Here are some tips on Nutrition, Mental Toughness and Recovery by some friends of mine who are medical professionals. I have also included some tips from myself. These were originally made for college gymnasts but applies to all who use their body as their career.
Dr. Jaime Schehr – Registered Dietician – Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
1. Stay hydrated. Do not wait until thirsty to drink. Dehydration can increase risk of injury and fatigue. When temperatures are over 85 degrees consider adding electrolytes to water. If consuming alcohol remember you must rehydrate afterwards.
2. Eat protein. Eating protein on the morning of competition will help maintain energy and blood glucose levels. 10-20g is an adequate amount of pre competition protein.
3. Beware of highly processed foods (instant meals, snacks, etc.). These foods are often high in excess sodium and sugar and void of necessary nutrients found in a less processed diet. To create a balanced meal aim to add a fruit/vegetable, a protein source and a complex carbohydrate.
4. Always have healthy on the go options (check labels to make sure they are less than 350mg sodium per serving, provide at least 5g protein and has less than 12g sugars per serving). Good examples are healthy protein bars, packets of unsalted nuts or nut butters, seeds.
5. Avoid periods of fasting (more than 5 awake hours without eating) during heavy training or competition. Fasting can cause you to have low energy levels, abnormal fluctuations to blood sugar and blood pressure or weakness. Always carry a food or snack in your gym bag for quick access to food
6. Avoid excess sugar, especially processed sugar and syrups. Excess sugars are foods with >20g per serving and usually contain syrup or sugar that does not naturally exist in that food source.
Recovery and Injury Reduction Tips
Dr. Dave Tilley – Sports Physical Therapist – Gymnastics Coach / Strength Coach
1. Read and Learn. You must be accountable to learn about how to take care of yourself, and not depend on other people to do all the work for you. Read books, listen to podcasts, talk with professionals and build habits off of the best available scientific evidence and expert coaching opinion. Anything you can learn about nutrition, hydration, soft tissue care, mental health, and global recovery between training sessions.
2. Sleep at least 7 hours per night, ideally 8-9. As recommended by Matthew Walker try to shut down electronics 30-60 minutes prior to bed (reading school work instead of computer). Also aim for dark lit rooms, trying to keep the temperature cooler, and avoiding alcohol or caffeine past 3pm.
3. Make your soft tissue care and Pre-Hab routines like clockwork. Show up to the gym every day 10 minutes early to journal on heart rate, soreness, fatigue, and tracking sleep. Do head to toe soft tissue care every day, address specific issues, and 2x/week do a 15 – 20 minute pre-hab circuit. Also proactively work with medical professionals, be honest and speak up about the start of injuries before it snowballs into much larger issues.
4. Work with nutrition professionals to find the optimal amount of food and water you need to maintain performance. Everyone is different and has different resources. Learn what they say, and change 1 thing per day to enhance your performance and health.
5. Plan, time manage, and be disciplined on your priority. You’re going to have to make sacrifices if you want to stay healthy and perform optimally. It’s not about not enjoying your life, but about setting boundaries and trying to moderate the amount of time spent working to recovering.
6. Somehow, find time in your schedule for “you” time. Whether that is journaling, meditating, watching your favorite show a few times per week, listening to music, hanging out with friends, reading, or whatever else you enjoy. You need time to take your mind away from training, which in turn allows your body to shift into a recovery state and help remodel itself.
Mental Toughness Tips
Dr. Ali Arnold – PhD in Psychology
1. Remember to keep things in balance the best you can: academics, social, gymnastics, and self-care. When you’re in balance, your life flows more easily.
2. Keep your mind locked down on key words or rhythm during routines and lock down consistently every practice. Then, take your mental consistency into competition. Same thing in practice as in the meet.
3. Use your team! Be sure to allow your team to help you through challenges. If you need to change your mindset, allow your team to help you mix it up! Also, never hesitate to utilize the experience of your upper-upperclassmen and coaches.
4. Make practice like competition as much as possible. Imagine the judges, pressure situations, and even the crowd. The more practice is like competition, the more competition will be like practice.
5. Try not to obsess about line-ups, scores, or “having to hit!” When you focus too much on outcomes you tend to create anxiety. Focus your mind on things in your control like, going all out, performing your routines, and excellent technique.
6. Communicate, communicate, communicate with your coaches, trainers, and academic advisors. Let them know any difficulties you are experiencing mentally or physically. It’s important to let your voice be heard with any concerns you might have.
7. Eliminate excess drama from your life. Surround yourself with people who fuel you and feed you. Remember that it’s ok to say NO sometimes!
8. Put your self-care first. When you are stressed and exhausted everything is harder both in and out of the gym. Be sure you nurture yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
9. Remember it’s “Just another routine”. You’ve been doing these routines and skills forever.
Lean on your training. You have a huge bank of progressions and repetitions! Give yourself credit for all the years you have trained these skills! Trust yourself!
10. Practice using good breathing and self-talk to get into your perfect mental state for practice and competition. Slow down your breathing, and remember the statements that have always worked for you.
11. Think about how your actions affect your team around you. Everything you do represents your team and school. Keep your legacy in good standing by only acting in ways that make your program respected in the university and community. It takes years to build a reputation and only one situation to ruin it.
12. Don’t forget the joy! College should be one of the most joyful times in your life. You are here for a reason so relish every moment! When you do your sport from a place of joy, you always perform better!
Also by Dave Tilley:
Published in collaboration with Shift: Movement Science and Gymnastics Education
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