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How does your program encourage healthy decisions?

Posted on 4/6/2017

Fueling an athletes body should be considered the 6th event. Vault, Bars, Beam, Floor, Mental Training, and FUELING your child’s body all equally important to a well-rounded gymnast. Consider this the next time you reach for a snack or food for your child.


Alisa Muller (CEO of Blackhills Gymnastics)


Gymnasts are considered to be above the normal, in regards to athletes. The sport of gymnastics can be a little deceptive to those that are not understanding of the sport. Gymnastics is an "anaerobic" sport which requires short, intense bursts of power rather than endurance. Therefor gymnasts need to focus on foods containing protein and carbohydrates to build muscle. They need to have quick energy food, and should avoid foods high in fat.


Proteins are NOT all the same. Gymnastics usually has athletes that have high metabolisms they tend to burn calories right away. Protein is EXTREMELY important to not only sustain energy but to repair the muscles that are torn during training. This is VERY common especially during training cycles over the summer which are typically MUSCLE building time frames for gymnasts. Protein should be consumed 2 hours after working out. We recommend lean pork, fish, lean beef, chicken and protein shakes that are low in carbs and sugars.


Carbohydrates and Fats

Carbs are used as a quick, short-term energy source for training. Carbs will help release quick sugars into the bloodstream, it is EXTREMELY important to understand the difference between FAST release and SLOW release carbs. Slow release carbs are great for the night before a competition. Slow releasing carbs are pastas, whole wheat bread and some vegetables. Nuts, olives, olive oil and fatty fish are good fat sources.


Dave Tilley DPT, SCS (Owner of Shift Movement Science)


At our gymnastics facility, the entire staff encourages the gymnasts to lead a healthy lifestyle both physically and mentally. We truly believe that the gymnast’s health, wellness, and safety take priority before gymnastics. We feel that encouraging a healthy lifestyle with proper sleep, hydration, nutrition, and recovery from hard work outs creates the base of athletic performance. Without teaching our athletes about how to fuel their bodies properly and take care of themselves outside of the gym, we find it is impossible to have success within the gymnastics training environment. Not only does this help them learn ways to take care of themselves, but the gymnast's who take our advice also see notable increases in their performances and reductions in their injury rates/soreness levels. We have borrowed information from a variety of experts like Dr. Josh Eldridge, the American College of Sports Medicine, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, and various professional friends within our available network. The most crucial aspect is that we value well-researched information, but only give the gymnasts practical easy to implement concepts.


1) First, we encourage them to get 8 hours of sleep per night and avoid the use of electronic technology 30 minutes before bed. Avoiding technology before bed is important as the blue light from devices has been suggested to keep the brain active despite being asleep, negatively affecting physical and mental recovery. Sometimes they need to plan their homework out in advance so that computer work is done earlier in the evening and book reading/worksheets that do not use technology are later.


2) Next to this, from Dr. Eldridge’s work, we encourage the athletes to continuously hydrate throughout the day, not just drinking huge amounts of water before or during workouts. We teach them that they should aim for 8-10 12oz bottles of water per day (changes by age/development status", starting with breakfast. The constant hydration allows their body to be continuously hydrated and active so that they do not feel too full. We allow them to have water bottles placed on the side of events during practice so that they can sip on water throughout training. Since we are clear about the water bottle policy, we haven't had many issues with spills. We also encourage them to have a medium size water bottle with them during school to sip from. Having a water bottle in class is sometimes an issue at school, be we are willing to talk with the school about this important aspect of their health. Initially, as their bodies get used to drinking more water, they are using the bathroom often, but within a few weeks their bodies adjust and their frequency reduces (the theory being their kidneys adapt to the new water volume).


3) On the topic of nutrition, we are very deliberate to only talk about food choices as a means to increase performance. We never talk to the gymnasts concerning food relating to their weight or body image. As an entire coaching staff, we stand by this firmly as we believe discussions about weight and body image in a young developing population are not appropriate. On the contrary, based again on Dr. Eldridge's advice and other sports nutrition friends of ours, we talk about how to fuel the body for performance. We talk about how eating the right foods, at the right times, will help field their body properly and allow them to train hard for new skills or doing well at meets. We follow the advice of Dr. Eldridge’s “Road Map” encouraging six meals throughout the day that have healthy long acting carbs, healthier fats, and protein sources. Rather than just tell them what foods are “healthy” we teach them about why they are healthy, and dispel myths circulating in our culture about carbs being bad, fats being bad, and so on. We give them a simple explanations for why they need healthy carbs and fats to fuel their performance, and why it is important to try to be active in helping their parents prepare food that they enjoy. We also tell them that it’s okay to have foods like ice cream, pizza, or desserts, but just to chose them every once and awhile at times it may not be close to training. We encourage them to enjoy weekends out with friends/family, or other times when they want to have some stuff they like. Again, we believe this is in line with the best nutritional science available but also realistic for helping promote healthy approaches to nutrition that also positively impact gymnastics performance.


4) We encourage many other modalities for them to use for recovery. We keep two large bins full of soft tissue tools to use (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, roller sticks, tennis balls) and encourage gymnasts to come to practice 15 minutes early to use them before warm up. We usually wrap this topic into the points above on how important recovery is. We also teach them about how important full rest/recovery is, and say it is just as important as working hard in the gym during skill training or strength. Without the proper time off between training sessions, the body is unable to adapt and repair itself from the training session. It can very quickly lead to repetitive stressors, progressive snowballing of injuries, and physical/mental burnout.


We usually try to talk about these topics organically through team discussion and daily practice, as well as encourage the staff to lead by example. We also try to involve the parents as much as possible and use the interactions between teammates to create a positive culture. The director of our program, Eva Shute, as well as the other coaches, are all incredible at making sure these areas are handled correctly. I'm lucky to work with a great staff. As a male coach, there are areas of discussions that I feel are better kept between the female coaches as I know they are sensitive topics. I am very clear not to overstep the boundaries on sensitive issues like this. So, I usually inform the other female coaches on the staff of what the latest science and approaches say, and they carry on the discussion with the athlete. Or, we pass the information along to parents. It is always a work in progress, and we give it our best shot week to week.


Jason Orkowski (Owner of Gymfinity Gymnastics)


At Gymfinity we believe in encouraging healthy decisions and it starts before day one: enrolling at a gym that trains physically, mentally, and emotionally opens the door of influence that will affect how a child sees health and physicality as they grow up. That is why it's so essential to choose the right gym. Our gym philosophy has always been to do more in less time; we often have to reiterate to children (and their parents) that training less hours but with more intention will lead to a healthy balance of Gym and Life. We encourage our kids to put school and family first, and training third, in priority. With that philosophy we feel that we have a foundation for every child at Gymfinity to base life choices with a perspective on health and balance. In many ways we also go the extra mile on smaller fronts: we have a physical therapist that oversees strength and flexibility training as well as reinforces rehab for kids who have been out. We have a vending machine that provides only healthy and organic selections. We have staff training that focuses on character and values to be sure that we not only display healthy lifestyles, but can recognize and reinforce kid's decision making in all areas of the sport, in the gym and out. It's not about hitting them over the head with lessons in smart decisions, it's about being influential in a few dozen ways, and often the influence is unseen.