Professional athletes have a variety of dietary concerns, but they can be quite different across sports. Gymnasts, especially female gymnasts, tend to be petite and do not have the same calorie needs as athletes that need to be bulkier, such as football players and weightlifters.
A professional gymnast’s diet is meant to build muscle and encourage power and strength rather than endurance. Although gymnasts typically train for hours each day, most of their professional events last for just a minute or two, with the floor exercise being one of the longest at about 90 seconds. An optimal diet for a gymnast is about 60 percent carbohydrates, 15 percent protein and 25 percent fat. Calorie needs differ depending on gymnasts’ body types and activity levels and may range from about 1,500 to more than 2,500 daily.
Protein may be the most important nutrient for an Olympic gymnast. Lean and low-fat proteins encourage muscle development but are low in calories, making it easy for athletes to maintain a lean, muscular figure and avoid weight gain. Some gymnasts prefer to follow an Atkins type of diet, getting most of their calories from protein and the rest from complex carbs and healthy fats.
Like all healthy adults, gymnasts’ bodies respond best to nutrient-rich foods that are high in vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fat, added sugar, cholesterol and sodium. ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends focusing on vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and nonfat dairy products as a dietary foundation.
Professional gymnasts should eat a meal that provides adequate glycogen stores and carbohydrates on competition days to keep up their energy, according to the United States Olympic Committee. Examples might include rice, pasta or bread-based dishes. On the day of competition, gymnasts may want to eat lightly to avoid stomach discomfort or digestive issues while competing or practicing. Focus on high-carbohydrate foods that are easy to digest.
The Hughston Clinic reports that between 15 percent and 62 percent of female athletes experience disordered eating and that gymnasts have elevated instances of both disordered eating and amenorrhea, or absence of regular menstrual periods. Parents, relatives and friends of Olympic gymnasts should remain especially vigilant for disordered eating behaviors in the athletes they know and, if possible, should help monitor their diets to ensure that they’re getting the nutrients and calories they need on a daily basis.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.