With up to 62 percent of female gymnasts suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, gymnastics and weight management have always been closely connected. Choosing to eat like a competitive gymnast in order to lose weight can be a wise choice, but avoid drastic, rapid weight-loss producing diets that are too low in calories to maintain proper nutrition. Follow a sensible, well-rounded meal plan like professional gymnasts Tabitha Yim, Courtney McCool or Courtney Kupets for a world-class, competition-ready physique.
To lose weight, consume fewer calories than you burn. Because gymnastics is an anaerobic sport, with many stops and starts, you burn fewer calories than with many other activities, like running. For instance, if you weigh 130 pounds, you burn about 236 calories per hour doing gymnastics. At the same size, you burn almost 800 calories per hour running at 8 miles per hour, or almost 600 calories per hour swimming vigorously. To burn the 3,500 calories necessary to produce 1 pound of weight loss requires almost 15 hours of gymnastics.
According to U.S. Gymnastics board director and International Gymnastics Federation medical commission member Dr. A. Jay Binder, all gymnasts should consume a diet rich in carbohydrates, low in fats and moderate in protein. Binder states that carbohydrates are necessary for full muscle recovery. He suggests you include low glycemic carbohydrates, such as oat bran and whole wheat in order to maintain a healthy weight. Binder recommends combining protein with carbohydrates for a pre- or post-workout snack to increase muscle recovery, as well. Limit fats in your diet, especially the saturated variety.
On the other hand, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Stephen McCain uses a high-protein diet to fuel his gymnastics training at an intake of about 60 to 70 percent of calories coming from protein. The remaining calories can come from carbohydrates and fat. To follow the example set by gymnasts like Yim, McCool and Kupets, eat several small meals per day, according to MSNBC article, "What Do Olympic Gymnasts Eat?" An example menu may include egg whites for breakfast, a piece of chicken for lunch, grilled fish and fruit for dinner and snacks of cheese and vegetables between meals.
Many athletes succumb to the pressure to be thin and are overwhelmed by eating disorders. While weight management may appear successful in many gymnasts, long-term problems can result from extreme weight control methods. For example, 1989 U.S. world championship team member Christy Henrich died at age 22 in 1994 after a long battle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Additionally, Olympic silver medalist Irina Tchachina supposedly used the Russian Gymnast Diet to meet her weight requirements and compete in the Olympics. The diet restricts calories to between 200 to 450 per day, which can quickly lead to malnutrition.
Talk to your doctor before beginning a new eating plan or exercise regime. Plan a healthy diet together with the proper amount of calories and exercise for your needs, to reach and maintain your weight-loss goals.
- Vanderbilt University: Eating Disorders and Gymnastics
- Rader Programs: Athletes and Eating Disorders
- Pakistan Journal of Nutrition: An Exploratory Study of Weight-Loss Practices of Gymnasts in Rivers State, Nigeria
- MSNBC: What Do Olympic Gymnasts Eat?
- American Council on Exercise: Physical Activity Calorie Calculator