For all my gymnasts, coaches, and fellow judges…meet season is in full swing in meet season and it is BUSY with lots of travel for many of us.
Nutrition can be easier when you’re at home, with your own kitchen, groceries, etc.
But when you’re on the go, what’s the plan?
Are you just “winging it” during a meet weekend, hoping the hotel has an edible breakfast, the venue has some decent concession (rarely), and then going out to dinner “wherever”.
Does your gymnast have major tummy troubles while traveling which can jeopardize their performance? “Nervous stomach” is a real thing, but other tummy issues like constipation, reflux, etc. can usually be prevented with appropriate planning.
I’m not a fan of being militant about meal-prepping every single meal for traveling (though this may be necessary in certain situations). There are food safety issues with this (hello stomach bug from spoiled food) and a lot of times there are plenty of resources in the meet location to procure nourishing foods.
Here are my key strategies for managing your nutrition while on-the-go:
I love breakfast. Research supports breakfast, especially for young athletes. See my post here. Most hotel breakfasts are better than used to be; 2-star hotels like Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn usually offer the following:
- some sort of egg product (pre-made omelet, hardboiled eggs)
- meat (bacon/sausage)
- yogurt (Chobani greek yogurt or Activia/Yoplait)
- milk (1% or 2%, 8g protein per 8 oz cup)
- dry cereal (mostly pretty sugary)
- bread products (toast, whole wheat/white English muffins, bagel, pastries) with spreads (peanut butter, cream cheese, jelly, honey)
- apple, oranges, bananas
- Walnuts (to top yogurt or oatmeal)
- Peanut butter packets (about 1.5 tbsp, great for a serving)
Hotels that are 3-star and up will often offer all of the above plus a breakfast buffet that has an omelet station, a wider variety of fruits and veggies, and more dairy choices (plain greek yogurt, smoothies, etc).
Grab my FREE breakfast guide for more ideas (which can easily be adapted to hotel food selection)
I’m a big believer in making the best of any situation; here are my strategies for handling any breakfast situation:
- Find the protein (eggs, greek yogurt, nuts/seeds/peanut butter*)
- Aim for whole grains (slower, longer-lasting energy)
- Add fruit
- Add milk (great source of carbohydrates, protein, and calcium
For traveling, it’s helpful to have some snacks on hand, especially for long gaps during gymnastics meets and minimal healthful options at most meet venues (yellow processed cheese jalapeño nachos aren’t going to leave you feeling very good during competition). Maintain your normal meal/snack patters (3 meals per day, 1-2 snacks per day with something every 3-4 hours) as it’s easy to mindlessly eat snacks the entire car-ride in absence of hunger and throw off the appetite for the rest of the meals.
- Trail mix/Nuts, greek yogurt cups, granola bars (KIND, Luna, Kashi), Whole grain crackers/peanut butter, fruit, lower sugar beef jerky
Grab my FREE athlete snack guide for more ideas!
For parents, do a little scouting ahead of time to see what dining options are in the area. Choose a restaurant that has vegetables available and you’ll probably do well with the rest.
There is NOTHING wrong with enjoying something fried from time-to-time. But, super heavily fried foods contain a lot of grease that could set you up for some tummy-troubles and that are not ideal the night before a meet. I’m not going to stress if something is “lightly breaded” as it will not retain as much oil as something with a thick batter. Chik-fil-a nuggets with a salad, fruit/yogurt, and a healthier starch (preferably not french-fries) is a fine option when in a pinch.
You hopefully don’t eat fried foods at home on the regular, so why would you do this the night before the big meet? Stick with foods you know, like grilled chicken, lean hamburger, etc. Restaurants like Qdoba, Chipotle, Chili’s, etc all offer a good selection of lean protein, veggies, and starches to keep you fueled.
You’ll notice I mentioned pizza under “adequate carbohydrate”. Yep, we want the muscles to be topped off with muscle glycogen (stored energy), especially if you have an early morning meet and find it difficult to get an adequate breakfast in. Pizza is not inherently bad, and you’ll by know I don’t believe any food is bad. Pizza used to be so scary to me as a gymnast because it was always lumped in the “junk food category”. Sure, a quadruple meat lover’s pizza is going to have a lot of extra fat and isn’t the best choice before a practice/meet, but 2-3 slices of a cheese, veggie, or leaner meat pizza (chicken, Canadian bacon, fewer pepperoni) is just fine. It has carbohydrates from the crust, protein from the cheese/toppings, and fat from the cheese/toppings, etc. Add a big side salad and that’s a meal (for most; some gymnasts may need to add a glass of milk or fruit to round out the mea or have a snack later).
The “grease” that appears on top of pizza is just a natural separation of the milk fat when the cheese is heated. If your gymnast will eat cheese out of the fridge (which you likely do all the time), it is no different once it’s heated and looks “greasy”. You can try to find a whole-wheat crust, but not worries if it’s not available. Gluten free crusts are not healthier in any way-shape-or-form, so don’t bother unless your gymnast has a medical reason to go sans-gluten (celiac disease, wheat allergy, etc). At the end of the day, the carbohydrate will still be used in the muscles and liver regardless of how “nutritious” it is. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Gymnastics is not an endurance sport where you’d want to “carb-load” for days leading up to a meet, but enjoying a normal dinner with at least 30-60g of carbohydrate (depending on the athlete’s gender, age, needs) will help fill muscle/liver stores and leave your gymnast prepared for the work ahead.
- Find the protein
- Skip the heavily fried foods
- Adequate carbohydrates (1/2 plate pasta, 2 slices pizza, 1 cup rice, etc)
- Aim for 1/2 plate veggies (salad, steamed, roasted)
Meet day nutrition MATTERS. This is not the time to try new foods pre/intra workout. You want to be able to rely on tried-and-true go-to meals that leave you feeling energized.
- Breakfast is a MUST—liquid breakfast if early session (smoothie, balanced nutrition shake)
- Bring your usual practice snack (quicker carbohydrates- fruit, applesauce, pretzels, etc)
- Normal meal 4 hours before the meet (if mid-morning, afternoon, evening session)
- Top off the tank 60 minutes before open stretch!
- Bring water; half-way through the meet switch to sports/drink or have a snack for a carbohydrate boost.
Travel can often lead to dehydration (hello flying!) and constipation due to lack of consistent meals (less stool “bulk” which helps with regularity). A lot of gymnasts can get “nervous stomach” which is exacerbated when they are unable to go to the bathroom as usual. I know, I know, TMI but I’m a pediatric dietitian with expertise in all things GI and like to talk about poop. Sure, these are “taboo” topics that leave most young gymnasts feeling embarrassed, but there is no reason for tummy troubles to ruin your meet–so let’s talk.
- Hydration: So, do you best to help you athlete stay hydrated. Take a refillable bottle on the flight so you can go through TSA security without throwing away the beverage. Take small sips throughout the day versus guzzling a ton when you get to your destination. Urine should be “lemonade or lighter” but does not have to be clear. This is such a thing as over hydration, so every void does not need to be “clear” nor should it.
- Fiber: Fiber (a kind of non-digested carbohydrate) helps keep the bowels moving at a regular pace. Snack foods like chips, candy, cookies, etc are made of refined white flours with little fiber and won’t do much for the gut. Aim to get your normal 2-3 servings of fruit and 3-4 servings of vegetables per day along with fibrous starches as you can to help keep a consistent amount of fiber in the gut and predictable bowel schedule. If you athlete has other GI (gastrointestinal) issues, let’s talk as this advice is pretty generic for its purpose.
I hope this help ease the burden of travel and helps you and your gymnast prepare for great success this meet season!
If you have questions or want to learn more, let’s chat! Schedule a free 15 min consult with me to help answer questions and work together if you need further help.