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The 4 Biggest Struggles Gymnasts Face Heading Back to School

School is almost back in session! This time of year can be really overwhelming for both gymnasts and parents. After finally settling down and getting used to a more relaxed summer schedule, school starts right back up again and all of the sudden it seems like there just isn’t enough time in the day (which can have a major impact on your fueling routine).


For many gymnasts, some of the most stressful parts of going back to school include schedule changes, finding time to fuel properly, fights over breakfast and packing school lunch and just having enough energy to get through the day.




1. Your Schedule Changes...Again


There are a lot of changes and challenges that come up with each new school year - new faces, new commitments, and a new schedule. Just as quickly as you got used to your summer schedule, school goes back into session, which comes with yet another schedule change. More early morning and late nights. Back to back commitments. This shift from a laid-back *break* to a structured school routine can be trying for both the gymnasts and parents.


However, with some preparation and planning ahead of time, this transition can be made as seamless as possible. Meal planning and prepping sometimes feels scary and the task can feel daunting. But, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to cook all of your meals for the entire week ahead of time or eat all your meals out of a container. For the busy gymnast and their family, meal planning and prepping can also include tasks like packing school lunch the night before, simply thinking about what you will have for breakfast the following morning, or even re-purposing food from the day before. For example, if you have left over chicken from dinner, you could make it into a chicken sandwich or wrap for lunch the next day. Meal prepping/planning doesn’t have to be fancy! It should just make your life easier on your busiest of days!


Gymnasts that are an active participant in their fueling strategy (and are involved in tasks like weekly menu planning, putting breakfast and snacks together ahead of time, and packing their own lunch) are more likely to bought in and do what needs to be done and are less likely to argue about eating (and ending up under fueled in the process).


2. Having Enough Hours In The Day To Do EVERYTHING (including eat...)


During the school year, so many gymnasts have really long days with jam packed schedules. It's not uncommon for a gymnast to leave the house before 7am with breakfast in hand and not come home until 8 or 9pm after practice. There's barely enough time to get a full night's sleep, get homework done, or socialize with friends, let alone eat 6 or 7 times.


Taking some time to look at your schedule and fill in meals and snacks can be another activity that can be extremely helpful for a gymnast as they prepare to head back to school.

For so many busy families, If they fail to have some sort of plan regarding when meals and snacks need to happen, they are setting themselves up to miss important meal and snack opportunities, which can be detrimental to a gymnasts health and goals if this becomes a routine. Looking at your day and finding times to eat your meals and snacks can help A TON and make fueling your body less stressful overall!


3. The Logistics of Packing Meals and Snacks


To be adequately fueled for the school day (and of course head to gymnastics practice afterwards), it's likely that a gymnast will have eaten 4 or 5 times before even setting foot into the gym. And most of those meals and snacks will have happened at school. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to staying adequately fueled for the school day really has to do with finding a breakfast that works with the craziness of school day mornings and the logistics of being able to pack enough food for a long day.


Breakfast before school is probably the most common conversation I have with gym families as a registered dietitian. Between gymnasts just not feeling hungry, not having enough time, or just not wanting to eat, breakfast can always feel like a fight. The best breakfasts need to be quick, simple, or even made or planned ahead of time.


School snacks need to fit so many different criteria - be shelf stable, low mess, backpack safe, allergen friendly, and often need to be able to be eaten in just a minute or two (or even snuck in the halls or without a teacher noticing...) Lunches also need to be portable and easy to open and eat. And then of course, there's the stigma for many teenagers surrounding having *too much* food, or just bringing a lunchbox at all!


One of the most important things to remember when packing school lunch and snacks is that it doesn't need to be the “perfect” lunch. Don't overthink it, nutrition is cumulative. Your gymnasts will get their nutrients over the course of the day from the different foods they eat. There is no need to pack the “perfect” lunch everyday. Just aim for a performance plate with foods that check each of the boxes of the performance plate.



Here are some simple school lunch ideas that follow this plate!

  • Turkey sandwich with sliced apples and chocolate milk

  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with carrots and fruit snacks

  • Pasta salad with some grapes

4. Having Enough Energy To Just Make It Through


Once the school year really gets into gear, so many gymnasts start to notice that all of the rest and relaxation from the summer has disappeared and the constant fatigue feels permanent. Oftentimes, gymnast's energy levels tank during the school year as a result of a busier schedule - more activity with less time to relax fuel your body properly is the equation for an under fueled, fatigued, burnt out gymnast. If you notice that your gymnast's energy tanks during the school year and they're struggling to do their best in school and gym, it's time to reevaluate their fueling plan and get help from a professional to guide you.

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All of these factors can cause any gymnasts to struggle with fueling, leading to poor energy levels, mental fatigue and aches and pains/injuries but it doesn’t HAVE to be this way. With a bit of planning ahead your gymnasts can be fueled for the school day and gymnastics practice no problem!


Comments


Kerry Bair, RD, LDN, MPH

The Gymnast RD

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