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Optimizing Recovery: Nutrition Tips for Gymnasts After Competition Season

Whether you want to admit it or not, you’re probably secretly excited for the season to be over…


So many long practice days…


So much travel to and from competitions…


So little sleep and time for a full recovery… 


I totally get it! Competition season is LONG and can really take a toll on your body. You’re ready for a break and to play catch up on sleep, rest, and recovery, not to mention things that excite you outside of gymnastics like going to movies with friends or going on vacations. 


After a few days off of practice you may be ready get back into things and start working on all the upgrades you’ve been dreaming of since competition season, but before you can do that, you need to get yourself back to 100%, otherwise you may be setting yourself up for future injuries and burnout if you aren’t taking the time to fully recover now. 


So, what is something you can really focus on NOW to help with the recovery process and set yourself up for success later on in the year?


ADEQUATE NUTRITION!!


Nutrition is a very important piece to the recovery puzzle, and one that is often overlooked or neglected. Focusing on what you put into your body can really impact how you feel, how your body prepares itself for practice and how it recovers outside of the gym. 




Should a gymnast eat less during a recovery period?


It may seem like the right choice to decrease your food intake during a time of recovery and less physical activity. If you’re not in the gym several hours every day and no longer putting all that routine stress on your body, you probably don’t need all that extra energy right?... Not necessarily... 


Yes, technically energy needs slightly decrease during a recovery phase. However, compared to what most gymnasts are actually eating during the season, there is still a big discrepancy! The difference between these two figures is called the Recovery Gap


Often times, gymnasts are not eating nearly enough to begin with. By intentionally decreasing their food intake during a recovery phase (when you’re not practicing all the time), your body is getting even LESS nutrients than it did while maintaining a normal practice schedule. This is a big issue when you weren’t consuming enough of the necessary nutrients during  the training phase! 


By not consuming enough energy during the recovery phase, your body is going to prioritize its everyday, normal physiological functions needed to help stay alive - not recovering from an injury or the wear and tear of competition season. This is why it’s incredibly important to consume enough energy (in the form of nutrient dense calories) to help get you fully recovered and back to practice in a timely manner. 


Some gymnasts may even need to increase their intake during the recovery phase if their recovery gap is big, to help compensate for consistent under fueling. 


So how can you fuel properly to overcome the recovery gap?


Follow a performance plate! 



Performance plates are a great way to visualize how much of each food group you are eating, without getting into the nitty gritty (and exhausting) details that go into calorie counting. Let’s be honest, no one has time for that, and it is not always very accurate anyway. 


If you plan to take a week or two off after your final meet of the season to help you prioritize recovery after season, you can transition your plate back to baseline and follow a Moderate Intensity Plate, approximately:

  • 1/3 to 1/2 grains and starches

  • 1/4 - 1/3 protein

  • 1/4 - 1/3 fruits & veggies

  • contain a food with fats


If you do not intend to take any rest time after season, or as you transition back into your normal practice schedule (>4hrs/day), you likely do not need to make any adjustments and will want to continue fueling with the high-intensity plate.


If you plan to take more than a week or two off of training without incorporating high-intensity workouts (like lifts, runs, cardio, conditioning, other sports, etc.) lasting more than 1 hour per day, it may be appropriate to transition to a Low-Intensity Performance Plate.



A Low-Intensity Performance Plate incorporates:

  • 1/4 - 1/3 grains and starches

  • 1/4 - 1/3 protein

  • 1/3  - 1/2 fruits & veggies

  • contain a food with fats


You may feel like summer practices aren’t as intense as during competition season, but believe me, you do not want to “cut back” on your fueling habits. This will only increase your recovery gap and increase your risk for injuries, burnout, lack of energy, and poor practices. 


Oftentimes in the summer, gymnasts are actually practicing more and are having more intense practices (learning upgrades, more conditioning, lots of side stations…). If this is the case, your needs are likely not changing (or may be increasing) from the season and your plates should look pretty similar to aid in the recovery process. 


Prioritize Foods for Recovery


Energy and protein are a great starting point for building a performance plate, but they alone cannot build the body back up after a long competition season - your body needs help! The following nutrients can help promote recovery and healing after a long competition season.


  • Protein: especially complete proteins or those rich in leucine, including chicken, turkey, beef, pork, salmon, seafood, eggs, dairy, beans, soy, lentils

  • Unsaturated Fats & Omega-3: salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, lives, olive oil, avocados, seaweed, hemp hearts, edamame

  • Vitamin A: spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers, mango, apricots, papaya, pumpkin

  • Vitamin C: oranges, kiwi, strawberry, brussels sprouts, cantaloupe

  • Zinc: Beef, pork, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, yogurt, whole grains, peas, legumes

  • Polyphenols & Anthocyanins: blueberries, blackberries, cherries, pomegranates, beets, figs, grapes, plums, acai, pineapple, papaya, banana, kiwi, ginger, turmeric/cucurmin

  • Magnesium: Leafy greens (like spinach, kale), Nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts), Whole grains (whole wheat, oats, potatoes, etc.), Black beans, Edamame, Cow's milk


By including these foods in your daily performance plates, you are helping your body start the recovery process and help it fuel for success!


When you skip meals, avoid foods, and don't make performance fueling a priority, you can't expect to get the most out of your summer training. 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. This is the best time of the year to start learning more about nutrition and implementing fueling strategies that have you feeling and training your best.




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

AND

  • 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.

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