The Key to Recovering This Off-Season
As exciting as competitions are, let's be honest... I know you're looking forward to the off season and summer training (at least a little bit)!
No more routines,
No more hard landings...
As a gymnast, I always looked forward to the opportunity to go back to resi and pit landings after season was over. The hard landings really took a toll on my body, especially in high school when I dealt with a reoccurring stress reaction in my leg.
As soon as competition season ended, I often would take a break from many skills that had been hurting my body (but I pushed through anyway to be able to finish the season). And when season was over, I shifted my mindset to what I really needed to do to feel better: rest and recovery!! Anyone else?
You think that lower numbers and softer landings are all you need to do to help your body heal and feel your best.
But, even with these changes in the gym, maybe you still feel like you're at less than 100%...?
So what else can you focus on to make sure you can recover fully to feel your best in the gym this summer?
What you put into your body will help you get the most out of it during practice. Focusing on proper nutrition - especially what you're eating before and after practice - will help you feel your best in the gym and recover outside of the gym (especially after the stress your body is dealing with now that season is over).
After all, you are still practicing A LOT even if practices look different over the off-season than during season.
Recovery takes a lot of energy, so fueling your body and eating enough will help you heal after season even though there's no true "break" in gymnastics training.
But what does proper nutrition for recovery look like?
To be your best at practice, you'll want to fuel up shortly before starting (in addition to all day leading up to practice time). You need food that will can digest quickly for energy! The best pre-practice snacks are high in simple carbs (low in fiber). These snacks might also include some protein to help keep you full (but too much protein, fat, or fiber before a practice could upset your stomach - so learn what you body likes and works best for you!).
Some of my favorite pre-practice snacks include:
fresh or dried fruit with crackers and string cheese
cereal + milk
a Greek yogurt parfait with fruit and granola or cereal
Fueling your body doesn't stop once your warm-up starts. During practice the 2 of the most important fueling tips to remember are 1). Stay hydrated and 2) Keep your energy up!
1. Make sure you are staying hydrated! As temperatures climb up during the summer months (especially if your gym is like mine was and doesn't have air conditioning 😅), adequate hydration throughout practice becomes even more important for gymnasts to replenish the water lost in sweat - the big insulated jug water bottles come in handy for holding lots of water and keeping it cold! Also, it takes more than just water to keep you well hydrated - your body also needs electrolytes (like sodium, potassium & calcium) and carbohydrates (aka some sugar). Sports drinks with electrolytes (like Propel, Nuun, and Liquid IV) and carbs (like Gatorade, Powerade, or even 100% fruit juice, etc.) can also help gymnasts stay hydrated and keep you from feeling the effects of dehydration (like low on energy during, fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, or nausea) during long, hot practices.
2. If your practices are more than 3 hours long, you probably need to eat a small snack high in simple carbs (similar to your pre-practice snack) to keep your energy levels up!
Some of my favorite pre-practice snacks include:
applesauce (cup or squeeze pouch)
crackers (like goldfish, belvita bites, animal crackers, graham crackers, kodiak cake bear bites, etc.)
a single serve packets of fruit snacks
What you eat immediately after practice is crucial for your recovery!
The first 60-90 minutes after your practice is when your body is most effective at repairing muscles and replenishing your energy (aka carbohydrate/sugar) stores in your body. This is why it's so important to eat after practice! Even if you're not able to eat a full meal right away (due to a long drive home, busy schedule, or just lack of hunger), gymnasts should at least eat a snack within 1 hour after practice. Your snack should include both carbohydrates and protein which help with energy replacement and muscle repair (you actually need 3x as much carbs as you do protein to recover - most gymnasts need to stat with 30-60g of carbs and 10-20g of protein for a recovery snack).
Some post-practice snack ideas include:
tuna and crackers
Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
a protein bar
an apple with peanut butter
trail mix (homemade or store-bought)
grapes, cheese, and crackers
And your recovery doesn't stop after one meal or snack! If you only ate a snack immediately after practice, you will still need to have a full, balanced meal within 3 hours of practice! If you want to have your meal immediately after practice instead of just a snack, that is a great option as well! Just ensure that you eat again within 2-3 hours - gymnastics and recovery takes a lot of energy!
An easy way to build a well-balanced meal is to use your Athlete's Plate: include grains & starches for energy and fuel store replenishment, fruits & vegetables (color) for vitamins and minerals, protein for muscle growth and recovery, and healthy fats for energy, fullness, and recovery!
Some post-workout meal ideas include:
A turkey & cheese sandwich on whole grain bread with lettuce and tomatoes, and fruit on the side
Grilled chicken with green beans (or any other veggie) and roasted potatoes
A homemade burrito bowl with rice, black beans, veggies, and guacamole
Spaghetti with meatballs and tomato sauce, and a side salad
A big salad with your choice of protein (chicken, shrimp, tuna, chickpeas, etc), lots of veggies, mixed nuts, your choice of dressing, with croutons or a dinner roll
Hearty chicken noodle soup with extra veggies
Rehydration is also super important after practice and necessary for recovery, so keep drinking that water!! A sports drink can be used as a carbohydrate and hydration source if needed (especially useful if you can't eat a meal right away or have a quick turn-around between 2-a-day practices) although I usually recommend get your post-workout carbs from food first when you can.
Remember: Your body continues to repair itself and replenish carbohydrate stores for 12-24 hours after practice, so it is important for gymnasts to fuel their bodies by eating ~3 every hours and to sip on your water all day long! Working with a Registered Dietitian can help you find the best fueling strategy for you in order to promote recovery and feel the best in (and out of) the gym!