The Gymnastics Kitchen With Betsy: The Dieting Controversy

The Gymnastics Kitchen With Betsy: The Dieting Controversy

Gymnastics is a special sport that requires special energy needs, but no gymnast should be on a restricted, unbalanced, or extreme diet. Here are our tips for eating cleaner foods.

Jun 7, 2017 by Betsy McNally
The Gymnastics Kitchen With Betsy: The Dieting Controversy
As a sports nutritionist, I do not advocate "dieting" for gymnasts. This includes calorie restriction or withholding certain food groups, detoxes, supplements for weight loss, or extreme measures to reach a goal weight. As I have mentioned previously, gymnastics is a special sport and requires special energy needs.

I advocate proper fueling with complex carbs, proteins, healthy fats, and anti-inflammatory foods that help repair, restore, and support the needs of a gymnast.

That being said, as I travel around doing my fitness and nutrition camps, I continue to get a similar question over and over from gymnasts and parents:

"Have you heard of the _______ diet? Does it work?"

The gluten-free diet. The grapefruit diet. The paleo diet. The fat free diet. The low-carb, low-sugar diet. The 10-day cleanse. The Atkins. Sugar Busters... the list goes on.

Guess what? Any "diet" you go on, will work -- but only temporarily!

Now, many of these diets DO have some great principles and support clean eating -- so I'm not saying they are all bad or don't have some good components.

Any time you restrict calories and increase activity, you will lose weight. But no gymnast should be on a restricted, unbalanced, or extreme diet. Nor should they be focused on "losing weight." Most diets restrict calories and encourage eliminating or increasing certain food groups. So people think these diets work, but most of the time they are a temporary fix for a bigger problem.

The only food sources I really recommend eliminating are processed foods, which are filled with too much sodium, trans fats, and sugar (dangerous stuff). I advocate a clean eating lifestyle for my athletes and families.

Most people who eliminate gluten or sugar or fat are eliminating highly processed and higher calorie foods such as muffins, cakes, packaged snacks, and sauces, and they increase lower calorie foods such as fruits and veggies. So of course they will lose weight.

Now, for someone who needs to kick-start weight loss or who has special medical needs or allergies -- and is recommended by a physician to go on a special diet -- that is a separate story. I am talking mainly for the general gymnastics population that is looking for good health and high performance and to be able to power through four- to six-hour workouts and feel light and tight!

In my experience, once gymnasts start eating clean and change their lifestyles, results often follow. I recommend gymnasts begin by cutting back on unhealthy, processed foods and increase foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals. A healthy diet must include a balance of complex carbs, healthy fats, protein, and dairy.

Here are my tips for eating cleaner foods:

Make your own snacks. It takes only a few seconds to throw an apple and some nuts or a yogurt and fruit in your lunch bag. This is a better option than the bag of chips from the vending machine.

2. Support fellow gymnasts during peer pressure moments
You are a kid, so enjoy life and have fun and treats -- but not every single day should you be eating ice cream and french fries. No one should! It's often challenging in social situations, so just make the best choices and keep your goals in mind. This is a lifestyle -- not a diet!

3. Dig deep
You are a gymnast and spend hours and hours in the gym. Do you really want a bag of M&M's for a pre-workout snack? Is that going to help you reach your goals? Make good choices for your athletic career and you will benefit from the results.

Betsy McNally-Laouar is a personal fitness and gymnastics trainer certified in Sports Nutrition. She works with gymnasts all around the country online and through camps. If you need more help with gymnastics recipes, meal plans and fitness, check out her website, and email her at or her Facebook page Betsy McNally Laouar Gymnastics Nutrition and Fitness Specialist