If you ever have a chance to watch a cheerleading team train and compete you can see how different not only the roles of the athletes on the team are, but the size and shapes of the athletes. In any sport athletes need to eat in a way to optimize their own performance. This is to be divided in this post by flyers and bases. Now within these general recommendations I’m going to lay out, keep in mind that there will always be individual differences and these are all estimates not hard and fast rules. The body is always right, so make sure that they are adapting and modifying this framework so that they are performing optimally.
Diet for flyers
The basic nutritional plan for flyers is all about maximizing performance, but having little to no effect on body weight. It can be easy to develop a negative relationship with food for these athletes, and the goal is to create and maintain a positive relationship with food. Aim to take in enough calories to maintain body mass, be aware though that as a female athlete your body weight will change during your monthly cycle and don’t freak out when this occurs. Track your long term average bodyweight (more than two months). Aim to be eating three meals per day and even a snack at some point. The big key will be portion sizes and try to have some form of protein and fiber with every meal.
Aerobic protein intake
Overall you are looking to take in about 1.2-1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass. So we can convert that in to American and this gives them about .5-.7grams of protein per pound of body mass. So if you have a flyer that weights 110lbs. you want them to take in 60-75 grams of protein each day. This is to help with recovery from the training and keeping on your muscle mass which in turn helps burn calories.
Carbs and fats
Think of carbs as your energy source for exercise and fats as important for your recovery and overall health. You don’t want to stop eating one or the other at any point, but you can emphasize one over another depending on how much you are training/practicing and finding out where you feel the best in your training. Your carb demand can be anywhere from 3-10g/kg of body mass per day (1.4-4.5g/lbs. of body mass) so giving a hard and fast rule here is not going to work.
Yes this is the stuff that helps keep you regular. Just aim to be consistent with your intake on this and you will avoid any bloating or issues with bowel movements. I would however, always suggest that athletes eat more vegetables both for this fiber effect and for the nitrates that they contain.
The first key when working with a flyer is to use math to find your caloric demands for your activity levels. This means that during periods of hard training you need to eat more and when you are not training at all the demands are lower. Different apps or formulas will give you estimates of how many calories that you need, but there will always be little differences between those estimates and what your actual needs are. Some folks might use more or less calories each day than what the estimates you have would. When in doubt track your bodyweight once per week and be aware that as a female your bodyweight will fluctuate with your cycle and if you don’t have a cycle that is something you need to look in to and maybe see a physician about. Adding calories back in to your diet will sometimes help with alleviating this issue.
Diet for bases
Your goal as a base is to be strong and powerful. Notice how I didn’t necessarily say you need to be big, but some of you will need to gain some weight. We will get in to what you need to do in order to optimize for weight changes, specifically making sure that the weight that you gain is the type that helps your performance, not the kind that makes you jiggle more. Use an app or other method to get an estimate of your caloric needs each day and then make sure you are only eating above that by 500 calories at most if you are trying to gain weight. When you are doing nationals be sure to check your bodyweight more frequently since the demands of those practices will require you to burn a great deal more. You can find a number of energy need estimators online and if you use an activity tracker you will get a good estimate to start off with for how many calories you need each day.
Res. Pro intake levels,
For protein intake we are looking to have you at about 1 gram per pound of bodyweight each day broken up relatively evenly and getting in a good portion of it directly after training to help with muscle recovery. Don’t lose your mind with eating six times per day, but do make sure that you are eating at least 3 times per day with a post workout snack.
Carbs and fats
After you figure out your protein needs (and the calories from it) divide up the rest of your calories each day for the carbs and fats. Doing the carbs before and after training will help with your recovery, and fats tend to help you feel fuller longer so this can be useful for breakfast or later evening snacks. As always experiment with this and figure out where you feel best and perform the best and stay with those intakes.
Same stuff here as was mentioned before for the flyers. Do be aware that this also can slow down digestion and so if you are trying to gain weight you might want to cut back on your fiber a little bit.
Weight change guidelines
For flyers or bases the goal when you are trying to gain or lose weight only changing your weight by about half a pound to a full pound per week or think of it as 1% or less of a body weight change per week. Overall only cut or add in more calories to the tune of 400 per day and if you are larger kick that up to 500. Each week track your weight and then depending on how it changes (or didn’t change) stay the same or give yourself some more calories if you didn’t gain the weight you wanted to that week and vice versa for losing. The reason we only want you to lose or gain less than one pound per week is that numbers above that can negatively affect health and performance, and specifically bigger changes in weight tend to be caused by excessive fat weight gain or muscle mass loss, both of which weren’t good for a cheerleader.
Now there are a few supplements that I would suggest for cheerleaders and especially depending on what your roll is on the squad:
Creatine – if you are a base you should try this out. It does cause water weight gain, but helps lead to lean body mass gain, muscle endurance and power output. This should be a no brainer for a cheerleader. Do not load creatine since you will saturate this out after only dosing it for a month. Also, this might help with the avoidance of concussions so there is that. For flyers this weight gain is not worth it. Also if you tumble a lot this might work against you since your power to weight ratio might go down a bit, if that happens then just stop dosing it and your body will flush it out with enough time. Creatine is cheap and you can find it plain online, just mix it in your post workout protein shake or just in fruit juice. Plain monohydrate is your best bet here.
Fish oil – doesn’t matter what you do as a cheerleader you should be taking omega threes since they help with cognition, learning, mental recovery, and avoiding things (along with recovery from concussions. Find a decent source of this and keep it in your fridge. You pay for quality here, and yes they can taste unpleasant, but trust me from having had a severe concussion with post concussive syndrome and friends that have gone through the same thing, take the damn fish oil and help yourself avoid that if you can.
Beta Alanine – this is a variation on the amino acid alanine so if you see the supplement L-alanine know that you aren’t looking at the same thing. What this does is increase intra muscular carnosine levels. When this occurs you are able to better buffer out the proton that comes with lactate that you produce when performing maximal anaerobic exercise (which really is what a national’s routine is). This allows you to go a little longer without getting to be really uncomfortable which is very important when you are running any type of routine, since the less pain you are in will make the performance that much easier to do.
So that is the basics of my diet advice for cheerleaders to be the best that they can be. This advice can also be used on comparable athletes or people that have general health and fitness goals that falls in line with some aspects of health and performance that cheerleaders. Thanks for taking the time to read this and if you have any questions just let me know.