Nutrition for gymnasts

Gymnastics is a dynamic sport that incorporates seven disciplines – men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampolining, sports aerobics, sports acrobatics and cheerleading. 

Training loads vary depending on the discipline and level of athlete but most competitive gymnasts train a minimum of 3 times per week for around 3 hours per session. Training sessions incorporate skill development, strength and flexibility training, and sometimes ballet for precision and fine-tuning. Elite gymnasts will train over 30 hours per week during morning and evening sessions. Compared to swimming or long-distance running, gymnastics is considered to be an “anaerobic” sport which requires short, intense bursts of power rather than endurance.

The training diet usually includes Lean protein for muscle repair and recovery, carbohydrate appropriately timed for fuel and fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds for vitamins and minerals, along with healthy fats.

While training, male gymnasts need to eat enough calories to maintain muscle mass and promote muscle growth. The number of calories you need depends on your age, current weight, height and the amount of time spent training. On average, active men need 3,000 calories per day to maintain a healthy weight, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Monitoring your calorie intake and body weight can help you determine how many calories you need each day.

The ideal diet for a male gymnast is high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat, according to Dr. A Jay Binder, member of the medical commission of the Federation of International Gymnastics. Carbohydrates act as an efficient source of energy for muscles. Carbs such as fruit and potatoes provide a quick source of energy, while whole-grain breads and cereals, pasta and beans provide a longer-lasting steady source of energy. Protein is important for maintaining and growing muscle. Lean meats, eggs, fish, beans and low-fat milk are good sources of protein. Leanness might be your goal, but you still need some fat in your diet. A male gymnast should get at least 20 percent of calories from healthy sources of fat such as nuts, olive oil and fatty fish such as salmon.

Use your plate as a guide to help you get the right amount of carbs, protein and fat. Sports dietitian Nancy Clark suggests you fill two-thirds to three-quarters of your plate with carbs, and one-quarter to one-third of your plate with protein. The fat in your diet comes from the oils used during cooking and the fat naturally found in foods such as chicken, fish and low-fat milk. For example, a healthy male gymnast’s breakfast meal might include whole-wheat toast and fresh cantaloupe with hard-boiled eggs and a glass of low-fat milk. For lunch, fill your plate with brown rice, broccoli and a grilled chicken breast. A healthy dinner meal might include a baked sweet potato with roasted vegetables and salmon.

How do gymnasts eat?

Madison Kocian: “ Usually before afternoon practice, I stick to an apple with almond butter. I also made homemade trail mix with almonds, raisins, walnuts, and dark chocolate bits. Leading up to the Olympics, I always had oatmeal with a banana on top and some scrambled eggs. In Rio, the oatmeal was different, so I would have yogurt and granola with scrambled eggs. I just always try to get some kind of carb and protein.”

Gabby Douglas’s diet plan: is rich in protein (e.g. lean chicken), fruits and veggies, and well as carbs (e.g. sweet potatoes). Douglas also munches on nuts, bagels with peanut butter, whole-grain energy bars, protein balls with oatmeal, yogurt-covered blueberries, and strawberry-chocolate-covered almonds with a wee bit of sea salt as a snack. One of Gabby Douglas’s favorite (healthy) home cooked meals is mashed potatoes with a side of asparagus (it apparently gives her energy).

Simone Biles : “in the morning, I usually get up between 7:40 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. and then I’ll brush my teeth, do my hair, and just throw on my leotard and my clothes and go to the kitchen. I make breakfast, which is usually Kellogg’s Red Berries or egg whites, and then I go to the gym that’s only 10 minutes away. I have practice from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then I drive home and eat lunch, which is either chicken or fish so I get the protein. I grab a quick snack and head back to the gym from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and usually have more routines. After that, I either have therapy at the gym or at home, and then I eat dinner and chill and do it all again the next day. Pre-workout I love drinking Core Power; it’s a recovery drink. And then a banana and peanut butter because bananas have potassium, which helps with muscle cramps. And then afterwards, I like having a good fish, like salmon, and rice and carrots.”

Max Whitlock: in 2016, during the Rio Olympic Games, Max Whitlock became Britain’s first ever gold medallist in artistic gymnastics, winning both the men’s floor and pommel horse exercises.

“I’m quite relaxed with what I eat – nothing too extreme. For breakfast I’ll have cereal or toast with eggs and salmon and then maybe a banana an hour or so before training.” “I try not to eat too much in and around training, as I need the time to digest. But, if I’m feeling hungry, I’ll snack on some nuts or biltong.” “After training, it’s a case of eating plenty of protein and carbohydrates. I will always have a shake immediately after my workout – I like the Myprotein impact whey isolate. The High Pro Bars are great, too. Then, I’ll have pasta with meat and vegetables. Not that exciting, but it’s what the body needs.”


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