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Life after gymnastics -- Retired gymnasts deal with sudden weight gain

After retiring from competitive gymnastics, several national team members discovered that maintaining their slim figure wasn't as easy as they initially thought.

The first two days after quitting gymnastics, Simona Amânar gained 6 lbs. "It was a very sudden chance and I was almost terrified," she recalls. No longer under the watchful eye of national team coaches, she was free to enjoy everything that was a "forbidden fruit" until recently. "We were allowed to eat almost anything we wanted at Deva, but only in small quantities. So the first week I got back from Sydney, I was on a steady diet of two chocolate bars and three ice-creams a day. I didn't want anything else." By the end of last year, Simona was already 10 lbs heavier than she was in Sydney. "I took on weight very suddenly, and then it slowed down. I was gaining at most 2 lbs per month." Even though this wasn't an unexpected change, Simona's reaction was somewhere between resignation, worrying, and useless stress. "I just felt my stomach getting bigger and bigger. Not to mention I had to buy new clothes. I gave my cousins all the clothes I had from my gymnastics days, some of them brand new that I never worn. I couldn't even fit my leg inside my pants," she confessed.

Simona believes the weight gain is due mainly to lack of training. "There are days when I'll hardly eat anything and I won't lose an ounce. It's like they're welded to me." She does remember that the months before taking her school finals, when she went to class and played basketball and tennis every week, she lost more than 4 lbs. "I gained them back right away. And not because I touched any of my favorite foods, like vegetable cream soup, or French fries," she jokes. She is determined to take a stand. "This can't go on. My mother, who is 50 years old, weighs 100lbs, and I weigh 120. After finals, I'll start running or some exercise."


After Sydney, Maria Olaru spent a few days in her hometown of Fălticeni. "When I was there I just drank milk instead of water. I was dying to eat dairy foods, so they were part of my diet every day," she explains. She would gain 16 lbs in the next two weeks. "And this happened without any excess in eating on my part. In fact, if I ate the same way I did in Deva, I'd be obese by now. The only thing I missed there were poached eggs. I couldn't eat too many of them because they made some of my teammates sick. So, I couldn't eat them either."

Lately, vegetable salad is the only meal she'll have all day, and some days not even that. "Like, yesterday for example I only ate one apple, and today I am yet to eat anything.

As for sweets, they never did much for me". Still, the extra pounds don't seem to come off. She's now almost 20 pounds heavier than in Sydney, but Maria remains optimistic. She's on a diet and exercises every day, hoping she'll somehow get through this.


Ice-cream time!

After quitting gymnastics, Corina Ungureanu went through periods dedicated almost exclusively to her favorite foods. First it was chocolate, then cookies, and finally it was time for ice-cream. 5 months after leaving Deva following the 99 Worlds, Corina had gained 10 lbs. "Food wasn't the reason, because I ate less than when I was a gymnast, but I was missing the extra physical effort I was used to," she says. It was a year in which she had to come to terms with her new figure. "Then, I started losing weight. Just like I gained it, without doing anything special. As a gymnast, I weighed 100 lbs, now I weight 107, give or take."

Not a sweet tooth

Former gymnastics great Lavinia Milosovici remembers that after quitting gymnastics she gained almost 30 lbs. "Despite that, I don't have too many food craving. I wasn't crazy about sweets, and I ate more home cooked meals," says Milo. She says that she started losing weight after about 8 months, without any special exercise program or diets. "It's normal. All gymnasts gain weight after quitting. While competing, we took vitamins to compensate for lack of certain food. When we were no longer required to take pills, we had to assure our vitamin intake through our diet, just like everyone else does."

Stealing food

Rodica Dunca, World champion and Olympic silver medallist, says she got so hungry at a meet in Norway, she stole a case of strawberries form a garden and ate them all, leaves and mud included. "I was with my teammates, all of us starved. When Bela Karoly put us on the scale, all of us weighed one or two pounds more. The next way we weren't given any food," she recalls. Rodica Dunca kept several journals. An important part of this was the section of "Menu once I get back home". For 4 pages, she listed 83 courses she would like to eat after the Olympics. Among them, fried chicken and cheese cake. "I have 3 days and 4 nights to bear and then I'll eat until my stomach bursts," she wrote during the 1980 Olympic Games.

Not even one chocolate bar

Even though Claudia Presăcan joined the national rowing team right after quitting gymnastics, and trained with them until June, she hasn’t escaped the pounds onslaught either. “The first three months after Sydney, I gained 10 lbs. And this happened even though I don’t remember eating a chocolate bar or anything else that could have really counted,” says Claudia.

She does admit pasta is her favorite meal and she ate them whenever she had a chance. Not that she has any regrets. “At least with all this weight gain, I know I don’t have to buy new clothes. Before, all my clothes were a little small. Now they fit perfectly.”

Former national team doctor, Ioachim Oană believes gaining weight after retirement is a natural and reversible process.
PS: Do the gymnasts at Deva have a special diet?
IO: No, they eat everything. But every meal is well balanced.

PS: Meaning...?
IO: Well, every time they need to get their protein and carbohydrate intake taken care of. Fat is almost nonexistent. Vitamins and minerals are also a must.

PS: So they can eat as much as they want to?
IO: No, but a little bit of everything. For example, when I was there, they had legume soup twice a week.

PS: How do you explain the fact that many gymnasts gain weight after retiring?
IO: It's normal. Usually, the transition lasts about 60 days. But girls don't gain that much weight. This is explained by the break in exercise and everything they eat stays on. Their metabolism slows down.

PS: You talked about a transition period.
IO: As soon as Nadia quit gymnastics he gained 10 lbs. After about 2 months, she was back to her regular weight. Now she looks like a super model.

PS: But how do you explain the fact that Simona and Maria gained almost 20 lbs since they retired?
IO: This is exactly what I was talking about. This isn't a case of obesity or hormonal deregulations. Both of them will be back to a normal weight before long.

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