A gymnast requires A LOT of energy throughout the day to fuel their body. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are certainly very important (and are the cornerstones of a gymnast's fueling plan), but, those 3 meals are often not enough! Snacks are vital to a gymnast’s fueling plan!
It’s easy to forget how much snacks contribute to a gymnast’s fueling plan. A well fueled gymnast needs to be eating often! This means eating as often as every 2 to 3 hours. That’s why in addition to their regular meals, most of the gymnasts in my Fuel for Success 1 on 1 programs also eat 2-3 fueling snacks each day to give their body enough energy and nutrients to support training and recovery, as well as growing and everyday energy demands (like school and other activities).
What is a snack?
Often snacking and some snack foods get a bad reputation. Whether it's the amount, frequency, or types of foods normally associated with snacks, the reality is, snacks can be another great opportunity for gymnasts to meet their energy needs and to incorporate foods with macro and micro nutrients their body needs! The components of a snack are not so different than the components of an athlete's plate. They can include:
Color (colorful foods like fruits and vegetables)
Energy (grains and starches)
Protein (dairy, eggs, soy, meat, poultry, seafood, nuts, seeds, nut butters, powder of your choice)
Fat (avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters, seafood, olive, oils, salad dressing, full-fat dairy)
Fun foods (like desserts, sweets, and other non-food-group foods)
As a gymnast the components that make up your snack may differ depending on when or why you are eating. Let's talk about the 4 most common situations a gymnast may need to build a snack.
The 4 Types of Snacks that Every Gymnast Needs To Know About
The Before Practice Snack
A pre-practice snack is one you'll eat before practice with the purpose of topping off your energy stores. When choosing a pre-practice snack, you'll want to prioritize foods with energy.
If your snack is between 1 -2 hours before practice, look to build a modified high-intensity athlete's plate that is 50% grains and starches, 25% protein, and 25% fruits or veggies. Simple carbohydrates like fruit and quick-digesting (low in fiber) starches are best when eating a snack 15-60 minutes before practice. Depending on your own preferences, you could also include a little low-fat protein. Foods that are too high in protein, fat, or fiber are more likely to upset a gymnast’s stomach while training, so experiment with what works best for you. You know your body best, so try to choose your pre-practice snacks based on how you feel at practice after consuming each snack. Choose the ones that don’t upset your stomach and make you feel the best!
Some of my favorite pre-practice snacks for gymnasts to eat 1-2 hours before a workout include:
A PBJ with pretzels
Oatmeal, berries, and nut butter
Veggies, Pita, and Hummus
Cottage Cheese, Cantaloupe, and mixed nuts
Peanut butter and banana wrap
Cereal, milk, and blueberries
Some of my favorite pre-practice snacks for gymnasts to eat with less than 1 hour before a workout include:
Fruit cup or piece of fruit
Grapes and Pretzels
Applesauce or GoGo Squeeze
Cereal (dry or with milk)
Fruit Leathers and Dried Fruit
Fruit smoothie (made with yogurt + 1/3C oats)
Bear Bites or Belvita Bites
Oatmeal (a hot bowl, overnight oats, or baked oatmeal)
The Mid Practice Snack
Eating a snack during practice can be an important performance nutrition strategy to help a gymnast get through long practices. Many gymnasts practice three hours or more each day, and this is usually too long to go without fuel (and many gymnasts see a decline in their energy, mood, focus, and performance around the 2 hour mark).
One of the best ways to keep energy levels and performance high for the entire workout is to incorporate a snack after about 90 minutes - 2 hours. If practice lasts 4 or more hours, a gymnast may need additional snacks every 60-90 minutes after that first snack.
When choosing what to bring to practice for a mid-practice snack, similarly to that pre-workout snack you ate 1 hour or less before the start of practice, this snack should also be a high-carbohydrate snack that contains a grain and/or fruit.
Some of my favorite mid-practice snacks for gymnasts include:
Honey Stinger Waffle + apples
GoGo squeeZ + Pretzels
Fruit Juice + animal crackers
BoBo Bar (or any granola bar)
Nutrigrain Bar + orange slices
Banana + graham crackers
Fruit Cup + Popcorn
If you are lucky, your gym may give you a short break to have a mid-practice snack. If not, many of these choices are quick and easy to eat during a water break, bathroom break, or in between rotations. If eating a snack during practice might not work for you, you may also try liquid fuel A sports drink (containing fluid + electrolytes + carbs) can be useful when you don’t have time for a snack at practice or you notice a drop in your energy after 90 minutes and you need some quick carbohydrates and electrolytes. This could be a store bought option like Gatorade, Powerade, Skratch (or others) or one you make yourself (mix equal parts of your favorite 100% fruit juice with water or coconut water and add ~1/8t of salt).
The Post Practice Snack
When practice ends it is important to replace the energy that was used up during practice and start the recovery process (where the body can begin building muscle and repairing any damage done). The post-practice snack is ideally consumed within 1 hour of practice ending (if you will not get the opportunity to eat a full meal within that hour).
For snacks after practice, include mostly quick-carbs (easy to digest, low in fiber and fat) with 1-2 servings of protein. Ultimately, shoot for a goal of a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates and protein. This will help your body start to refill its energy stores and repair your muscles. If you have a long ride home after practice, either pack a snack that you can have in the car ride home, or ask your parents if they could bring you something from home when they pick you up!
Some of my favorite post-practice snacks for gymnasts include:
Chocolate Milk (shelf stable boxes are great!)
Trail Mix (make your own mix with your favorites like pretzels, popcorn, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, and dark chocolate)
Apple slices with peanut butter
Tuna packet and crackers
Beef jerky and tart cherry juice
Almond butter stuffed dates
A protein bar
Greek Yogurt Parfait
Drinkable greek yogurt and a banana
Goldfish, roasted chickpeas
Popcorn with nutritional yeast
Pretzels and Cheese
Remember that in addition to your snack also try to eat a full balanced meal within 3 hours of practice ending! When choosing a meal or a snack after practice try using nutrition to prioritize your recovery.
The Everyday Snack
The everyday snack is a snack that gymnasts eat outside of the workout window, keep your energy levels up, help meet your energy and nutrient needs, and bridge the gap between meals (that are more than 3 or 4 hours apart), and on days off from gymnastics or exercise. When building an everyday snack look for at least two food groups:
Something for energy (like a grain, fruit, or veggie)
A protein or fat (for your muscles and help you feel full and satisfied)
Some of my favorite everyday snacks for gymnasts include:
Cheese board (cheese, fruit, crackers)
Yogurt parfaits (Greek yogurt, fruit, granola/cereal)
Peanut Butter and Banana (or apples) on toast
Dates with Peanut Butter
Avocado Toast topped with a hardboiled egg
Roasted Chickpeas + carrot sticks
Mexi dipping plate (guacamole, fresh salsa, multigrain chips)
Hummus, whole grain pita, cherry tomatoes
Egg sandwich on an english muffin with spinach and tomato
Mini wraps or pinwheels (some ideas are nut butter and banana, or turkey and cheese!)
Edamame or snap peas
Beef jerky + Cherry Juice
1/2 sandwich or wrap (PBJ, turkey/cheese, tuna, etc. on wg bread)
Bear Bites dipped in chocolate hummus
Cereal with Milk (or plant based milk with added protein) and Blueberries
Remember that snacks are not here to replace your meals. They are simply an addition to your fueling plan along with your three meals a day that can help meet your energy needs, nutrient needs, and fuel your workouts.