A gymnast needs a controlled diet to enable her to meet the intense physical demands of frequent training. Such dietary control is required to provide her with the correct nutrients to assist growth and repair, while maintaining the lean physique the sport expects. British Gymnastics states in its nutrition section of coach education that "it is important that the body consumes energy and produces energy at the rate at which it is being used."
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Five or six regular small meals a day that are low in fat, but high in carbohydrates and proteins are the basic requirements of a gymnast's diet. A gymnast's eating patterns should reflect the intensity, frequency and demands of her training. Endurance, coordination and concentration can be affected if her diet is not correctly maintained and monitored. It is important that gymnasts use up the energy they consume so excess weight is not gained.
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Eating a Balanced Diet
The optimum diet for a gymnast is high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Brown rice, vegetables and fruit provide the right type of complex carbohydrate, which provides a slow release of energy. Carbohydrates should make up between 60 and 65 per cent of her daily calories. Protein from sources such as fish, meat and eggs provide about 15 per cent of calories. Foods containing high levels of saturated fat should not make up any more than 25 per cent of her diet. The total amount of calories that should be consumed by a gymnast is dependent on her body type and level of training. The expectation of a lean body would require a gymnast with higher body fat percentage to consume less carbohydrates and fat. An increase in the intensity of training might require the gymnast to eat more high-carbohydrate based foods to supply them with the energy to meet the demands of training.
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Ensuring the growth and repair of muscles is an important factor in managing a gymnast's diet. As many gymnasts are either children or adolescents, the body needs to withstand training while continuing to grow normally. The high level of protein in her diet will ensure her muscles are able to repair and grow. Where carbohydrates are best eaten before training to give her energy to perform, proteins should be eaten after training to help her body recover. Good sources of protein for a gymnast are chicken and fish or tofu and beans if she is vegetarian.
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Fluids and Rehydration
Regular intakes of fluid are essential in keeping her body properly hydrated. Although gymnastics is an anaerobic sport which uses muscles in short, intense bursts without the need for oxygen to produce energy, water is still lost. The fluid lost through sweat during a training session needs to be replaced. Gymnasts are encouraged to replace lost fluids with water and glucose-based drinks both during and after training. Like with food, poor levels of hydration can reduce her ability to train effectively.
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A gymnast's competition diet varies slightly from her normal eating patterns to reflect the change in her training. The day before a competition she usually will consume a high level of carbohydrates to provide the body with energy. She will drink a large quantity of fluid to hydrate the body and will avoid high-fat foods. At competitions, gymnasts generally opt for a light breakfast and regular snacks throughout the day to maintain energy levels. Fluid intake is small and regular to reduce the feeling of being bloated when competing
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A male gymnast's diet is only slightly different from that of his female teammates. A male gymnast has greater energy requirements for training due to variations in muscle mass and growth. This means he needs to eat a larger amount of carbohydrates to ensure he has enough energy to undergo rigorous training. The same applies to protein to help muscle growth and repair. Male gymnasts are generally less conscious of weight and body shape, but are still aware of how diet can affect training.