What Do Gymnasts Need to Eat?

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A salmon steak on top of some spinach. (Image: 9aTTh/iStock/Getty Images)

Gymnasts are typically considered power athletes, with a goal of maximizing power and strength, according to USA Gymnastics. This is because gymnastics is an anaerobic sport, which is strength-based, as opposed to aerobic sports, which require endurance. Because gymnasts need fuel that promotes bursts of power and strength, their diet is typically high in protein, and they get a balance of carbohydrates and healthy fat, according to Dan Benardot, author of "Nutrition for Serious Athletes." The sport of gymnastics requires having a lean frame with low body fat and a high proportion of lean mass, so gymnasts focus on nutrient-dense foods.

Packing the Protein

Protein plays a crucial role in a gymnast's diet. Elite gymnasts often train for up to 30 hours each week and need a lot of protein to fuel their training and prevent muscle breakdown. This comes from egg whites, lean meats such as chicken and turkey, a variety of fish and seafood, nuts and seeds, milk protein from low-fat dairy foods, beans and soy protein from soy foods. Gymnasts often supplement their diet with high-quality protein powder since their bodies' demand for protein is high.

Keeping It Complex

Carbohydrates help your body build up muscle glycogen -- a storage form of energy -- and provide immediate fuel. Complex carbohydrates are the name of the game when it comes to a gymnast's diet. These types of carbs are slow-digesting, so they provide the sustained energy gymnasts need to power through their training routines and competitions. Gymnasts get their complex carbs from whole grains such as whole-wheat pasta, oatmeal and other whole-grain cereals, whole-grain bread, legumes, brown rice and vegetables, particularly of the starchy variety, according to Fred Brouns, author of "Essentials of Sports Nutrition."

Yes, There's a Place for Fat

Because gymnasts must maintain a lean frame with low body fat in order to perform their best, many assume that gymnasts try to avoid fat. Dietary fat, however, helps cushion your joints, which take the brunt of the tumbling pressure; help absorb fat-soluble vitamins; and provide cushion for your organs. Gymnasts focus on healthy fats and get them from plant oils such as olive, flaxseed and chia seed, nuts, fruit such as avocado and coconut, and fatty fish such as salmon.

Choosing Snacks

Gymnasts typically carry snacks with them so they can provide their body with continuous fuel. Multigrain snack bars and high-protein energy bars are portable and convenient. They may also carry nuts, seeds and vegetables such as chopped carrots and celery, or reduced-fat yogurt along with some fruit such as bananas. It's crucial to carry snacks so that you're ready in case your energy levels dip or hunger hits when you're in between meals.

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