It takes energy to fuel flips, tucks and cartwheels, and that energy should come from a balanced, nutritious diet. Although the caloric needs of a gymnast depend on the individual, it's important to consume enough food per day to not only keep up with your training but also avoid health problems such as osteoporosis, lethargy or weakness. Talk to a sports nutritionist or health care provider to determine the ideal diet for peak athletic performance.
Carbohydrates are essential for a gymnast's energy level. This macronutrient is stored in the muscles as glycogen, which is used to power through workouts and meets. Gymnastics coach Don Peters says complex carbohydrates should make up 60 percent of a gymnast's diet. According to USA Gymnastics, fat also needs to be part of a healthy diet. However, limit saturated fat to less than 7 percent of your daily calories, and total fat to 20 percent or less. Your final 20 percent should be protein, as it repairs tissue and muscle damage caused by workouts.
Potential Meal Plan
A gymnast should eat three meals and a snack per day, Peters says. Start your day off with a fiber-rich cereal with skim milk and fresh fruit, or a bagel with peanut butter and a cup of orange juice. Follow up with lunch of a tuna sandwich on whole-wheat bread, also with fruit, or a large vegetable-rich salad and a small turkey sandwich with a cup of skim milk. Dinner could consist of poultry or seafood combined with a baked potato, mixed vegetables and skim milk. Don't forget a pre-workout snack of a small bran muffin or yogurt mixed with cereal.
In general, a well-balanced diet should provide all the vitamins and minerals your body needs. However, former All-American gymnast Kenneth N. Haas suggests taking a high-quality vitamin and mineral supplement daily to ensure you're getting what you need, as well as two fish oil capsules for omega-3 fatty acids. He also recommends taking a proteolytic enzyme capsule daily to reduce inflammation caused by workouts.
Flexibility isn't just needed on the floor for gymnasts. According to USA Gymnastics, your diet should vary based on training frequency, intensity and duration. You might need more food during intense training periods, but then you need to back off during times of rest to avoid weight gain. Additionally, young gymnasts should listen to their bodies and adjust eating habits to accommodate for growth spurts.
- USA Gymnastics: Weight Management, Nutrition and Energy Needs for Gymnastics
- Bay State Gymnastics Academy: The Gymnastics Diet: Eating Healthy and Staying Fit
- Los Angeles Times: Gymnasts Sum Up Their Diet in One Word: 'Po-ta-toes'
- Gymnastics Zone: Gymnasts, Nutrition and Diet
- Haas Wellness Center: Nutrition for Gymnasts
- USA Gymnastics: Training Table: Gymnastics Jane’s Initial and Revised Meal Plan