As a gymnast who has successfully competed at the most elite levels of an explosive sport for years, it’s been a long road to figure out what is “treating myself” and what is “binge eating.” When I was younger, I knew I was burning a lot of calories, so I snacked a lot and told myself, “Oh, I deserve this, I’ve worked out a lot.” There was no filter to say “Hey, you really shouldn’t have six of those.”
Gymnastics is also associated with perfectionism, and at one point, that used to radiate into what I was eating. I was really neurotic about it. But now that I’m a little older and understand how my body works, I’ve found a good balance that makes me feel and perform at my best. Now I am all for treating myself…within reason!
Here are some of my strategies and snacks that allow me to both satisfy sugar cravings and stay fueled for sport.
1. Go Small and Find Alternatives
I’ve learned how to find balance with sweet foods over the years by going small and finding healthier alternatives, not by eliminating desserts altogether! For example, if I’m craving chocolate, I will do dark chocolate because I know I only need one or two bites to feel satisfied. If I want pudding, I will do brown rice pudding. And if I see cookies – my all-time favorite dessert – at a party, I will split one with somebody. It’s all about moderation!
2. Don’t Buy It in the First Place
To avoid going overboard, I also try not to keep desserts at my house. I don’t want to be constantly tempted!
3. Listen to the Body
My body craves sugar, especially at a certain time each month, and I’ve learned to listen to it and give myself some leeway. I also recently learned that was I wasn’t eating enough sugar to stay fueled, which was making me feel light-headed, so my coach started bringing in apple sauce packs for me to drink during practice! That made a big difference. If my body is telling me that I need something, I have to listen to it!
I will often eat these snacks before or during practice to fuel or re-energize my body through food.
1. Peanut Butter and Dark Chocolate Chips
I’ll do a spoonful of peanut butter, and if I want to get snazzy, I’ll throw in a couple of dark chocolate chips. This makes me feel energized and full!
2. Frozen Berries
Frozen grapes are my favorite, but any frozen berries are a perfect snack during practice! These are so convenient to have in my gym bag and I’ll do a quick pit stop if I’m getting light-headed.
3. Trail Mix
I will add berries to a bag of mixed nuts and grab a handful if I need something a little more substantial and a quick boost.
Essentially, I’m pursuing a nutrition strategy and lifestyle that allows me to feel good and perform at my best now, and that’s sustainable in life after sport. I have a pact with my nutritionist that I won’t ever be on a diet while I’m doing gymnastics, so that when I’m done with gymnastics, I will still be eating all the foods that I was eating before.
About Laurie Hernandez
Laurie Hernandez began earning acclaim in the gymnastics world in 2013 and secured numerous podium moments over the next few years. At just 16, Laurie earned a place on Team USA for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and went on to win a team gold and a silver medal in beam. Shortly after, she became the youngest celebrity to win on the show “Dancing with the Stars.”
What is food-first nutrition?
Every athlete wants to reach their peak performance, which often means pushing harder and longer in training and in competition. In the quest to reach their maximum potential, many athletes know that good nutrition is critical, but they may also look to the latest supplements and trendy diet regimens to give them that extra boost.
Some athletes, on the other hand, have found that a food-first approach is all they need to achieve peak performance. While some athletes may need to supplement their dietary intake because of a medical condition, many athletes can properly fuel their bodies and meet all their bodies’ needs with the right food.
In the Food-First Nutrition series, Olympians, Paralympians, and elite athletes share how they maintain the strength and energy they need to compete at the highest levels of sport through a food first approach. For more information on the best foods for athletes, check out the TrueSport Nutrition Guide.