What Are Good Foods for Gymnasts?

Gymnasts are often considered to be extraordinary athletes. Their sport requires perfect timing, intense focus and power that can only come from having a lean, muscular body. Compared to swimming or long-distance running, gymnastics is considered to be an "anaerobic" sport which requires short, intense bursts of power rather than endurance. Gymnasts need to concentrate on foods containing protein and carbohydrates to build muscle and have access to quick energy, and should avoid foods high in fat. Gymnasts are typically young, with their careers beginning as early as age three and lasting no longer than the early 20's.

Chicken breasts on a grill. Credit: imagospot/iStock/Getty Images

Protein

Young gymnasts have a high metabolic rate, and easily burn the calories they take in during the day. Protein is especially important to repair the muscles that have been torn during training. Microscopic tears in the muscle are common during training, and can be helped by having an adequate amount of protein two hours after working out. Beef, chicken, lean pork and fish are good sources, while tofu and beans work well for vegetarian gymnasts. Protein is also necessary the day after a workout or competition during the period when muscles are repairing and strengthening themselves.

Carbohydrates and Fats

Carbohydrates are necessary as a quick, short-term energy source for training. To control the release of sugar in the bloodstream, you need sources of complex carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread and pasta and some vegetables that will be released into the bloodstream slowly and provide sustained energy. The energy released from carbohydrates is in the form of glycogen which is stored in the muscles. These stores become depleted after exercise and need to be replenished. If you need a quick burst of energy, the simple carbs provided in fruits and sugars can work. Some fats are required, too, as a long-term fuel source. Subcutaneous fat, found underneath the skin, can protect your internal organs during tumbling and help insulate you from the cold. Mono-unsaturated fats found in nuts, olives, olive oil and fatty fish are good fat sources.

Supplements

Because most gymnasts are young and there is not a lot of research on the effects of supplements on young athletes, little is known about the effects of supplements on growth and development. However, two supplements seem to be beneficial for gymnasts -- a multivitamin and a calcium supplement. The multivitamin can act as assurance for getting the 14 vitamins and 19 minerals needed for good health, and calcium is critical for bone growth and strength. Having enough calcium can help prevent stress fractures, common in gymnasts. Many gymnasts avoid dairy products, a good source of calcium, for fear of putting on weight. Competitive gymnasts practicing four to five hours a day might benefit from energy bars as a snack, especially those that contain more carbohydrate than protein. These are best used for energy before practice or for recovery after working out.

Weight Issues

The sport of gymnastics has been watched closely and criticized for its weight issues. Eating disorders have been prominent in this sport where young girls are encouraged to be lean, yet have the muscle that allows them to carry out amazing tricks on the floor, uneven bars and beam. Correct diets can produce great athletes who are trim but well-nourished. Champion gymnasts might eat small quantities of egg whites for breakfast, a small piece of chicken for lunch, snacks of vegetables and cheese in between meals and possibly fruit and fish for dinner. While this diet might seem austere to many teenagers, it is one of the sacrifices young girls choose to make when they take up the sport.

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