As a Competitive swimmer, you will already be aware of the importance your diet plays on your performance in the pool. But assuming you’re a healthy eater, read on for advice from British Swimming on how you can tune your eating habits to boost your swimming performance.
General nutrition for competitive swimmers
Nutritional needs change depending on whether you are in training or about to enter a competition. But if it is general tips you want on fine tuning your eating habits to perform better then here is some advice from the experts at the ASA.
If you’re planning to go swimming or training later in the day try to eat an exercise-friendly meal two and three hours before you go. This means keeping your carbohydrate and protein levels high on roughly a 60:40 ratio and don’t pig out on sluggish unsaturated fats. Here are some good examples:
- Baked potatoes – fill them with beans, sweet corn or chilli, not too much cheese, and remember to eat the skin, it’s the healthiest bit!.
- Pasta meals or bakes – again go light on the cheese, throw in plenty of vegetables. Tuna is also a great energy source.
- Beans on toast – they may be the signature of a student’s staple diet but low-sugar baked beans are actually really good for you. Bags of protein in the beans and wholemeal toast has your complex carbohydrates. And if beans aren’t your thing, eggs will do a similar job.
- Chilli con carne – beans, lean mince, and brown rice all should set you up perfectly for exercise in a few hours. Fatty, greasy mince, white rice and salty tortilla chips will not.
- Unless you’re trying to lose body fat don’t train on an empty stomach, you’ll be running on empty and your performance will be impaired. Eat a small meal or snack between one and two hours before you start your training.
- Great snacking foods are fruits (fresh is best but dried are still okay), energy foods (cereal bars, energy drinks, protein shakes), yogurt (low fat if possible) or whole grain foods (whole wheat cereal or wholemeal toast).
Snacking During the Day
- Elite athletes keep their blood sugar level as constant as possible by snacking regularly (and healthily) during the day.
- Only do this if you’re training enough not to add body weight from the increased food/calorie intake.
- Target the same snacks you would as a pre-training boost – complex carbohydrates, fruits or protein shakes.
- If you’re putting in the metres in the pool, your body will need a boost when you finish your training.
- Always try to refuel within 30 minutes of finishing and preferably within 15 minutes – your body immediately needs nutrients to repair muscles and replace energy.
- Make sure you’re refuelling with the ‘right’ foods though – something low in fat but high in carbohydrates and protein.
Eating during competitions
When preparing to compete at a swimming competition you need to pay careful attention to what you eat.
The Day Before
When competition time comes round, you’ll have plenty on your mind already. So the day before the event, keep exercise to a minimum – if anything at all – and eat meals and snacks high in complex carbohydrates. You need to keep those glycogen stores topped up.
- Drink fluids little and often to stay properly hydrated.
- Eat little and often – every two to four hours to keep your blood sugar levels steady and fuel your muscles in preparation for your event.
- Avoid big meals or over-eating in the evening – this will almost certainly make you feel uncomfortable and lethargic the next day.
- Try to stick to familiar foods. Curries, spicy foods, baked beans and pulses (unless you are used to eating them) can cause gas and bloating, so avoid eating anything that may cause stomach discomfort the next day. It’s best to stick to foods that you are familiar and compatible with!
The Morning of the Event
- Don’t swim on empty. Even if you feel nervous, make breakfast happen. Stick to easily digested foods – cereal with milk, porridge, banana with yoghurt, some fruit or toast with jam.
- If you’re really struggling, try liquid meals such as milkshakes, yoghurt drinks or a smoothie.
- It’s a good idea to rehearse your competition meal routine in training so you know exactly what agrees with you.
Snacks Between Heats
- Try to eat as soon as possible after your swim to give yourself as long as possible to recover if you have to swim again.
- High fat and simple sugar foods will do you no favours in competition – instead search out the complex carbohydrates again.
- If you can’t stomach anything solid try sports drinks, flavoured milk or diluted juice that will help replenish your energy supplies and assist the recovery of aching muscles.
The list below offers great food options to be snacking on in and around training for a competition. Remember to keep eating healthy foods from your regular diet though, such as fresh vegetables, nuts and fruits.
Here are some more you can try
- Water, diluted fruit juice with a pinch of salt or a sports drink
- Pasta salad
- Plain sandwiches e.g. chicken, tuna, cheese with salad, banana, peanut butter
- Bananas, grapes, apples, plums, pears
- Dried fruit e.g. raisins, apricots, mango
- Crackers and rice cakes with bananas and/or honey
- Mini-pancakes, fruit buns
- Cereal bars, fruit bars, sesame snaps
- Yoghurt and yoghurt drinks
- Small bags of unsalted nuts e.g. peanuts, cashews, almonds
- Prepared vegetable crudités e.g. carrots, peppers, cucumber and celery.
Click Here for an article by Alison Green, a Registered Dietitian, about Nutritional Advice for Competitive Swimmers.