How Gold Medalist Gymnast Gabby Douglas Cares For Her Body

Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler

mbg Beauty Director

By Alexandra Engler

mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she’s held beauty roles at Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and

Game On With Gabby Douglas

Image by Rich Polk / Stringer x mbg Creative / Getty Images

April 19, 2024

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We love celebrating women on top of their game. In our new series, Game On, we’re interviewing top athletes about their well-being routines—covering everything from nutrition that makes them feel strong to the moments that bring them joy. 

Like many people, I was first introduced to Gabby Douglas over a decade ago, during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. That summer, the country became enamored with the “Fierce Five” who took home the team gold in women’s gymnastics for the USA. 

Douglas’ star-making performances and gravity-defying strength earned her another gold in the individual all-around. And in doing so, she made history: Douglas is the first African American woman to become the Olympic individual all-around champion and the first U.S. gymnast to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions at the same Olympics. 

I was an intern at Sports Illustrated that summer and was assigned to research all things women’s gymnastics. Meticulously following Douglas’ meteoric rise to gold endeared me to her—and I’ve followed her career since.

“I’m blushing,” she said, as she laughed when I told her about our small, mostly one-sided connection. I told her it was probably just her natural glow.

I was thrilled to be able to check in with her all these years later, learn about how she’s currently caring for herself and her body, how she mentally prepares for big competitions, and what advice she has for young athletes with big dreams. 

mindbodygreen: You’re someone who’s been competing on the global scale for a long time—in a famously intense sport at that. How do you mentally prepare for a big competition? 

Gabby Douglas: Honestly, I keep my routines pretty simple. That’s been my regimen for a long time now—I don’t do a lot. I don’t need to because we do so much preparation in the gym leading up to [competitions]. For example, we do pressure sets, which is when everyone comes over to watch you do your set. That way, by the time you get to a competition, it feels second nature. 

So, on the day of a competition, I get up, eat breakfast, listen to music on the way, and get in the mindset of “OK—let’s do this.”

mbg: What meals help you feel strongest and nourish your body? 

Douglas: My favorite is baked salmon, mashed potatoes, and asparagus. Good protein — you gotta have it!

mbg: How do you fall asleep—especially before a big competition? I mean I can’t imagine trying to fall asleep before something as big as the Olympics! 

Douglas: To be honest, at the end of the day, my body is just so tired. Gymnastics is very hard. For example, recently we went like 30 days straight of practice in the morning and at night. So I just feel like our bodies are naturally tired because we’re waking up early in the morning for practice, then coming back later in the day for another.

So our bodies are tired—we really do need the rest. 

mbg POV

She’s not wrong—active bodies need an adequate amount of of high-quality rest. Now what that looks like in practice is different for everyone depending on a variety of factors including activity levels, hormonal shifts, and more. Here’s how to find your ideal sleep number.

mbg: Gymnastics is notoriously hard on the body. How do you care for it after? 

Douglas: I do a lot of icing. I also do a lot with my feet. I literally grind and pound my feet so much. I love using Dr. Scholl’s Callus Remover Electronic Foot File, which gets rid of all the hardness and dryness. I love having my feet very, very smooth on the beam. The chalk will dry skin out, so I love using a really hydrating foot cream, like Dr. Scholl’s Dry Cracked Foot Repair Ultra-Hydrating Foot Cream because it provides moisture back into the skin and back into my feet. You see so much of our feet in gymnastics, so honestly foot care is so important. 

mbg: Being a professional gymnast comes with so much pressure. How do you find that childlike joy that made you fall in love with the sport to begin with?

Douglas: It’s so true—so often parents will say to me, “Hey, how can I get my daughter to be at your level?” I’m like, “No—let her enjoy it first. She’s a kid.”

Sometimes we [professional gymnasts] wish we could go back and start that journey again, when it is joyous and happy. When you get older is when you start thinking, Oh this is something else. 

But we do try to keep it fun in the gym with me and my teammates. We like to find different ways to laugh and be joyful and have banter here and there. Because if not, the sport is just that much harder—and gymnastics is already really hard. It’s important to find different ways to keep it fun. 

So often parents will say to me, “Hey, how can I get my daughter to be at your level?” I’m like, “No — let her enjoy it first. She’s a kid.”

mbg: That’s a really great insight. You have to find the joy first! What about for young women who want to take their sport more seriously—what advice do you have for them, as someone who became a professional athlete? 

Douglas: Don’t give up. No matter if it’s gymnastics or basketball, just do not give up.

And you don’t have to take it to the professional level, but I do encourage girls to stay in some kind of sport. There are so many benefits of being involved in something. Gymnastics has taught me time management, discipline, perseverance, and teamwork. 

mbg: Speaking of teammates—what qualities make a great teammate? How do you show up for your teammates? 

Douglas: I just try to meet everyone where they are. Some cases that means not pushing someone too hard—and instead, just really being there for them. If they need a shoulder to cry on, here you go. If they need someone to motivate them, I’m here for you. So just meeting folks where they are. 

I was always taught to never end on a bad day.

mbg: What qualities about yourself are you most proud of and why? 

Douglas: My perseverance and drive. I was always taught to never end on a bad day. So I always try to keep going and make sure I leave everything on a high note. 

Like, even if you didn’t make it—but you gave it your all—at the end of the day, you can be satisfied with the result because you know you put your all into something. For me, I want to make sure I put my all into something and never have regrets at the end of the day. 

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