This post was written by Coach Ruby Carpenter, an Xcel coach here at Gymfinity. Ruby also competed as a gymnast and grew up here at Gymfinity. She is now a student at UW Madison and studies Community and Non-Profit Leadership. Ruby is high on my list of respected people and when we talked about doing a guest post, it was no surprise that she wanted to do something with which she has had a lot of interest…food (nutrition) and gymnastics. So, enjoy Ruby’s insight and wisdom here, I love what she wrote. J.
Nutrition is one of those constants in our lives. Gymnastics has gotten a bad rap in the past over restricting athlete’s diet. Times have changed and that’s not the issue it was ten years ago. So, what do you feed your athletes? As a coach and food enthusiast, I have 10 suggestions for how to maximize your athlete’s workout in the gym and keep them strong.
Consider these 10 nutrition notes:
10 Carbo loading doesn’t work.
It’s true, filling up on lots of breads and starches with the idea that it will somehow give you endurance isn’t helpful. A better idea is to eat a well-balanced diet to help tap into energy stores and build your endurance with cardio workouts.
9 There is no gymnast body type.
Gymnastics has evolved as a sport. In the last ten years we have seen a shift away from a focus on the grace and elegance of gymnastics toward a showcase of its power and strength. this shift has brought a realization to the gymnastics world that anyone can become strong. The old archetype of tiny gymnasts has fallen out of style. There is no one-size fits all when it comes to doing a sport you love.
8 Athletes need lots of fuel.
The older generation of coaches were infamous for athlete diet restriction. While the concept has virtually fallen away, we still need to acknowledge its presence. Gymnasts need a lot of energy and energy comes from food. A restriction mindset sets up young gymnasts to create unhealthy habits.
7 Nutrients come from plants
There is a lot of nutrition information out there. How do you sort it all out? Here’s what I have learned from my journey, not only as a gymnast and coach, but as a food and health enthusiast: nutrients come from unprocessed plants. What I mean by this is, the nutrient density of a food is directly related to its level of processing. Keep it simple and you’ll get all the nutrients you need.
6 High activity, low protein.
The media has done a great job of selling protein as this wonder nutrient to help you build muscle. Americans over-consume protein like crazy and yet we are somehow not all walking around ripping the sleeves off our shirts with massive muscles. There are different types of protein, plant and animal. Biologically, our bodies break down plant protein easier than animal protein. Getting that right amount of useful protein can be as easy as eating all your food groups.
5 Snacking is key.
Is snacking good or bad? Small meals throughout the day or three big meals? When I was a gymnast, I was always a snacker. My parents only rule was, “No snacking two hours before dinner”. This allowed me to develop a trusting relationship with food where I knew it was always there if I was hungry. Snacking also lends consistent energy throughout the day.
4 Hydrate with water.
It’s easy to remember to drink water when it’s hot, it’s just as important to do it year-round. We have a window sill at the gym where kids can keep water bottles. They remember to drink water and don’t have to wait in line. Water also helps with focus and muscle use.
3 Recovery to rest, restore, and reboot.
The best thing after a good practice is to develop a habit of recovery. Your gymnast’s body keeps working even after practice is over. Three important factors for a good recovery after a workout is: food, electrolytes (especially when they’ve been sweating a lot), and time for their muscles to rebuild.
2 Fresh is best.
Get your gymnasts into eating lots of fresh foods. The best food for you is the food you can recognize from its original form. Chicken should look like chicken. If you can’t identify it, don’t eat it. Kids palettes will change over time and it never hurts to have them try new vegetables. Google what produce is in season and get tasting!
1 Rest is better than food.
When kids work hard, they sleep hard. Some of the best athletes in the world sleep an exorbitant amount. Having kids in sports is a great way to get them fit and build character, all while having fun. But, at the end of the day, for both serious and recreational gymnasts, a good sleep is going to do a world of good to recover their bodies and give them energy to take on school and practice.
So, no matter what level your gymnast is, sustained energy from good food and good rest are the way to keep their time in the gym a happy and rewarding one.