on Friday, April 22, 2011

Recently I've decided on a new "hobby" for the summer, triathlons.  Training for my first one ever got me curious about energy needs for athletes and how it changes depending on the particular sport in question. 

Gymnasts are constantly seeking a good balance between power and weight-conciousness in order to perfect they routines. In general the sport tends to be a "power" sport, which means that the athlete aims to maximize there strength and muscle power. This is necessary not only for the tumbling portions and vaulting exercises, but even for the dance portions in order to allow for maximum jump height. Sometime the gymnasts discipline/specific role in the sport can determine there overall energy needs and expenditure. 

This video show's parts of a power tumbling competition. I find it pretty difficult to imagine the amount of strength it takes someone to be able to do these passes! 

In order for the athlete to achieve the best nutrition for energy output and muscle growth the general consensus of seems to be refueling and consuming protein are carbohydrates both before and after the workout. WIthout an adequate energy intake the ability for the athlete to build the muscle necessary isn't possible. According to Dr. A. Jay Binder, a member of the Medical Commission of the FIG

This includes a high carbohydrate-rich diet for energy and protein and nutrient-rich foods to provide the raw materials for building and maintaining muscle. The diet should vary with training frequency, intensity, and duration. If these eating patterns are maintained during periods of rest, less intense training, or upon retirement, it can lead to weight gain and even obesity in a short period of time.
While having power is a critical component of gymnastics, the athletes must also remain weight conscious  in order to obtain an advantage during performance for agility and flexibility components.  For this component of the sport the athletes eating strategy must change to include a higher number of  smaller meals, less fat, low glycemic foods and more fiber.  Unfortunately it's commonly the athletes focusing on this aspect that, according to Dr. A. Jay Binder, "are at high risk of disordered eating and clinical eating disorders."

This digram from an article  from USA Gymnastics shows how the athletes energy needs and focuses shift depending on their discipline.

It seems as though with gymnastics there is a constant struggle to find that balance between the power aspects and the more weight conscious aspects since they are so closely combined within the routines.  From my perspective at least it seems to make simple nutritional choices very complicated when you're being told so many different things at once.