Gymnastics Nutrition & Sports Supplements for Gymnasts
As international standards of competition increase the gymnastic skills required to be successful have become more and more challenging, the physical demands and acrobatic content of this dynamic sport have also increased considerably at the same time.
Because of the heavy training schedules which are necessary to meet these demands it is vitally important for any gymnast to follow not only the correct training programmes but to also have the right diet.
Typical physical characteristics
In general, the elite female gymnasts of today are small, lean and well muscled, characteristics which lend themselves to a higher power-to-weight ratio.
Female gymnasts are at their peak before puberty and are therefore ready for international competition at the minimum age requirement.
Male gymnasts are also smaller, leaner and more heavily-muscled than before, and they are ready for elite competition in their twenties as muscle mass peaks.
Training times for these disciplines vary, but if you are competing you would expect to train a minimum of three times a week for at least three hours at a time.
All these sessions include skills development, strength and flexibility training – and sometimes ballet for precision work and fine tuning.
If you are an elite gymnast competing at, or near, the highest level then your workload is likely to be much greater – more than 30 hours a week in morning and evening sessions.
When it comes to competitions, there is usually a warm-up lasting around an hour or so leading into the competition itself, which can go on for more than three hours.
To whichever group you belong successful gymnasts need to have a well-balanced, nutritious training diet if you are to reach optimum performance levels.
If you are one of the numerous gymnasts still at school, you may prefer small frequent meals to fit into your busy schedule of classwork, homework and training, while at the same time meeting nutritional requirements.
When long and arduous evening training sessions come at the end of a hard day, you will need nutrient-rich snacks to help carry you through, so foods that can be eaten quickly and comfortably in the car after school and before training are ideal.
Here are some meal and snack ideas to get you started:
- pancakes with maple syrup
- sports bars
- instant noodles
- scone with jam
- fresh or dried fruit
- natural yoghurt with fresh fruit
Low body fat levels are required for gymnastic agility, dynamic power and technique, so meals and snacks should always be nutritious.
Things like chocolate, cakes, crisps and fizzy drinks should be very limited as they have little nutritional value for the kilojoules with which they come… and it is advisable to:
Hydration for gymnasts
As well as solid foods, there are fluid requirements to consider.
You need to maintain fluid levels during training in order to prevent the dehydration that can lead to reduced physical ability and compromised mental clarity.
Ideally young gymnasts should aim to consume between 300 and 600ml/hr of fluids – and more in hot weather.
Sports dieticians often recommend a sports drink during training and competition because not only does this replace sweat losses, the carbohydrate it contains provides energy for active muscles.
Before a competition a light meal low in fat, high in carbohydrates (for energy) and easy to digest is ideal, and it should ideally be eaten two hours prior to the warm-up.
- A portion of fresh fruit plus a 200g tub of low fat yoghurt
- A bowl of breakfast cereal and low fat milk
Nutrition during competition
When normal meals are missed during competition extra carbohydrate intake is vital to maintain energy levels.
Natural yoghurt and sports bars are ideal snacks between routines in order to maintain energy levels and mental stamina.
A sports drink is also a good idea, as it replaces carbohydrate and fluid at the same time.
Try to avoid high fat foods, however, as these tend to take too long to digest and will therefore impair performance.
Nerves can also come into play during hours of competition, so it is important that foods and fluids consumed in that time should not only be easily digestible but also something that you really enjoy.
It is certainly not advisable to rely on what is on offer at the venue.
Burgers, hot dogs, sausage rolls, crisps, chocolate bars and fizzy drinks are not exactly the best option!
It is of great benefit to plan and organise – and here parents can be a great help for the younger gymnasts.
Pack snacks for before and during the gymnastics training sessions; make sure there are water bottles in the gym bag and that plenty is drunk during training and also on the way home or to school.
The proper recovery procedure is also fundamental to maintaining performance levels and gymnast rehabilitation.
National and international competitions tend to cover a period of several days, so you need to ensure that the right kind of meal is eaten immediately after cooling down, and this should be taken into consideration when planning your daily menu.
Fruit and natural yoghurt, chicken or tuna salad sandwiches, sports bars and drinks are all suitable recovery snacks that are easy to carry around.
But you should also ensure that you include a lean protein source for muscle tissue repair and growth.
Your high-carbohydrate recovery snacks should be followed a little later by a more substantial meal containing carbohydrate and protein, as well as plenty of fluids.
There are three golden rules to successful recovery and gymnast rehabilitation; and we refer to them as the three R’s:
Therefore your ideal recovery meals and snacks must contain carbohydrate (for fuel replacement), some protein (for muscle repair and/or gains) and plenty of fluids to replace sweat losses.
Experience has shown that low iron content can be a problem with female gymnasts, particularly those at an elite level, who train for such long hours.
Any gymnasts who find that they tire easily should seek a blood test.
Eating disorders can also be a problem for gymnasts, so care should be taken to eat healthily but at the same time not to be too restrictive in your diet.
A wide range of foods should be eaten so that all nutrients are taken in on a regular basis.
Want to get involved in gymnastics?
If you’re not currently involved in gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, trampolining, sports aerobics, sports acrobatics, cheer-leading and other similar sports and are keen to learn more about taking part then read on. Here we’ve brought together a number of useful links to gymnastics organisations that may be able to help you.
Want help with nutrition?
Get in touch now for more information about gymnastics nutrition and the use of sports supplements to help improve gymnast performance. Our team of sports scientists and nutritionists are always happy to help.