In 2017, British gymnast Kristian Thomas brought an end to an incredible and illustrious career that saw him pick up multiple European, Commonwealth, World & Olympic medals. Recently inducted into the British Gymnastics Hall of Fame, we had a few minutes with Kristian to find out how he fuelled such a long career at the sharp end of elite sport...
Ahead of a competition, what sorts of food/snacks were you having & when? What would you have the morning of a major finals like the Olympics or Commonwealth Games? "Generally I would have to force something down me the morning of major competitions like Olympics. The stomach doesn’t feel like eating too much, but I know nutrition is crucial part of competition prep! I would normally have wholemeal toast with scrambled egg and beans if I’m competing in a location where I can get hold of it! This was my lucky breakfast meal prior to competing.
With a hour or so until the competition I would have a liquid based source of energy such as smoothies, flavoured milk or yogurts."
Were you & your team mates eating & drinking much in between events? "Every gymnast is different on their approach to nutrition when competing. Some of my team mates had minimal food/liquid whilst competing as they didn’t like the way it sat in their stomach whilst swinging round a bar. Myself on the other hand, I had to adjust to this over a period of time, trialling it out in training to see what felt ok in my system whilst being upside down! Over time I became comfortable with eating when training and competing and would generally snack on a protein bar, energy gels, milkshakes, jelly beans and water through a competition. This would keep me going as sometimes from leaving the hotel to the end of the competition, this could be up to 6+ hrs".
What did you eat after competing? "If possible we would refill our bodies asap. Generally we would have a high fibre source of carbohydrate with some lean meat and plenty of vegetables. If there was a delay from the competition in getting back to the hotel we would each have our own protein shakes or recovery food to tie us over".
Did your diet change much between off & on-season? "Fortunately as a gymnast there was never a certain weight we had to make like in combat sports. Therefore my weight was fairly consistent all year round. I would generally be more stricter on snacking the closer to competition just to be in the best possible shape, but overall it wouldn’t differ too much. Also being in a sport that doesn’t have an off season, we were going pretty much 12 months of the year which requires yourself to be fairly structured with food choices all year round".
Did you have to eat constantly to ensure you had the energy to train/compete? "We would eat fairly regularly to ensure we had the right amount of energy to fuel our body for training, but this would typically be 3 main meals a day and a couple snacks/protein shakes etc in between those meals".
What are your thoughts on protein bars & shakes? "I personally think they are a great way to get the nutrition requirements into your system immediately after training and competition but should never be replaced by a meal or actual food! Travelling abroad frequently, we couldn’t always guarantee the food quality, so again protein bars and shakes would help with meeting nutrition requirements. For myself and other athletes, the main concern was always making sure the products were batch tested and certified by Informed Sport".
Did you eat much at the gym/after the gym? "As mentioned, I would have a protein shake immediately after training as travelling home from training could sometimes take up to an hour. It was a logical way to give my body the best way to recover after training. I would still always then make sure I was having an actual meal once I got home".
What did a gymnasts gym session look like for you (lots and lots of weights, or cardio, or a mix)? "Generally most gymnasts don’t use weights. Gymnasts gain muscle and bulk from continuously lifting their own bodyweight through wide range of motions. Most senior gymnasts will train between 25-30 hrs a week with some days being double training sessions.
A typical session would consist of:
- warm up and prehab - 20 mins
- gymnast specific conditioning like working on rings- 20 mins
- work on apparatus. Depending on time of year this may be learning new skills or getting routine fit in readiness for competitions- 2- 3 hrs. We would train all apparatus in this time.
- Specific gymnastics conditioning to finish- 10 mins"
What is your cheat meal? "Pepperoni pizza has to be my number 1 cheat meal!!"
What meal(s) do rely on the most at home? Do you have a favourite recipe? "My cooking skills were fairly basic but generally anything chicken related would be my go to dish. Chicken can be seasoned to go with most dishes so it was an easy and quick option to cook after a long day in the gym."
Is there anything you actively avoid? "There was nothing I completely cut out of my diet as I was keen on having a well balanced mix of food. I also learnt from travelling and competing abroad that you can’t be too fussy an eater, as you can’t always guarantee the food is going to be to your taste buds."
How important was hydration at your level? "Hydration became very important in our training and competition preparation. We would carry out hydration tests most mornings to check our level. If we were dehydrated we would mix electrolyte tablets into our water to help hydrate us. Also training over long periods of time means we sweat a lot, making it crucial to replenish the water lost. I would also have water melon most mornings as this contain 90% water (not sure if that stat is correct, but I know its a high number!!) just to help with hydrating myself after being without fluids throughout the night".
Did you have any pre-competition rituals? "I tried to stay away from competition rituals as I didn’t want to feel like I needed to rely on them when competing. I perhaps had a few habits like warming up in a certain way and order, but this was more for good practice and making sure what I did in training transferred over to competition."
Did you have a favourite place to compete in? "I got to compete in Australia on two occasions and had an incredible experience both times, so naturally I would probably have to say Australia. I also enjoyed competing in Germany as you could usually guarantee a decent crowd and I was a fan of german beer! (if the completion schedule allowed ;)"