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Taking A TEAM Approach To Gymnast Nutrition




Gymnastics is often seen as an individualized sport. When an athlete is up on the equipment, there is no offense or defense. Their performance is based on themselves, and themselves alone.


For many gymnasts, it can be hard to get in the mindset of being “team oriented”. But, many of the most successful gymnasts (and athletes across the board) have reached their level of success not on their own, but because they have build a strong team around themselves. Even important factors like adequate nutrition can be better understood and accomplished when working as a collaborative group with coaches, parents, and athletes alongside a nutrition professional.


It can feel hard to find agreement in what’s most practical, realistic, and the best approach for all three parties. After all, nutrition can be a very confusing topic, especially when you don’t know where to look for reliable information!


As a registered dietitian who has worked with countless gymnasts, their families, and clubs, the best way to conquer concepts like proper fueling and nutrition habits for athletes is to work and learn together to ensure that everyone is on the same page, and eliminate misconceptions or misunderstandings as much as possible. It’s especially difficult to all be on the same page when “mainstream” nutrition advice, the kind that you may see on social media, on TV, or even from medical professionals is often not applicable to young athletes. 


Where is the disconnect?


Gymnastics coaches want their athletes to be full of energy, remain in practice as much as possible, and stay away from the injury bug. But, especially if they have come up in the sport of gymnastics and been around for a long time, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding what a gymnast should and should not eat. And, many coaches also struggle to understand what their role is in all of this (and where the boundary of what is and is not appropriate).


Gym parents always want to do what’s best for their kids, but that sometimes seems difficult when they’re busy with work and other family members, their athletes are picky eaters, or they just don’t know where to begin with proper fueling. And in the parenting space, is flooded with opinions about what foods you should and shouldn't feed your family - I know it is so overwhelming!


Gymnasts want to feel energized, make it through an entire practice, recover well between meets and training sessions, stay injury-free (or at least make a full recovery if injury does happen). But, this is often not the realty for so many gymnasts as a result of inadequate fueling. For gymnasts, many never learn why fueling is important, what different foods do for their body and how they impact them in the gym, what kinds of foods they need to be eating, how often, or that they have higher energy needs because of the increased physical activity and strain they put on their body from gymnastics. And many just don't want to hear it from their parents.


What's the priority?


At the end of the day, all three of these parties have the same goal - for the gymnast to reach their goals in this sport; keep them happy, healthy, and high performing. But when it comes to nutrition, it always seems like these different arms are not communicating.


As parents, club owners, and coaches,  we have incredible influence on the children we interact with and we have the unique opportunity to shape the way our gymnasts feel about their bodies and food choices.


But, so many of us were never actually taught this stuff. We were  just left to figure it out on our own. How are we supposed to best support the next generation when so much of the information correlated health and fueling with the our bodies look. The pressures of society do not support the high level of training it takes to be a high caliber gymnast.



What can we do to close the gap between misinformation and evidence based guidance?


A great way to accomplish this goal, and keep everyone on the same page, is to take a holistic approach to training, and nutrition is a very important piece to that mindset! By emphasizing the importance of nutrition for athletes, parents, and coaches, you are showing the commitment your gym has to the athlete’s health and best interests throughout their training and competitive career. Think of the impact that physical therapists, athletic trainers, doctors, and sports psychologists have on an athlete’s health and performance - nutrition is often an afterthought, but plays a huge role in the health and sport longevity of an athlete! 


In a world where the easiest and most convenient way to get any kind of information is through social media and blogs on the internet, you can’t always assume you are getting accurate or reliable information. Nutrition isn’t “one size fits all”, so it is important to make sure you are getting the information from a licensed professional, like a Registered Dietitian, who will understand the complexities of fueling youth athletes. 


By taking a TEAM approach to nutrition, you can set the precedent for your gym that nutrition is an important part of training and overall well-being. The more that athletes, coaches, and families are involved with making a conscious effort to implement proper nutrition and fueling habits, the greater success as a program you will have because everyone is on the same page and dedicated to improving the experience for the athletes. By incorporating nutrition education, you will start to see increased energy levels in the athletes, less fatigue, better recovery in between training and competition, and will feel more confident in the fueling habits that are put into place. It’s a win-win for everyone involved! 


When parents and gymnasts are given access to this kind of information, not just after the problems of under fueling and disordered eating arise, but from the day they set foot on a team program, they are able to understand the important impact fueling has on performance, health, and longevity in this sport, have the knowledge to make adequate and appropirate food choices, and are able to make it a priority for their family.


If you are a coach, club owner, of parent association who understands the importance of nutrition and how it impacts health, performance, and longevity of a gymnast, and are tired of seeing your athletes:

  •    Not having enough energy to get through workouts or train the way you really wish they could 

  • Feeling so sore they can't move 

  • Struggle with mental blocks, frustrations, and out of control emotions (aka being "uncoachable")

  • Deal with the constant cycle of injuries 

  • Have to experience catch up growth that follows inevitable under fueling related injuries (and makes it so, so, so much more difficult to adjust back to training)

  • Fall deep into an internet nutrition rabbit hole that preaches diet culture, disordered eating, & unobtainable standards

  • And fed up with parents not caring

 

You want to do more to integrate proper, adequate nutrition into your team's culture to reduce the risk of:

  • Injuries

  • Underfueling,

       and

  • Body image issues


Or, you are a parent of a gymnast who wishes there was just a one-stop shop designed specifically to give you and your gymnast the most helpful fueling information.

And you know all the mainstream nutrition recommendations & meals plans you see aren’t actually created for a high-level gymnast like yours. So... 

  • You just guess at what and when to feed your gymnast

  • You just try to feed them as healthy or clean as possible (while unintentionally underfueling them in the process...)

  • You try to cut out foods (like sugar, carbs, gluten, dairy) and throw every supplement mentioned in a random Facebook group in hopes it helps

  • You feel like you spend way too much time thinking about food. It’s confusing, time consuming, and distracting.

 

​And you're not sure if it's even working! You just need access to more instruction, resources

and, answers right at your fingertips when it comes to feeding and fueling your family, while balancing a busy gymnastics schedule.


Then, I want to introduce you to The Fueled Gymnast Team Toolkit 





The Fueled Gymnast Team Toolkit was designed specifically as a one-stop-shop for all the instructions, resources, and answers gymnasts, parents, and coaches need to learn how to use food as fuel and get your whole TEAM on board with evidence based nutrition information! This Toolkit was designed to ensure that the information and advice is given with young gymnasts in mind and you can trust that the recommendations are reflective of their sport specific needs. This is a great way to combat misinformation, confusion regarding nutrition for athletes, and make sure that the information is the same for parents, coaches, and athletes, which is often the first hurdle to jump through! 



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