English Institute of Sport (EIS) Performance Nutritionist Mhairi Keil, who works with British Gymnastics’ performance programme, shares some advice for those wanting to improve their nutrition on competition day.
“It’s common for athletes to compromise their nutrition choices when they’re suffering from nerves, as they may lose their appetite and don’t want to feel too bloated or full during a competition. However, missing out food can compromise athletes’ energy so there are some options of how to balance this out before, during and after a competition.
The other main issues around competitions are poor planning and preparation. Whether you’re at home or travelling overseas, athletes should plan their competition day nutrition carefully to ensure they don’t run out of steam, and compromise performance, or risk poor recovery.”
“Obviously there are lots of variables in terms of when you’re competing and where but here are some key tips for what to eat and drink on competition day that can help those athletes suffering from nerves or are tempted to miss out meals to avoid feeling bloated.”
Start with a more solid breakfast such as porridge, scrambled or poached eggs on toast, which will provide a slow, sustained release of energy. Fluid intake should be concentrated here to ensure you are well hydrated prior to the competition. Starting well hydrated will assist with physical and cognitive performance during competition, but without excess fluid moving around in the stomach.
During the Competition/Lunch
If you’re competing early on in the day then often taking on a lunch won’t work if you’re feeling nervous. So consider liquid based energy sources such as smoothies, flavoured milk, soups, drinking yoghurts, yoghurts etc. These will give you plenty of energy and will be digested quickly, so won’t leave you feeling heavy for performance. Take a pre-prepared low fat granola bar/flapjack to snack on throughout the day to help sustain energy levels. It’s still important to take a bottle of water/electrolyte drink with you after hydrating at breakfast, to sip on at regular intervals throughout the day.
After the Competition
It’s important to recover effectively. If you’re overseas then taking a light recovery bar and/or recovery shake like For Goodness Shakes is a good idea as they’ll travel well with you. If you’re competing at home then take a low-fat fruit yoghurt and fruit salad, or a small lean meat granary or wholemeal roll, to help put the energy back into the muscles and repair any damaged tissue. This is particularly important if you have to compete again the next day.
After a competition it’s advisable to have a high fibre source of carbohydrate, such as beans, sweet potato or brown rice or pasta, some fresh lean meat such as chicken or salmon and plenty of vegetables or salad.
- Planning: based on where the competition is, what you need to take with you, what access you’ll have for food in the morning and evening and opportunities throughout the day to maintain energy levels.
- Preparation: prepare bars/recovery snacks and fluids for the day.
- Recovery: Often you’ll have more than one days competition, or two very close together so it’s important to think about what to take on board as soon as you’ve competed and then that evening.
- Energy: don’t skip on meals! You don’t want to have depleted energy so if you suffer from nerves plan ahead, and determine what could work well for you on the day.
Top 5 Foods for Gymnasts
English Institute of Sport (EIS) Performance Nutritionist Mhairi Keil works with British Gymnastics’ Performance Programme. Here she shares some of the top foods gymnasts should try and incorporate into their diets as well as two top recipes for healthy energy snacks you can have on the go.
Milk & Yoghurt: Milk and yoghurt are great post-training recovery snacks as they promote muscle repair and are great for bone health.
Sweet Potatoes: These are a really great source of sustained release carbohydrate, meaning it will give you energy over a longer period of time. It’s also packed full of vitamins and minerals for muscle recovery, skin repair (ideal for helping the skin to heal from the cuts and abrasions that are a an occupational hazard in gymnastics) , as well as the immune system to help minimise the risk of colds.
Porridge Oats: Porridge oats and muesli mix are a great source of energy to have prior to training and can easily be transformed into snacks you can make at home for when you are on the go. See recipes below.
Berries: Berries are great sources of antioxidants to support your immune system and assist with muscle recovery. Check out what’s in season and mix things up to keep a variety in your diet; cherries, goji berries, blackberries, blueberries etc. Make use of fresh, frozen and dried versions.
Salmon: Is a great source of lean, high quality protein when grilled or baked in the oven, which is good for muscle development. The added benefits of its omega 3 content, which is useful for everything from joint health and immune system, to brain function.
Cold Creamy Muesli
- 20g Porridge Oats
- 20g All Bran
- 10g Oatmeal
- Tablespoon Dried Cherries
- Tablespoon Jojoba Berries
- Teaspoon Sunflower Seeds
- Teaspoon Chopped Walnuts
- 150ml Milk (1% fat/low fat)
- Tablespoon Vanilla Yoghurt
Mix all of the dried ingredients together and then add your milk/yoghurt and leave in the fridge for the day or overnight. Ideal to take on the way to training in the morning or after school/work for training in the evening. You can also change the type of dried fruits and nuts used to keep things interesting!
Cherry & Cinnamon Granola Bar
- 60g Polyunsaturated Spread
- 200g Porridge Oats
- 100g Sunflower Seeds
- 50g Chopped Walnuts
- 5 Tablespoons Honey
- 2 Tablespoons Ground Cinnamon
- 50g Dried Cherries & Cranberries
- 20g Sugar
Line a tin with baking paper. Mix the porridge oats, sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts, cinnamon and dried fruit together. Then in a pan melt the spread, honey and sugar before gradually adding the dry mix. Press down firmly into the tin. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 160 degrees until golden brown. This recipe should make 12 bars.