According to a recent NBC Sports article, Olympic gymnasts have jumped on the low-carb bandwagon. And they do it because they need plenty of quick energy for the intense activities they perform.
With rock-hard biceps and abs that would make a bodybuilder jealous, Stephen McCain doesn’t need to lose weight. Yet count him as a devotee of the increasingly popular low-carbohydrate diet.
A 2000 U.S. Olympian trying to make it back to the Games this year, McCain started doing the high-protein, low-carb thing well before it became the biggest diet fad in the country.
“I used to think it was all about carbs, carbs, carbs to get the energy,” he said. “But over time, I realized I performed better when I kept that stuff in check.”
That’s because gymnastics, unlike swimming or long-distance running, is considered an “anaerobic” sport, one in which short, intense bursts of power are much more important than endurance.
“Over the span of a three-hour workout, we’re probably only up on the equipment for 15 minutes,” McCain said. The longest routine for a man or woman is the floor exercise, which lasts between 60 and 90 seconds.
Thus, having lots of complex sugars stored up — the kind produced by carbohydrates — does not help a gymnast that much. Those energy spurts are best provided by a diet high in protein. Most gymnasts try to get between 60 percent and 70 percent of their calories from proteins (like meats and cheeses), the rest from carbs (like whole-grain pasta, fruits, vegetables) and fats (like oils from peanuts). And, as has been proven by all the Atkins, South Beach and Zone diets so popular these days [Atkins, South Beach and Zone. Sigh. I guess MD and I are destined to be the low-carb Rodney Dangerfields forever], high-protein regimens help gymnasts keep their weight down.
Thanks to Fred Hahn for sending me the article.