I hear floating around the gymnastics community. This barely scratches the surface on all of the myths that are out there but these are just some of the ones I tend to hear a lot.
Carbohydrates Lead to Weight Gain.
This is FALSE!! Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source and the main energy source for gymnastics. Adequate carbohydrate intake is essential for energy balance, brain function, performance, recovery, and more. It is important to use different types of carbohydrates strategically inside and outside the exercise window.
Smaller is better. If a gymnast is "overweight", they just need to go on a diet or eat less.
This is absolutely false and there is no such thing as a “gymnast body”. Weight is not a behavior that a person can ultimately, completely control. Also, dieting is the #1 predictor of weight gain and eating less usually leads to strength, endurance, and overall performance decline, poor focus and mental performance, and an increased risk of injury. All bodies change overtime and as you get older. While this can be difficult for a lot of gymnasts to deal with due to this myth that if you are smaller you will perform better, it is important to let your body go through these changes and to give you body the fuel it needs.
Sports Drinks Are Bad
Also… not correct. I'd love for you to ask yourself: "Why do you fear sports drinks (like regular Gatorade or Powerade)?" Is it because your coaches told you not to drink it? Is it because it isn’t allowed in your gym? Is it because of the sugar? WHY?
Sports drinks were designed to be a performance nutrition tool. When you exercise for a long period of time or in very hot conditions, the body doesn’t just need water to stay hydrated - It also needs electrolytes (especially sodium) AND carbohydrates (aka sugar) to replenish what has been lost. If you choose to drink just water or even electrolyte drinks like Gatorade 0 or Powerade 0 to replenish your electrolytes WITHOUT another performance nutrition strategy there it is very unlikely that you will be able to perform your best for 3, 4, 5+ hours and you are risking dehydration! The added sugar in these sports drinks that you fear is there for a reason!
You shouldn’t eat after a certain time
I hear this myth all the time, that you shouldn’t eat after 7 or 8pm and this one is also false! 300 calories at 6pm = 300 calories at 8pm. Eating in the evening or night does not automatically make you gain weight. Weight gain can be a result from eating too many calories or lack of activity over an extended period of time. This is rarely applicable for athletes. For gymnasts, recovery needs always come first! If your practice ends at 8 or 9pm you HAVE to fuel afterwards! Opt for foods that do not disrupt sleep.
Dietitians are only for those with weight problems, eating disorders, or medical conditions.
While this was definitely the myth when I was an athlete, this is not true! Anyone can work with a dietitian (and although as an RD, I'm a bit biased, I believe any athlete with performance goals should work with one!).
Working with a dietitian can help a gymnast learn how to build a personalized fueling schedule, what to include during meals and snacks, what kinds of foods and nutrients to look for, how to fuel to prevent injuries, and more! Working with a dietitian can also help you combat all the false information that is out there, help you figure out what works best for your body and your life, and teach you how to train up to your potential. The best dietitian will not put you on a diet or meal plan or tell you that you can or can’t eat any foods. They will help you fit the foods you do like into a customized plan that makes sense for you (all while encouraging you and helping you explore and try new foods if that’s something you decide you want to do). Their recommendations will be backed by research and scientific evidence, and should be driven by YOU!