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The 3 Things You Need To Know About Fueling With An Athlete's Plate

As a a gymnast, have you ever struggled to:

  • Have enough energy to get through your day?

  • Perform your best at practice or competitions?

  • Feel so sore you can hardly move?

  • Stay healthy and avoid the constant cycle of injuries?

If you have, you are not alone. This is the tough reality for so many gymnasts.

But, just because this is common for upwards of 75% gymnasts does not mean that this is normal and life as a competitive gymnast has to be like this.

Did you know that many of these are actually signs of under fueling?

What do you mean by "under fueled"?

The body requires a lot of energy each day (and over time) to work properly. This includes:

  • Keeping you alive

  • Basic body functions (like running all of your organs)

  • Digesting and using food

  • Growth and development

  • Everyday activities (like walking and sitting)

  • Gymnastics and other high-intensity exercise

  • Recovery

The goal is for the energy you take in each day and over time (through eating) to be approximately the same as the energy your body uses every day.

When you are adequately fueled, you'll

  • Feel energized throughout the day

  • Meet your growth and developmental milestones appropriately

  • Build strength, endurance, and better adapt to your training

  • Stay healthier and be better able to avoid sickness

  • Recover better and have a better chance at preventing injuries

  • Be in a better mood and mental place

When you are under fueled, the body does not have enough to support exercise and everyday activities, and has to make compromises.

But...there's so much nutrition information out there! It all feels so overwhelming. Where do I even start?!

That's where the Athlete's Plate® comes in! The Athlete's Plate® is a more intuitive way to visualize your meals to help ensure you get enough energy and nutrients to support your training.

By taking a more intuitive approach to fueling, gymnasts are able to be successful and fuel their performance without:

  • Going on a "diet"

  • Restriction

  • Cutting out your favorite foods

  • Feeling hungry all the time

Athlete's Plate Basics

The first step to fueling your performance is becoming familiar with the components of the Athlete's Plate.

The Athlete's Plate has 5 main sections:

  1. Grains and Starches

  2. Fruits and Vegetables

  3. Protein

  4. Fats

  5. A Hydrating Beverage

Grains and Starches

Foods in the grains and starches section are a gymnast's main source of energy! When you are working through a 4 hour long practice or need an extra boost of energy to sprint down the vault runway, these foods are where this energy is coming from.

Grains and starches can be further broken down into 2 categories "slow" and "fast":

"Slow" starches are complex in structure and higher in fiber (>3g/serving), meaning they take some time and energy to digest. These foods should be included outside of the training window to keep you energized all day long. Examples include:

  • Whole Grain Bread

  • Brown / Wild Rice

  • Whole Grain or Bean Pasta

  • Oatmeal

  • Whole Grain Cereal

  • Quinoa

  • Farrow

  • Corn / Popcorn

  • Potato

  • Squash

"Fast" starches are simpler in structure and lower in fiber (< 3g/serving), meaning they are quickly and easily digested and offer a quick burst of energy right before or during training. Examples include:

  • White Bread

  • White Rice

  • Pasta./ Noodles

  • Bagel

  • Waffle

  • Pretzel Sticks

  • Crackers

  • Cereal

  • Muffin

Fruits and Vegetables:

Fruits and vegetables (also referred to as "color") also provide energy for a gymnast, although not as much as grains and starches. These foods are an important component of the plate because they are filled with fiber, vitamins and minerals, which are essential "helpers" for all of the body's functions (like energy production, recovery. bone health, hydration, and more). The color section on the plate can be filled with fruits and vegetables that are fresh, frozen, raw, cooked, canned, dried, sauced, juiced, blended, or any other way you like them!


Protein is often referred to as the body's building blocks – it’s essential not just for strength and muscles, but for all growth and development. This includes your bones, organs, immune system, muscles, tendons, skin, hair, nails, and more!

Protein can come from either plant or animal sources. Some examples of animal sources of protein include:

  • Beef

  • Chicken

  • Turkey

  • Pork

  • Game and other poultry

  • Fish and Seafood

  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.)

  • Eggs

  • Dairy - based supplements (whey based powder)

Some examples of plant sources of protein include:

  • Beans (black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, etc.)

  • Chickpeas

  • Lentils

  • Nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, etc.)

  • Nut Butter (peanut butter, almond butter, etc.)

  • Seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp hearts, etc.)

  • Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk, etc.)

  • Plant. - based supplements (pea protein based powders)


Fats often get a bad reputation. However, as a gymnast, they are an essential part of your Athlete's Plate. Fats play a few important roles in the body, including:

  • Energy

  • Brain Health

  • Protection of vital organs

  • Recovery

  • Fullness, satiety, and flavor

Fats come in two main types: "unsaturated" and "saturated".

Saturated fats include:

  • Land animals (beef, pork, poultry, etc.)

  • Dairy

  • Butter

  • Coconut & coconut oil

Unsaturated fats are more heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, and can promote recovery. Opt to choose unsaturated fats at least 75% of the time. Examples include:

  • Fatty Fish (ex. salmon, trout, tuna, etc.)

  • Avocado

  • Olives

  • Nuts

  • Nut Butter

  • Seeds

  • Plant Based Oils and Dressings (olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, etc.)


As an athlete, it is just as important to keep up with your fluid needs. Including a drink with meals and snacks is an easy way to do that. Drinks that can help a gymnast fuel towards their goals include (but are not limited to):

  • Water (normal, sparkling, flavored, etc.)

  • Milk (dairy and fortified non-dairy alternatives)

  • 100% Fruit Juice

  • Electrolyte Drinks (like Propel, Gatorade 0, Nuun, Liquid IV, DripDrop, etc.)

  • Sports Drinks (like Gatorade, Powerade, Skratch, etc.)


Adjust Your Athlete's Plate

The second step of fueling for your maximum performance is adjusting the Athlete's Plate to match your workouts or training period (off season, pre-season, competition-season).

The Moderate Intensity Plate: A Gymnast's Baseline

Most often, a competitive gymnast should model their plate after the Moderate Intensity Training Plate.

A moderate intensity plate is built with approximately:

  • 1/3 grains and starches

  • 1/3 protein

  • 1/3 fruits and vegetables

  • 1-2 servings of fat

This plate is most appropriate for:

  • Training days with 1-3 hours in the gym (including added cardio or weights)

  • Pre-season training

  • Recovery day (day "off" in between training days)

The High Intensity Plate

When the time spent in the gym or intensity of workouts increases, so does the amount of energy the body needs to stay fueled. To help keep up with these workouts, the body will require more carbohydrate, which you can get most easily through an increased amount of grains and starches.

A high intensity plate is built with approximately:

  • 1/2 grains and starches

  • 1/4 protein

  • 1/4 fruits and vegetables

  • 1-2 servings of fat

This plate is most appropriate for:

  • Training days with >3 hours in the gym (including added cardio or weights)

  • 2-A-Day practices

  • Camps

  • Competition lead up

  • Competition day

The Low Intensity Plate

When the time spent in the gym or intensity of workouts deceases, so does the amount of energy the body needs to be fueled. To help adjust to the decreased energy demands, the body will require less carbohydrate, which can be achieved by increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables on the plate.

A low intensity plate is the most similar to the traditional MyPlate model, and is built with approximately:

  • 1/4 grains and starches

  • 1/4 protein

  • 1/2 fruits and vegetables

  • 1-2 servings of fat

This plate is most appropriate for:

  • Off-season (with no other training)

  • Multiple days off with NO activity

  • Light Yoga or stretching

  • Casual walks

  • < 20 minute runs

  • Light body weight training < 45 minutes

The Athlete's Plate is a framework.

That means you get to choose which foods go in each section, based off of your:

  • Preferences

  • Accessibility

  • Budget

  • Health Needs (like food allergies or other medical conditions necessitating dietary change)

If you found this information helpful, download your FREE copy of the The Gymnast Fueling Guide HERE!


Want to feel confident with your fueling plan and learn to fuel success as a gymnast? As a registered dietitian, I help competitive gymnasts fuel their bodies, prevent injuries, and reach their highest potential. I have a few opportunities for high level gymnasts to work with me this month. Curious about how working together could improve your performance in the gym? Apply to work 1-on-1 with me today and let's chat!


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