on Monday, April 25, 2011

Regardless of particular diciplines or positions there is actually an ideal diet for most gymnasts according to USA Gymnastics.

This diet is one that consists of high amounts of carbohydrates, moderate in proteins and low in fats, though the actual amounts will vary based off of the athletes energy needs. The energy needs of the athlete will vary on their training schedule, if the want to gain/lose/maintain their weight and muscle gain goals. Its been found that rather than eating a few large meals a day that more frequent smaller meals and snacks are much better because they will provide a steady source of energy which will enhance training, performance and weight goals. 

Processed foods, or junk foods, and eating out can be a major dietary  challenge for gymnasts as well as any athlete, particularly when traveling.  Options tend to be limited when it comes to these foods and tend to be low in useful nutrients and very high in free sugars, salts and fat.  Eating out can be more challenging than packaged food because the packaged foods have a nutrition label while many restraunts don't have this information readily available. 

Sometimes athletes will take supplements in order to increase their intake of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants.  Supplements can also contain protein, amino acids, carnitine, creatine, caffeine and bicarbonates.  If an athlete has heathy and varied diet these supplements shouldn't be necessary as they should be getting all nutrients required for the heath and training.   Supplements are not commonly used but are sometimes used to due to dietary restrictions or religious restrictions. 

In other sports at least it seems as though protein shakes and supplements are fairly common but according to USA Gymnastics "Protein supplements have not been shown to be helpful in meeting energy needs or building muscle. " However despite that its been found that protein/carb bars can be useful for both building muscle and meeting energy needs. The one important thing here is that whole proteins are much better than individual amino acids, though I'm not sure that one can tell what a bar contains from looking at the label.

There are also some trace elements found in some of these energy bars that have been shown to help older athletes or those with arthritis, but not in healthy athletes. These elements are typicially glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM. There have also been studies performed that " show an increase in energy by taking carnitine, pyruvate and ribose despite claims by vendors." Which is interesting because the majority of energy drinks seem to advertise that carnitine is one of their ingredients.

Creatine is a nutrient which increases high energy creatine phosphate in muscles as well as aiding muscle mass. Recently some drinks and bar producers have begun adding creatine to their products but is more readily available in tablet and powder forms. So far it is not believed to be harmful and is also believed to be useful in between workouts for muscle recovery. What I found interesting here though was that this was believed to be true only in the highest level of athletes, so I'm not quite sure what that means for the rest of us.

This video talks about proper nutrition for athletes and the next few post will look into details of how carbs, fats and proteins impact the athlete.