Valentine's Day is such a fun holiday! I remember growing up having celebrations and trading cards and candy in school.
As a gymnast, these types of holidays can seem a little confusing and conflicting, especially if you've ever been told that sugar is "bad" or that "gymnasts don't eat candy".
I mean, a whole holiday, where chocolate is a main focus, centered around eating food that's supposedly "bad" or is usually "limited" or "off limits". What mixed messages! What are you going to do?
As a gymnast, you're supposed to be disciplined and have a ton of willpower...
I'm here to tell you that one day of fun and chocolate will not ruin your training.
So, you're saying I can eat sugar?
As a Registered Dietitian who works specifically with gymnasts I'm saying YES! You are allowed to eat sugar, chocolate, candy, and really anything you want!
Gymnastics (and being a functioning human being in general) takes A LOT of energy, and carbohydrates (aka sugar) are your body's favorite source to get that energy from. This energy is what powers everything from your gymnastics, conditioning, and recovery as well as your brain at school and your body for everyday life!
The idea that eating excess carbohydrates will ruin your training, change your body, or automatically turn into body fat is not true. Since your body really likes to use carbohydrates for energy, it will first use carbohydrates as an immediate form of energy to power the activity you are currently doing.
Second, your body will then store excess carbohydrates (not as fat) but as a molecule known as glycogen, which is stored in your muscles and in your liver to be easily broken down and give your body energy between meals or during workouts. As a high-level athlete with increased muscle mass, it is likely that your body can store more energy this way compared to a less-active person.
For carbohydrates to be turned to fat in the body, you would have to be eating carbohydrates well beyond your immediate needs and these glycogen stores over a period of time (not just on one meal or one day). And since gymnastics takes a lot of energy (and 50-70% of that coming from carbohydrates), it's unlikely that a gymnast would actually eat such an excess of carbohydrates that they would be turned into fat and stored in the body this way. Even on Valentine's Day.
But, if I allow myself candy, I won't be able to stop!
I've seen it time and time again - a gymnast falls into a cycle that leaves them craving sugar and carbohydrates. Restriction can mean a few things:
You don't allow yourself to eat a food (I can't eat chocolate.)
You only allow yourself a limited amount of a food or only on certain occasions (I'm only allowed to eat 1 piece of candy. OR I can only eat candy on a special occasion.)
You attach a moral value to food that causes you to feel guilty after eating it (Candy is bad. Therefore, I am bad for eating or enjoying it.)
You feel like you have to "healthify" everything.
For whatever reason, you avoid a certain food (or group of foods) for so long, causing your craving to keep building, to a point that, when you finally eat it, it's like the flood gates have opened! And of course the resulting guilt, shame, and "I'll do better next time" cycle begins again...
The brain always wants more of what it can't have...
But realize, this binge-restrict cycle and the guilt and mental stress that goes along with it is way more harmful than any food or meal will ever be.
Instead, we need to work towards having unconditional permission to eat all foods.
The reality is, foods with sugar can be a regular part of any person's diet, weather you're a high level athlete or not. The more regularly you include candy into your fueling routine, the less special it's going to feel and the less likely you are to feel out of control, scared, or guilty around it, even on special occasions.
The same way if you ate broccoli every single meal or every single day, eventually, you'd no longer want to eat broccoli. This idea of food habituation can (and will) happen with desserts too.
Sugar truly is just a simple carb. Fruits, vegetables, starches, and Halloween candy all break down into sugar.
Remember: Every day doesn’t have to be “perfect” in order to fuel your body.
Nutrition and fueling is not black 𝗢𝗥 white, good 𝗢𝗥 bad, on 𝗢𝗥 off. Nutrition is a spectrum. An average of what you eat over the course of a day, a week, a month, or even years!
I encourage the high-level gymnasts that I work with to shoot for an 80/20 spread: 80% of the foods you eat over time you choose for their nutritious attributes. 20% of the foods you eat you choose for other reasons (like fun, enjoyment, and celebration).
For example: If over the course of your day (3 meals and 3 snacks) you eat 20 different foods. And 1 or 2 of those are more fun, then you’re still >90%.
Even on a holiday, where you might eat more candy and sweets than normal, that’s just a drop in the bucket of your overall nutrition!
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
If you're feeling stressed or guilty over what you've eaten try using And Mentality.
Instead of using “OR” try using “AND” instead:
“𝘐 𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘣𝘴 𝘈𝘕𝘋 𝘱𝘳𝘰𝘵𝘦𝘪𝘯.”
“𝘐 𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘷𝘦𝘨𝘦𝘵𝘢𝘣𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘈𝘕𝘋 chocolate.”
There’s room for both. Both can be true at the same time.
So gymnasts, on a day like Valentine's Day, look for balance. You can eat foods that fuel your body AND enjoy your favorite Halloween treats too! Drink some water. Enjoy ALL of the treats this season has to offer and the time spent with your friends. This time of year, there’s plenty of room on your plate for both vegetables and desserts.
Here are a few of my favorite chocolate recipes to help you celebrate Valentine's Day
Chocolate Chip Greek Yogurt Pancakes
1/4C whole wheat flour
1t baking soda
3/4C greek yogurt (plain, vanilla, chocolate, or berry work!)
1/4t vanilla extract
1/4C chocolate chips
In a bowl, whisk together the greek yogurt, egg, and vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt
Add the dry ingredients to the wet. Mix to combine. Then add in the chocolate chips
Heat and lightly grease a large skillet or flat top. Pour 1/4C of batter onto the heated surface and cook on medium heat until air bubbles form and begin to burst. Carefully flip each pancake and cook another 1-3 minutes, until the pancake is cooked through
Enjoy with your favorite toppings, like maple syrup, peanut butter, or raspberries!
Chocolate Protein Muffins
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4C butter, softened
2C dark chocolate Kodiak Cakes mix
1/2C brown sugar
3/4C milk (of your choosing)
Optional: add frozen raspberries, crushed peanuts, or chia seeds
Preheat oven to 350F
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl
Grease or line a muffin tin. Fill each well about 3/4 of the way to the top
Bake 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean
Chocolate Oatmeal Breakfast Bowl
1 cup Rolled oats
2C milk (with protein)
1 tbsp Maple syrup
Baking & Spices
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
2 tbsp Cocoa powder
1/8 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Vanilla extract
Additional toppings could include fruit (like sliced banana, blueberries, strawberries, chopped pear, chopped apples, raspberries, or blackberries), coconut, dark chocolate chip, nut butter (like peanut butter, almond butter, and cashew butter), granola, crushed nuts, seeds, or dried fruit (like dried blueberries, craisins, or raisins)
Combine all ingredients in a small pot.
Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thick and creamy (about 6-8 minutes)
Transfer oatmeal to bowl(s). Add your favorite toppings and enjoy!
Dark Chocolate Greek Yogurt Dip
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark chocolate chips
In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together!
Enjoy cold with your favorite fruit, graham crackers, pretzel sticks, and more!
Chocolate Cherry Recovery Smoothie
1 cup fresh or frozen cherries
1/2 cup vanilla greek yogurt
1 teaspoon ground flax seeds
1T Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 cup milk (dairy or non-dairy + protein)
Add all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth
Chocolate Covered Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Bark
Strawberries, washed and large pieces sliced
1/2C semi sweet chocolate chips (or chunks)
2 1/2 cups plain or flavored Greek yogurt of choice
1t vanilla extract (if not using Vanilla yogurt)
1/4C honey or agave (if desired)
1/2C granola (or your favorite nuts, chopped)
Additional toppings could include chocolate chips, peanut butter drizzle, coconut flakes, and more!
Wash, dry and slice fruit
Melt chocolate in microwave or over double boiler
Line a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper
In large bowl mix together yogurt, honey and vanilla
Spread yogurt evenly on top of parchment paper
Top with berries and granola (or other preferred toppings), slightly push toppings into the yogurt. Then drizzle the chocolate on top
Freeze for at least 3 hours or until completely frozen in the center of bark (make sure the tray is level)
Break the bark into pieces. Enjoy or keep stored in freezer safe container for up to 1 week.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Granola Bar
1/2 cup of Honey (local if you can get it where you live)
3T Creamy Natural Peanut Butter
1T Coconut oil
1t Pure Vanilla Extract
3/4 cup of your favorite Whole Grain Cereal
3/4 cup Old Fashioned Oats
1/4 cup Ground Flaxseed
1/2t Ground Cinnamon
1/4t Kosher Salt
1/2 cup of your favorite dried fruit, chopped (I like craisins + apricots)
1/4 cup almonds (crushed)
1/4 cup, pepitas (or your favorite seed)
1 1/2 cups Chocolate Pb2 (or plain if you do not prefer chocolate)
Line an 8x8 baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving a few inches of overhang on two of the sides (like handles). Spray the foil or paper with cooking spray. Set aside.
In a microwave-safe bowl or a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the honey, peanut butter, and coconut oil. Melt gently and stir until smooth and combined. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Let cool for 5 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, cereal, flaxseed, cinnamon, salt, and PB2. Stir in the dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Pour the peanut butter mixture over the top, then stir until the ingredients are evenly combined. (Pro tip: it may be helpful to use your cooking spray and spray your wooden spoon or rubber spatula to help the mixture from sticking while mixing.)
Scoop the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press into an even layer. If the mixture is too sticky, lay a sheet of plastic wrap over the top, then press on its surface. Place the bars in the refrigerator to set, at least 2 hours or overnight.
Once fully chilled, remove the bars from the pan with the foil or paper “handles,”. Slice into 10 bars. Enjoy immediately or store in the refrigerator or freezer for later.