In the world of rhythmic gymnastics, when it comes to physical appearance, it is important that the gymnasts remain lean and flexible. Lame as it may sound, but for years since the sport’s establishment, it has always been their definition of a “perfect” body which is still the norm in present times. It is especially necessary for the gymnasts to have this type of body so they can perfect all sorts of body contortions and pivots while at the same being physically healthy so they can avoid injuries.
For the competitive rhythmic gymnasts who train for eight to nine hours a day, they have it even harder and more strictly. They are not called elite rhythmic gymnasts for no reason. This is because they have a mastery of all five apparatus handling, unbelievable flexibility, and exquisite balance—a result of all the years of training and strict diet that started almost as young as three years old for a lot of gymnasts.
With just one look at a rhythmic gymnast, it is immediately obvious that they have a lower body mass index than what is necessary for their age, so we might wonder—where are they pulling all that energy to spend on hours and hours of training every day?!
Before we answer that question, let us first get to know some facts about a gymnast’s body.
Getting To Know The Rhythmic Gymnasts’ Physique
At the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, there is a study entitled, “Height Velocity and Skeletal Maturation in Elite Female Rhythmic Gymnasts” which was conducted in the field, during the International, European, and World Rhythmic Sports Gymnastics Championships of the years 1997-2000. There are a total of 104 elite rhythmic gymnasts on the ages of 12-23 years old who participated in this study.
The researchers collected the respondents’ height and weight measurements, estimation of body fat and skeletal maturation, and their parent’s height. After the analysis of these data, the study found out that rhythmic gymnasts are actually taller and thinner than average for their age. They also continue to gain height velocity until the age of 18, which is interesting as compared to normal girls whose height velocity growth ends at the age of 15.
The height velocity is slow during the gymnasts’ younger years, but it would then accelerate toward the end of puberty. However, despite having a longer time developing height, these elite gymnasts have a delay in skeletal maturation of about 1.8 year, which can probably explain why gymnasts are more prone to joint and skeletal injuries than normal girls.
Delays and acceleration aside, the final adult height was still the same as the predicted height at first evaluation anyway. In fact, the adult height is significantly higher than the genetically determined target height, showing that the genetic predisposition to final height is not only achieved, but even exceeded.
In conclusion, gymnasts has a delay in growth at first and then catches up later on in puberty, so parents didn’t have to worry about their kids’ height since genetic predisposition is still the main driving force for that very convenient catch up growth. As for the girls’ weight, there are no talks of it at the said study. Can you guess why? It is because gymnasts’ weights are kept at the same level as strictly as possible throughout their career.
Look at these famous elite rhythmic gymnasts with their heights and weights:
The Right Meals For Long Lasting Energy
After introducing to you how a gymnast’s body develops, let us now go back to the original question, “Where do gymnasts get their energy for hours of training every day?” and try to answer it.
If you have been around athletes for a long time, or if you are an athlete yourself, it is not a secret to you that an athlete’s diet is very strict so they can keep their bodies in the best shape possible for their chosen sport. For gymnasts, this is even harder since they can’t eat too much lest they’ll lose their lean body or eat only a few meals lest they won’t have enough energy for the intensive training. It is almost like a side split pivot—difficult. But these elites get it done like how they get their pivots done—by having an impressive balance.
It is crucial for rhythmic gymnasts to have a certain eating strategy that would not only keep their figures in shape but would also give them enough energy and ward off the fatigue from training. One of the most important elements in their meals is carbohydrates.
Carbs, among all other sources of energy, is one of the elements our meals have an abundance of. It is not hard to find and it is a great source of energy. Not all carbohydrates are good, though, because ironically the foods most people rely on for quick energy, like candy bars or soda, are the ones that should be avoided according to experts.
If you’re new to it and you haven’t heard it yet, there are two types of carbohydrates—simple and complex. The differences have already been discussed in one of our previous articles, but what our bodies basically do with carbs is break it down into blood sugar, or glucose. Carbs are a great source for glucose since it is the most easily converted energy fuel. The problem with simple carbs like candy bars and soda is that they break down really fast, causing a spike-and-dip in our energy levels. We might feel energized for a while, but after the glucose is gone we are left with inadequate energy and low blood sugar levels.
That is the exact opposite of what a gymnast need for a whole week of training.
What a rhythmic gymnast needs is complex carbohydrates. Foods like whole grains and skim milk gives a steady energy supply that keeps a gymnast energized for the whole day. However, it should be kept in mind that one must not just eat complex carbs and then wait for the results to appear. As mentioned earlier, an “eating strategy” is important.
The Optimal Eating Strategy
So what is the ideal mix of foods for the most optimized energy source? High carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low fat. Remember that carbs isn’t taken heavily for every meal since overstuffing makes one tired, and tiresome is the last thing a gymnast needs in her training. The carbs has to be distributed throughout the day to maximize its effect. The amount of carbs needed is also dependent on what a specific gymnast needs so it varies for everyone.
It is a common misconception that an effective diet is eating little on the morning, followed by a hurried lunch, and then an evening feast. It might be good for a normal person who is trying to lose weight, but if a rhythmic gymnast would do that, all the carbs which provided energy they could have used during training are wasted on their sleep.
Also, it is not helpful to skip meals or eat less than three times a day. In fact, it is encouraged that a rhythmic gymnast eats five times a day. Skipping meals has a negative result over a long period of time, while eating five times a day gives the body enough energy at the time of the day that it needed the energy most.
Look at it this way: if a gymnast skipped breakfast and lunch to keep her shape, she’s depriving her body the energy it needs for the day, at which time she is doing intense training. She would then eat at dinner—and she would eat a lot because she’s deprived—and all of the energy produced is spent on her sleep. What does she need all those energy for if she’s sleeping, right?
That doesn’t look correct, now does it?
The way to go about this is eating five times a day where the carbs are divided amongst. It is up to the gymnast or coaches how they would divide it. What’s important is that they meet the required daily carbs within the day.
Why five meals, you might ask.
This is comprised of a breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and then dinner. The calories are adjusted accordingly to where you want them in these meals. This mini-meal plan is a good energy booster because the body is getting the right amount of energy when it needs it, while at the same time not going too long between meals, making a gymnast less likely to overeat or undereat.
For examples of carbohydrate sources that a gymnast can mix and match for her meals, you can check our other blog here.
In conclusion, the secret to a rhythmic gymnast’s lean but full of energy physique is to find the perfect balance between maintaining a lean figure to be able to do routines, and maintaining a healthy body to avoid muscle and joint injuries. And if there is one thing an elite gymnast has a mastery of, it is none other than balance.
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