By Bailey Duran, Swimming World College Intern.
Swimming requires massive amounts of energy, whether it’s an elite-level practice or an age group practice. Because of this high energy expenditure, swimmers need to take the right steps to replenish the nutrients lost.
According to wellness coordinator Brigette Peterson‘s research in sports nutrition, competitive swimmers can burn up to 5,000 calories in four hours, depending on the intensity of the workout. Thus, swimmers can burn approximately 40 percent of their daily energy during this time. Because of this incredible energy expenditure, proper nutrition is essential to rebuilding and recovering.
Peterson says, “Nutrition is cornerstone of every athlete’s performance, but especially a swimmer’s.”
Detrimental Nutrition Mindsets
Two common detrimental mindsets that swimmers have regarding meals fall on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The first is, “I swim hard every day so I can eat whatever I want. I’m working it off when I swim.” While it may be true that you are burning a lot of calories, you aren’t refueling with the necessary nutrients that will keep you healthy and swimming fast. Not to mention that eating loads of sugar and other processed foods will hinder your swimming and make you feel sluggish and slow.
The other mindset is: “I worked super hard in practice, so I don’t want to ruin it by eating too much. I won’t eat or will eat much less than what I probably should.” You can’t expect your body to be able to put maximum effort into a practice or a race if it doesn’t have enough fuel to do so.
It doesn’t matter how much or how hard you swim or train, you will not reach your potential without proper nutrition.
What Should Swimmers Eat?
You may be asking, “Well then, what should I eat?”
According to natural health and fitness expert Brue Baker, swimmers who are training intensely for more than two hours daily should eat four to seven light meals a day. Eating large meals or too much in one sitting will leave the swimmer feeling lethargic and will inhibit your performance (The Importance of a Swimmer’s Nutrition). It should also consist of foods that are easy to digest.
Carbohydrates should make up one half of a swimmer’s diet as it is the fuel swimmers need to get through that tough practice or meet. Carbs are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver and is the fuel that our body uses throughout our day – especially during a workout. After the workout, that energy source will be running low and will need to be replaced. Some good sources of carbs are rice, cereal, pasta, potatoes, beans, peas, and lentils.
The other half of a swimmer’s meal should consist of protein, healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocados, and seeds), vegetables, fruit, whole grains, vitamins, and minerals.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 0.5 to 0.7 grams of carbohydrates should be consumed for every pound of body weight. For someone who is 150 pounds, this adds up to about 75 grams. This should be coupled with 20 to 40 grams of protein.
Protein repairs and rebuilds the muscles after the stresses of training in addition to warding off soreness. The building blocks of proteins are amino acids, which are the main components of muscular growth and repair. Diana Goodwin of Aquamobile tells us that protein also supports and boosts the immune system as well as quenches those annoying hunger pangs that plague swimmers during practice. Some sources of protein are lean meats, fish, eggs, and low-fat dairy.
Swimmers should also drink water often to stay hydrated, sipping on their water bottles throughout the day to replenish sweat loss (yes, it is possible to sweat in the water). Many athletes don’t think about replacing electrolytes and other minerals lost in sweat, most notably sodium and potassium. While most athletes consume enough sodium in a normal diet, you can sprinkle some salt and glucose to your beverage for absorption and replenishment.
Peterson says, “A properly fueled body will result in better performance during practice and competition. Nutrition is everything.”