The Gymnastics Kitchen With Betsy: Competition Day, What Do I Eat?

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Imagine this scenario: it’s competition day, and you are set to compete at 8 AM! That's all good and well, but normally you are eating breakfast at 8 AM and headed to school at that time. Your body is still waking up, and you aren’t used to fueling yourself for a three to four hour workout — much less a competition.

Most gymnasts, and athletes in general, are creatures of habit. They eat certain meals at certain times, drink water at certain times, go to the bathroom at certain times, so timing is crucial when preparing for actual competition day eating. 

Athletes often are thrown off by competition day timing. If a meet happens too early, eating too much can lead to gastric distress. A meet that happens too late in the day can also lead to disturbance of schedule and meal timing.

I’ve written several articles on this topic and frequently am asked questions regarding meal timing and what to eat on competition day. Although every athlete is different, here are my suggestions and a review for competition day eating for gymnasts.

1. Be consistent!

Consistency is key, and not just on competition day. Eating clean all of a sudden won’t yield the best results. It’s the choices over time and consistency in meal planning that will ultimately help you on competition day. Be sure you are adequately hydrating and fueling yourself with clean foods, protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats the days leading to and day of your competition.

2. Eat complex carbohydrates. 

Complex carbs are crucial to powering through long meets. That means you need to eat foods that sustain your blood sugar and give you consistent energy in the hours and days before a competition. 

My favorites are quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, Ezekiel bread, and sweet potatoes. Make sure you have a complex carb at least one to two and a half hours before you compete.

3.  Drink water. 

Often I see athletes crash on competition day — not due to lack of food, but due to lack of water. Water makes up about 60 percent of our body, so on a cellular level if we aren’t giving our cells proper water intake our muscles and joints will suffer. Drink water throughout your competition day and day before. Strive for 80-100 ounces of water per day.

4.  Watch your fat.

Fat takes a longer time to digest and can slow you down! I am all for eating healthy fat — gymnasts need healthy fats, omega 3, 6, 9 oils and fish oils — however, eating foods heavy in animal fat or trans fats will slow you down and make you feel sluggish. I recommend healthy fats in the form of nuts and coconut oil if you would like to have fat a few hours before you compete. 

Coconut oil is an MCT (Medium Chain Triglyceride) oil, which means the oil is used like a carbohydrate in your system so it gives you energy to help you power through competition day. One tablespoon on your sweet potato, on your oatmeal, or on whole grain toast a couple of hours will help you remain energized. It will also help keep your brain functioning on a higher level.

5. Pack Snacks.

I highly recommend snacks that incorporate natural sugars and protein for quick bursts of energy. Here are some of my favorite “mid-competition” snacks:

  • Raisins with a packet of almond butter, a teaspoon of honey, and a rice cake. 
  • Pomegranate seeds with an organic string cheese and  a handful of almonds. 
  • Sunflower, pumpkin or chia seeds with a handful of dried fruit like dried cranberries or mangos and a hard boiled egg. 
  • Cucumber slices with walnuts and dates and a square of dark chocolate 80 percent cacao or more.

6. Avoid new foods on competition day.

Let’s say for instance you have an early morning competition and you don't want to eat a full meal before your meet. You have read and heard protein shakes are a great alternative to whole foods, however you are perhaps lactose intolerant, sensitive to sugar alcohols or other additives that may be in the protein you choose, and you spend the entire competition struggling with abdominal pain and gas! Be wise and choose foods that you know you can tolerate on competition day. Intuitive eating is crucial to establishing healthy food choices.

A great pre-competition meal is an egg white omelet with veggies scrambled. You could also try a few blackberries and a piece of Ezekiel, or whole grain toast with coconut oil. Of course, only eat this if you like it!


Betsy McNally-Laouar is a nutritionist  and personal trainer who work specifically with gymnasts. If you would like an individual meal plan for yourself, your athlete or gymnast, contact Betsy at coach@betsymcnally.com and check out her Facebook page: Betsy McNally-Laouar Gymnastics Nutrition and Fitness Specialist

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