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Petite Power

Petite Power
September 12, 2000 --

If you want to turn your life upside down, perform triple somersaults and risk every bone in your body in the search for gold, then all you require is good diet and a little training writes Wendy Champagne.

For someone who trains at least five hours a day, six days a week, as well as going to school, 16 year-old Olympic gymnast Trudi McIntosh eats like a bird - a very health-conscious bird nonetheless.

Gymnastics is classed as an aesthetic sport by dieticians; with the emphasis on skill and flexibility rather than endurance, and competition gymnasts like Trudi have to pay careful attention to their weight.

Fluctuations in weight from excess body fat can throw a gymnast off balance and increase pressure on their joints. These weight restrictions have caused severe repercussions for some young gymnasts. Recent studies conducted at Beijing Medical University highlight the widespread global incidence of eating disorders, growth retardation, malnutrition and menstrual disturbance among female gymnasts.

For Australian athletes, particularly those studying at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), the advantage of sound nutritional knowledge and practice is emphasised.

Trudi, also known as the "pocket rocket", is powerfully built for her 137cm height and very well informed about the importance of a well-balanced diet for optimum performance. Although ice cream is her undisputed favourite food, she remains very disciplined, only snacking on fruit or low fat dairy products and including carbohydrate and protein-rich food at every meal.

Another major nutrition obstacle for any athlete competing at the highest levels is travel - how to find the right food and maintain a vitamin-rich, balanced regimen during competition and on the plane rides in-between?

With the arrival of coach Peggy Luddick and her concentration on high-profile competition for the once obscure Australian gymnastic team, Trudi has been on the go for eight of the last ten months attending programs in China, Scotland, Germany, Switzerland and the US.

She now carries a portable pantry of healthy snacks and low fat treats on every journey. Wherever she is, a typical day for Trudi begins at around 6am with a low fat breakfast of yoghurt, fruit and toast before her first training session at 7am. After an hour of sprint work, stretching and a general warm-up she heads for the apparatus.

The women's Olympic competition involves performance on the uneven bars, the beam, the vault (Trudi's specialty) and the floor. A single 3-hour training session for Trudi can include anything up to 25 vaults as well as a number of cycles on the uneven bars and her entire floor routine.

Thirsty work? Appetite-building stuff? Absoltutely! But no elite gymnast can walk out of training and fill up on a coke, burger and fries. They have to remain very conscious of replenishing and maximising energy with the least amount of calories.

Trudi eats small meals; she sips water constantly, at school and during training; she keeps yoghurt or rice crackers on hand during a training session and immediately afterwards eats a recovery snack, such as a sports drink or a fruit bar.

Directly after school, gymnasts like Trudi will undertake another 2-hour training session on the apparatus and a half-hour of strength work, finishing at around 7pm for the evening meal. To ensure the strong bone density necessary for continued training and competition, gymnasts try to include three serves of low fat calcium-rich products in their diet.

Where the average person may eat about 50-60 grams of fat a day, Trudi eats only 30-40 grams of "good" fat. And while she likes lean lasagne with grated vegetables, her typical menu - a small serve of lean meat, a boiled potato, three different vegetables and a mini carton of low-fat yoghurt - would not tempt the typical Aussie palate.

And later, after her intense training session and frugal dieter's evening meal, what does Trudi do to relax? - her homework.

Date written: September 08, 2000

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