Nutrition 1 – Healthy Foods For Gymnasts

1. Breaking Down Nutrition. All the food that you consume consists of several key components. Balancing these will ensure you good health, enough energy in the gym and making enough progress due to quality recovery. I will firstly list them briefly and then will go in further detail with each of them: Carbohydrates(in short “carbs”) […]

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Nutrition 1   Healthy Foods For Gymnasts

1. Breaking Down Nutrition.
All the food that you consume consists of several key components. Balancing these will ensure you good health, enough energy in the gym and making enough progress due to quality recovery. I will firstly list them briefly and then will go in further detail with each of them:

  • Carbohydrates(in short “carbs”) – the main source of energy for your body;
  • Protein – builds muscles, bones, cartilage, blood and skin;
  • Fats – another source of energy, part of the structure of the cells in your body, needed for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as vitamins A, D, K and E;
  • Minerals – turn the food that we consume into energy, control some body fluids inside and outside of the cells, essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth;
  • Vitamins – important for the normal functioning of the body which includes the immune system, nervous system, the reproductive system and circulatory system;
  • Water – water makes around 80% of your body, it’s needed for all essential processes in the body;


2. Carbs

Nutrition 1   Healthy Foods For Gymnasts

I am not accidentally starting with the carbs. Carbs are the beginning of your diet, they are your natural source of energy and the key to a fast and stable progress in your training. In order to workout you need energy, hence carbohydrates. In order for your body to digest the food you provide it with after a workout and for all of the rest of the body’s processes you still need energy, carbohydrates again. Learn to control your carbs intake properly and your workouts will always go smooth and you will feel great, having enough energy, throughout your entire day.

Carbs come in different forms and types and that’s why it is important to understand which are good for you and which aren’t. But before I list what I consider good and bad carbs I want to shed some light on simple and complex carbohydrates. All health and fitness sources out there divide carbs into simple and complex carbohydrates. An example for simple carbs would be white rice and regular potatoes. Opposed to them, complex carbs would be brown rice, sweet potatoes. The difference is that complex carbs take more time to digest. Simple carbs digest faster. All on all the notion here is that complex carbs provide you with a stable amount of energy for a longer periods of time as opposed to the energy that simple carbs give you. However I have tested that theory and honestly it doesn’t make much of a difference for me(that applies for all the fellow athletes around me as well). Furthermore, for example, I love sweet things and often treat myself to desserts(ex: milk with semolina, vanilla and sugar). I love them and they give me a good amount of energy for my workouts. You will only gain fat from simple carbs if you consume them in excessive amounts. So my advice is to not pay much attention whether you are eating white or brown rice. Instead focus on natural(ex: honey, fruits) and home cooked carbohydrates(ex: potatoes, rice).

Good carbohydrates for you would be: fruits, honey, potatoes, rice, corn, bean and others. Homemade carb dishes are good for you as well.

Bad carbohydrates would be all processed foods such as: pasta, ice cream, sodas, breads, buns, cookies, pizza, tacos, cakes, candy and all other sweet things you can buy from the store.


3. Proteins

Nutrition 1   Healthy Foods For Gymnasts

Proteins for me come second. After you provide yourself with energy(carbohydrates) you are ready to workout. After your workout you should provide your body with more energy(carbs) and an opportunity for the muscles to rebuild. That’s where the proteins step in. Your diet needs a stable amount of proteins in order for you to maintain your muscle mass and to increase its size and strength.

Good protein sources: any meat(ex: chicken, pork, beef; make sure you cut away the fats off of it though!), fish, eggs, cheese, milk and others. 

A lot of athletes depend on protein shakes to obtain an additional amount of proteins. That or amino acid protein shakes in order to digest proteins faster. I never used any protein shakes for I don’t believe in them. Surely one might be able to recover faster by taking a protein shake for it’s going to be digested quicker than eating a steak. But however I don’t feel it’s making such a big difference judging by the results the athletes around me get. In my eyes it’s a lot more money spent over JUST a bit better results that are even doubtful for this type of sport. I would rather not feed the fitness industry and believe more in my body’s natural ability to recover once I have provided it with proper food.

4. Fats

Nutrition 1   Healthy Foods For Gymnasts

Even though none of us want to gain fat, consuming fats is still important for the ongoing processes in our bodies. Fat is good for your skin, hair, nail, it also surrounds the internal organs in your body and helps for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins!

However you must remember that not all fats are good for you. Fats are divided into two groups – Saturated and Unsaturated fats.

The saturated fats could be listed as: dairy products(ex: butter, cheese, whole milk, yogurt, chocolate, ice cream, whipped cream), animal products(ex: lard, beef, pork, poultry, lamb), tropical oils(ex: coconut, palm). They are referred to as unhealthy fats that may increase the level of bad cholesterol in your body and lead to heart diseases.

The unsaturated fats are: nuts, seeds, liquid vegetable oils from plants(soybean, corn, olive, sunflower, safflower and canola oils), cold fish(salmon, trout, herring), avocados, olives and others. Opposed to saturated fats, unsaturated fats may help decrease your bad cholesterol levels thus decrease the blood pressure and the risk of heart diseases in your body.

However there are a lot of controversial data and studies on the subject so my advice for you is to limit and control the amount of saturated foods but not eliminate them completely from your diet. For example with dairy products you can focus on low fat and skimmed products. Although personally I don’t enjoy the taste of skimmed and low-fat dairy products much so I usually buy whole-milk options. As for the animal products, make sure you choose leaner pieces of meat at the store and then at home cut away all visible fat or skin. Fat and skin on meat are utterly disgusting to me so I always make sure I get rid of these. You can also eat more often cold water fish(such as tuna, salmon and herring) for these are high in unsaturated fat and in particular omega-3 fatty acids. I however dislike fish and eat it rather rarely and have just replaced it with other animal products so it’s really up to you if you are going to include it in your diet or not. As for the oils, what you can do is use olive, sunflower, safflower and canola oils instead for they are high in unsaturated fats.

 4. Vitamins, Minerals and Water

Nutrition 1   Healthy Foods For Gymnasts

Remember the popular saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”?

If carbs give you energy for your workouts, proteins allow your muscles to recover and get stronger and bigger, fats help build your nails and hair, then minerals, vitamins and water do all of the rest for your body. Actually water makes around 80% of your body mass! Vitamins and minerals are needed for your body to keep functioning, they are essential components needed for your blood, eyes, skin, hair, immune system, nervous system, the reproductive system and circulatory system. If you neglect them you will start experiencing different types of health problems. The easiest example I can give you is the weakening of your immune system. A well balanced diet in vitamins and minerals will keep your organism stronger and you will be less prone to sicknesses.

Instead of drinking soda or alcohol drink water. Drink water with all of your meals and also throughout your whole daily round. Keep yourself constantly hydrated! The vitamins and minerals could mostly be found in fruits and vegetables. So make sure during your days that you put these on your menu. I don’t always find time to eat fruits but I always make sure to have salads along with my main meals. That would include anything really. Most often I would eat salads including cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, turnips, corn, onion or garlic. As for the fruits any fruit would be good for you and my favourite are apples, pears, oranges, kiwis, grapes, watermelons and muskmelons.

Nowadays it’s very popular to take vitamins and minerals in the form of pills but I am strongly against that. I would rather enjoy my food having developed a healthy eating habits rather than taking pills instead. It’s the natural order and that’s how things have been for thousands of years, our bodies are meant to function on food, not pills.

Take this as a beginning article regarding nutrition. In the next article of the series you can learn how to structure your daily meal plan. 


Harvard School of Public Health: Carbs
American Heart Association: Fat Recommendations
American Heart Association: Milk Products
The Dietary Fats
American Heart Association: Meat
American Heart Association: Unsaturated Fats