Nutrition Recommendations for Gymnastics
When it comes to fueling gymnasts, the sports nutrition plan needed to support training is just as important as the foods and fluids consumed the day of a competition. That’s because the training is demanding and involves many repetitions with intense effort. A gymnast needs enough fuel to complete lengthy training sessions and to refuel afterwards, so their body is prepared for their next training session and any upcoming competitions. Because many competitive gymnasts are younger in age, their consumption of nutrient-rich foods is important to support their growth and development.
The main fuel source used by gymnasts is carbohydrates. They need to eat enough each day to supply the energy to train and perform at a high level. The amount of carbohydrates needed varies based on their training level, but generally ranges between 3 and 7 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. A younger gymnast, who participates in fewer weekly training hours, would likely fall on the lower end. As the amount and intensity of training increases, so do the daily carbohydrate needs of the athlete.
To meet those daily requirements, gymnasts should focus on including a combination of nutrient-dense carbohydrates – like whole grains such as oatmeal, legumes, and fruits and vegetables – at all meals and snacks. Including a variety of these foods will help ensure gymnasts get the wide variety of vitamins and minerals their bodies need.
Protein is needed to help repair and recover muscle tissue that was broken down during training and competition. In general, gymnasts need between 1.2 and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. For example, a 115-pound gymnast would range between 63-89 grams of protein a day. Ideally, protein intake should be spread out evenly throughout the day and be included at each meal and all snacks, including after training and competitions.
When choosing what proteins to eat, try to include a variety of animal and plant-based sources. Animal sources include lean meats – such as chicken, fish, eggs, and lean beef — and dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. Plant-based protein sources include chickpeas, lentils, tofu, edamame, peanuts, or other tree nuts.
Fat is essential for overall body and brain development and functioning. It also plays a role in helping the body recover. Gymnasts first need enough carbohydrates for energy and enough protein for building and repairing body tissues. The remainder of their daily caloric intake will come from dietary fat.
Dietary fats are found naturally in foods like eggs, meats, some poultry, cheeses and other dairy foods. In addition to the naturally occurring fat found in those foods, dietary fats come from oils, butters, dressings, nuts, seeds, avocados and olives. The chart below gives an example of how a 115-pound (52.3 kg) gymnast could distribute carbohydrate, protein and fat intake throughout the day.