As a gymnast with an intense training schedule (many are often training 4-5 days a week for 4 or more hours each practice), your body is in a constant state of recovery. Since gymnasts use their bodies to the extreme, it’s important to give your body the proper recipe for recovery.
If you are a gymnast who can’t seem to recover fast enough or feel like you are constantly playing catch up on your recovery then this blog is meant for you!
Signs of being under-recovered:
Always tired or fatigued
Struggling with soreness
Frequent, recurring, and non-healing injuries
Frequent illness (with no alternative reason)
Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (Red-S): RED-S is a low energy availability state that leads to harmful effects across every system in the body. This condition occurs when you are expending more energy than you are taking in which leads to negative side effects such as stress injuries, reproductive dysfunction, decreased muscle strength, decreased concentration, decreased balance/coordination and increased risk for depression.
So how does a gymnast repair, rebuild, and replace the energy stores lost during training?
After a long practice, you have broken down and diminished basically all of the energy stores within your body (blood stream, liver, and muscles). In order to be able to actually get stronger and adapt to your training, a gymnast needs to prioritize their recovery nutrition using the 4 R's of recovery!
The 4 R's of Recovery
The 4 R's of recovery (replenish, repair, reinforce, and re-hydrate) is your answer to go from sluggish, sore, and tired to energized and thriving!
1. Replenish your muscles' energy stores with carbohydrates:
During practice you are burning through your body's energy, including easily accessible energy in the blood stream and energy stored in both muscles and the liver - which means they need to be replenished. Your muscles' main source of energy comes from carbohydrates. So this means that in order to optimally recover your body and muscles' energy stores, you must eat adequate carbohydrates and prioritize them before, during and after training.
2. Repair your skeletal muscles with protein:
As part of your practice, you have broken down your muscles (as a bi-product of all of the hard landings, conditioning, etc.) which means they need to be repaired in order to recover properly. In order to fully repair and rebuild your muscles, you need protein rich foods. Amino acids are the building blocks of the body and are the foundation of protein rich foods. So, in order to give your muscles the amino acids necessary to re- build and repair themselves, you need to eat a protein rich food.
3. Reinforce muscle, immune, and nervous system function with antioxidant rich foods:
Antioxidants are important for preventing sickness and reducing inflammation in the body. Antioxidant rich foods include fruits, vegetables and unsaturated fats. Specifically, dark colored berries and dark leafy greens are rich sources of antioxidants. Include these foods in the “color” section on the athletes plate.
4. Re-hydrate with water and electrolytes when needed:
Hydration plays a key role in your body's recovery from practice by helping remove all of the damaged cells, by-products of exercise, and inflammation from your body, as well as bringing valuable nutrients around your body.
To be adequately hydrated for a workout and recover adequately, in addition to their daily fluid needs, most gymnasts will need to drink 8-16oz in the 2 hours leading up to training, 8-16oz every hour during training, and 16-24 ounces in the hour after training.
Recovery snack vs recovery meal:
When it comes to a recovery snack or meal, the two main macronutrients to include are the aforementioned 1. carbohydrates and 2. protein rich foods to both replenish and repair your muscles! I recommend a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein in a recovery meal/snack.
Your body's main priority after a workout is to replenish the energy stores lost which is why it’s so important to eat enough carbohydrates. If you don’t get enough carbohydrates in a recovery meal, your body will have to use the protein to replace energy stores and will only rebuild and repair muscles if there is any protein left over.
Since both recovery meals and snacks prioritize the same nutrients, the only difference between a snack and a meal is the size and timing of each.
Timing Your Recovery Nutrition:
A recovery snack is an important component of your recovery nutrition when practice ends at a weird time or you have a long drive home, and may be needed when your next meal isn’t for two or more hours after your workout ends. For example, if practice ends at 4pm and dinner isn’t until 6pm, a recovery snack is needed.
For a recovery snack, more gymnasts will likely need 30-60g carbohydrates and 10-20g protein. Some of my favorite recovery snack ideas include:
Bagel + hard boiled eggs
Cliff bar + chocolate milk
Naked Juice + dried edamame
Applesauce + cheese stick
Pretzels + beef jerky
Dried fruit + protein shake
Granola bar + greek yogurt
Slice of bread + cottage cheese
A recovery meal should always be prioritized if possible to ensure the body gets adequate recovery nutrition. If your next scheduled meal lands within an hour or less after practice ends, then a recovery meal should be prioritized over a recovery snack. For example, if practice ends at 12pm and you plan to eat lunch at 12:30pm or 1pm, you can skip the recovery snack and prioritize a recovery meal instead.
A recovery meal should follow the athletes plate:
Most gymnasts will use this baseline, moderate intensity plate, but for workouts lasting more than 4 hours, you may need to upgrade to a high intensity plate by increasing the portion or proportion of grains.
Some of my favorite recovery meals include:
Grilled teriyaki chicken with rice and carrots
Turkey sandwich with sliced apples
Chicken wrap with grapes
Baked salmon with broccoli and pasta
Mac and cheese with broccoli
Peanut Butter jelly sandwich with baby carrots and apple slices
Pasta and meatballs with grilled carrots
What about sleep?
While getting at least 8 hours of sleep every night is an important aspect of recovery, if you aren’t refueling and re-hydrating your body, no amount of sleep will fully recover your body.
If you are sick and tired of feeling sick, tired, sore, and injured, it’s time to incorporate the 4 Rs of recovery to feel and train at your best. And remember, you do not have to figure out your recovery strategy on your own - working with a registered dietitian means that you get my trained eyes and ears on your fueling routine and help you to implement a strategy that works! Want to know more? Connect with me today.