Gymnastics is a dynamic sport which requires not only strength, power and at times endurance but also elements of flexibility, balance and co-ordination. As well as being extremely physically involved, mental acuity, precision and confidence are paramount. One wrong move and the payoffs can be serious: fractures, concussions or breaks.
To add to this, competing in an aesthetic sport which often has a strong focus upon desired physique can be challenging. This is not only to the athletes, but the performance support involved. It’s a fine line supporting the balance of power to weight ratio for performance, keeping adequate energy availability and maintaining a healthy body image.
Nutrition For Gymnastics
Available fuel (carbohydrates) to support sessions needs to be well planned and individualised to support best training adaptations. With some disciplines for example, there is a large amount of twisting and throwing the body around, even upside down in the air! Eating the wrong things will make athletes feel sick or nauseous and compromise training.
For these athletes a lower GI snack like a muesli bar and yoghurt or grainy bread with peanut butter ninety minutes out is appropriate. Others who struggle with digestion, may prefer a more quickly releasing carb thirty to sixty minutes before training such as pikelets with jam, rice cakes with Vegemite, flavoured Sakatas or watermelon.
Recovery, like any sport is of course also crucial, especially to prevent any potential injuries. With many of my athletes training at night after work, it’s always a juggle to balance dinner with an adequate 20g of protein, enough carbohydrates to refuel, and antioxidants to aid recovery and immunity without disrupting sleep.
To be honest some of them on these nights just prefer a nutritious smoothie which contains ample sources of all the above and includes 3g of leucine. Alternatively, many of them also make use of primary recovery such as a high-protein yoghurt and then consume their secondary recovery as a balanced but lighter dinner when they return home.
Nutrition to support mental acuity and mood
With such a huge mental component to this sport, my programming has always also included education around healthy fats to support best cognitive function and mood.
To me, practical learning is fun, addresses multiple learning styles and builds confidence. Last year we conducted a healthy snacking competition to consolidate education around healthy fats. The benefit for myself and the coaches? 12 different morning teas
Hydration is of course also a factor to consider. With varying temperatures seasonally but also physically inside the gymnasiums where they train and compete. I find hydration testing useful at different time points and individualise my recommendations accordingly.
Travel and hygiene for athletes
Lastly, like any elite sport, travel is another challenge. Hygiene education and competition planning for another country can be the difference between medalling or not. I will never forget my gymnasts faces last year when I told them that there are eight times more germs on their tray tables on an aeroplane vs. the toilet flush in the bathrooms!
These athletes really are the most wonderful to work with their extreme dedication to training shining through to also reap the benefits of available nutrition education.