I don’t like the word “diet”, especially for the gymnast, as it can imply restriction and deprivation. And, for every restriction (especially in the diet), there’s often a compensatory reaction.
Obviously there are health conditions that warrant specific “diets” like gluten free for Celiac disease or peanut-free for a peanut allergy. As a pediatric/adolescent dietitian, I am well-versed and sensitive to these dietary challenges and medically warrented restrictions. I help high level gymnast navigate food allergies and intolernaces on a frequent basis.
But, what’s trendy these days are all sorts of diets that demonize this and that food group. This looks like restricting certain foods or food groups in hopes of improved performance and “health”.
You can find a diet for every kind of health condition or weight loss, though many of them are not backed by science.
Here’s the deal…the most important (and often over-looked) aspects to a gymnast’s diet are adequte calories and proper distribution of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Yep, it’s not the gluten, it’s not the dairy, it’s not the sugar.
SO many athletes I work with are underfueling and suffering the effects (frequent injuries, delayed menses/amenorrhea, burnout). They’ve read about their favorite athlete’s diet and decide that if that’s how X athlete eats, then that’s how they eat because “naturally” they would then also perform like said athlete. It makes perfect sense to the teenage (and some adults) brain, but it never works.
I have gymnasts trying to fuel 4+ hour intense practices with either NOTHING or a fat/protein source (nuts, protein bar, etc). Why you ask? Because they’ve been told carbs are BAD (untrue) and gymnasts should be “light and thin”. You can be at an optimal body composition while fueling your body. You will not be able to perform your best if you’re not fueling for the “work required” which looks like 15-30g of carbohydrate PER HOUR of practice.
Gymnastics is an anerobic sport that runs on carbohydrates. Fueling yourself with a bunch of fat and protein before practice is like putting diesel in your car. It’s a SLOW fuel and won’t do you much good.
I’ve developed a 5-day sample meal plan for the gymnast. This plan is unlikely to meet YOUR specific nutrition needs and please do not follow it verbatim. Unless we’re working together on a 1:1 nutrition coaching basis, I cannot tell you how much you should be eating nor can this plan.
But, the plan is intended to give examples of what balanced meals and snacks should look like for the gymnast AND how they can include “fun foods” without guilt/shame or having to “earn them”. Food is food, carbs are carbs. Yes, this is an oversimplification (I have a Masters in Nutritional Sciences and did my thesis on carbohydrates and inflammation), but we all get lost in the weeds of nutrition and end up making dumb nutrition choices that leave us underfeeding, deprived, and set up for a rocky relationship with food (or worse, and eating disorder).
I hope you enjoy the plan and simple recipes that are included. I’d love your feedback.
If you’re wanting a more specific fueling and hydration plan for you and your athlete, please reach out. Together we’ll develop a plan to support you both in and out of gymnastics and help you reach your goals!