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Three fueling tricks to help improve your sleep

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your sleep…honestly?

Are you getting enough sleep? Do you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep? Are you tired all the time? Are you struggling to make it through your day and through your long practices?

It can be super frustrating to not be able to sleep. I know you are super busy with school, gymnastics, and all of your other obligations. BUT, recovery happens at night during sleep.

Sleep is the best time for your body to rest, recover, and repair itself so that you're ready to train your hardest and get better in the gym the next day. Gymnasts should aim to get enough sleep each night:

  • 6-12 year olds: 9-12 hours per night

  • 13-18 years old: 8-10 hours per night

  • 18+ years old: 8+ hours per night

Trying to get enough sleep at night can seem extra impossible, though, if you find yourself lying there for long periods of time simply unable to fall asleep. Or maybe you do fall asleep but you wake up feeling sluggish instead of well-rested.

Did you know that the way that you fuel your body can have an impact on your sleep?

All types of sleep related troubles can be impacted by food - how easily you fall asleep, if you stay asleep throughout the night or wake up, and if you wake up feeling well rested and refreshed or sluggish, sore, and exhausted can all be linked back to what we are or are not doing in terms of fueling the previous day.

So, how does what we eat impact our sleep?

As a dietitian for gymnasts, I wanted to share 3 of the most common fueling mistakes I see gymnasts make that negatively impacts their sleep:

1. You're Not Eating Enough.

Not eating enough after a workout, throughout the day, or even before bed can negatively impact your sleep. Firstly, it can be hard to sleep if you are hungry! Your hunger can keep you up, or continue to wake you up throughout the night. Or if you are able to fall asleep, you might find that you don’t wake up restored and well rested and instead you are waking up groggy and drained. This is because your body didn’t have the fuel it needed to make it’s important physical and mental repairs while you were sleep. Make sure you are eating enough food at meals and snacks throughout the day.

2. Your Evening Meals and Snacks are Not Balanced

There are certain types of foods that can impact digestion and may keep you up at night. Studies have found an association between eating large amounts of low-fiber foods (like simple or refined grains), foods high in saturated fat (like greasy or fried food), and excess sugar and experiencing a lighter, less restorative sleep. Instead, look to make your evening meal or bedtime snack a balanced plate.

3. You Rely on Caffeine for Energy.

This is a big one! You likely have heard that caffeine can affect your sleep, especially if you consume too much 6 to even 10 hrs before your bedtime. I get it though, you've had a long day at school, and now it’s time for practice. You’re just so tired from school (and maybe from lack of enough sleep and enough quality sleep). You decide to have a drink with some caffeine (like a coffee or Celcius) before practice to give you the energy you want for your long practice. However, drinking caffeine before practice will not actually give you the long-lasting energy that you think it does - only a balanced meal can. Caffeine can not replace the actual energy that food provides (and even "tricks" your body into thinking it has energy, making you crash even harder when it wears off), and a successful practice is dependent on fueling your body in a way that meets your energy and nutrient needs through food first.

Additionally, caffeine stays in your bloodstream, impacting your body for hours after consumption. 6 hours after caffeine is consumed, half of it is still in your body. It can take up to 10 hours for the caffeine to completely leave your bloodstream! If you drink anything with caffeine, it is important to stop no later than 2pm or risk your sleep.

But how much caffeine is too much? The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests consuming caffeine with caution, and if you are between the ages of 12 to 18 daily caffeine intake should not be more than 100 mg (this is one 8oz cup of coffee). If you are under 12, there's no designated safe amount!

Excess caffeine intake can do serious damage to your health. Some research has found that excessive caffeine intake is associated with nervousness, irritability, nausea, cardiovascular symptoms, osteoporosis, gastric ulcers and can negatively impact your training sleep and performance.

Caffeine in high doses is also a banned substance by the NCAA.

A urinary caffeine concentration that is higher than 14 micrograms per milliliter (equivalent to about 500 milligrams of caffeine or 48-64oz of coffee), will result in a positive drug test. As for energy drinks, they are not reliable, and may contain unclear amounts of banned substances along with unknown amounts of caffeine.


If there are foods that can negatively impact your sleep, are there foods out there that can positively impact your sleep?

Yes! Here are 3 nutrients that can help improve your sleep:

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids:

Omega-3 fats, which play an important role in supporting brain health and function are essential in keeping your body healthy and can have positive effects on sleep in general and also on daily functioning. Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish (like salmon, tuna, and mackerel), nuts (like walnuts), seeds (like chia and flax), as well as plant-based oils (like olive oil).

2. Anthocyanins:

Anthocyanins are pigments found in certain plants that give them their purple color. Anthocyanins are found in many purple fruits and vegetables, including cherries, blueberries, grapes, pomegranates, purple cabbage, beets, and more! A recent study found that consuming 8oz of tart cherry juice in the morning and night time is associated with a significant reduction in insomnia and the amount of time spent awake after going to bed for the night.

3. Vitamin C:

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that is involved in the repair of tissues, the formation of collagen, and the production of different neurotransmitters. Studies have found that foods high in Vitamin C may improve sleep onset, duration, and efficiency as well. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits (like oranges, clementines, tangerines, lemons, limes, and grapefruit), kiwi, bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, brussel sprouts, broccoli, and more.

Did you know that simply increasing the total amount of fruits and vegetables you eat might help?

A new study published in Sleep Health Journal even found that increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables improved insomnia-related symptoms in young adults, especially young women. In the study they compared women who increased their fruit and vegetable intake by 3+ servings with women who did not. They found that women who increased their intake showed improvements in insomnia symptoms compared to those that did not change their amount of servings per day! If you are looking to improve your sleep, just a fairly simple dietary change of increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption can help!

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