When female athletes eat, amazing things happen — Gym news — Thoughts from Sarah Korngold, via GymCastic
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, Oct. 21, 2023
Happy Gymnastics Saturday! Content warning for today: Eating disorders and sports nutrition.
In yet another example of how gymnastics content just finds me these days, I read the most excellent installment of Virginia Sole Smith’s Burnt Toast newsletter on Thursday. Sole Smith writes about standing up to diet culture and opposing fatphobia in all aspects of life, often — but not always — through the lens of parenthood.
On Thursday, she interviewed Christine Yu, the author of the new book Up to Speed: The Groundbreaking Science of Women Athletes. Yu and Sole Smith don’t speak just about gymnastics (though Simone Biles does get a shoutout), but so much of the conversation is applicable to the changes in the sport over the last 30 years.
If you were a gymnastics fan in the ’80s and ’90s, it was impossible not to notice that the prevailing aesthetic in the sport was “starved.” We have certainly heard enough stories from athletes who competed at the time (and, for that matter, more recently) to conclude that it was not a coincidental aesthetic. Gymnasts’ memoirs are rife with stories of starvation, eating disorders, hoarding food, stealing food and sneaking food.
Sole Smith points out from one of Yu’s chapters that only in recent years has sports nutrition really discussed the necessity of eating for female athletes. Read that again. The necessity of eating for female athletes. Women tell Yu that, when they properly fueled, they were surprised at how much better they felt at the end of a workout.
In Olympian Aly Raisman’s memoir, Raisman mentioned that she had to go outside USA Gymnastics to talk to a sports nutritionist, who was apparently the first person to tell her that she needed to eat carbs alongside protein to best reap the benefits of both.
Carbs, Yu said, are especially important for women, and women are especially sensitive to diminished nutrition. When Biles posted a photo of pancakes and a caramel-swirled coffee from Belgium after worlds this year, it seemed almost rebellious. But she is playing a huge role in the idea that an elite athlete can both treat food seriously and enjoy it.
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Another pervasive myth about gymnastics training is that gymnasts do not menstruate. Gymnastics is not the only sport to perpetuate the myth that having a period means being too fat, but the research on the importance of menstruation to women’s bodies being able to support an athletic career into their 20s and 30s is so recent as to be laughable.
The issue is that prepubescent girls often hit an athletic peak that they cannot match once they do get their periods and their bodies change. They will plateau. And instead of helping girls work through these plateaus, many coaches preach avoiding puberty as the solution to maintaining performance.
It doesn’t work, of course. Look at how many gymnasts back in the day could only compete at the top level for a year or two, then disappeared completely from the sport.
This still isn’t unusual, but there is a much bigger emphasis on career longevity in gymnastics now than we have ever seen. Biles, who just competed at worlds in Antwerp 10 years after her first worlds, is a notable spokesperson for this movement, but there are plenty of gymnasts competing into their 30s and even 40s (Oksana Chusovitina!). The world championships this year and a similar competition from 30 years ago are night and day in terms of the variety of bodies you see in the sport.
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Other gym news
The Gymternet has all the results from worlds in one place.
College Gym News has some possible Pac-12 lineups and a demystification of official college recruiting visits.
Jordan Chiles was selected as the U.S. flagbearer at the Pan Am Games.
Trinity Thomas testified before the U.S. Senate about NIL.
Eastern Michigan gave a preview of its new gym.
Morgan Epps is the new assistant coach at Maryland.
Jazmyn Foberg is the new assistant coach at Arizona State.
Allison Cucci committed to Arkansas.
Maddy Dorbin committed to Florida.
Ashlee Sullivan committed to Michigan.
Kelise Woolford committed to Clemson.
Jasmine Cawley drove 8.5 hours to Alabama to commit in person.
Nina Ballou will be an LSU Tiger.
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Five at The IX: Sarah Korngold (coach of Shilese Jones) via GymCastic
When GymCastic interviewed her at worlds, Korngold said one of the things she hopes her gymnasts remember her for is that she treated them like humans, not just gymnasts. I recalled this when reading the Sole Smith newsletter and thought I’d include it here as well.
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