Fuel for Competitive Swimmers
Nutrition Aug 31, 2016
Fuel for Competitive Swimmers

Although images of fun at the beach or lounging poolside are more often than not what comes to mind when swimming is mentioned, swimming is also a popular fitness regimen for many. Competitive swimming can take the sport up a notch further. For those involved in serious swim training for an upcoming meet or non-competitive swimmers looking to engage in long distance swims, what you put into your body is key to getting the most out of your program.

Pre-Workout Fuel

Water – Improving performance by fueling up properly before you dive into the pool is not only about what you eat, but also about what you drink. Many swimmers overlook the importance of hydration because they are surrounded by it – exercising and training in water and don’t necessarily feel the sweat. However, even a body working out in a swimming pool needs to be hydrated. Fill the tank with a bottle of water before your workout.

Carbohydrates – The University of California Davis conducted a study of athletes who prepped for a workout with water alone and compared their results to athletes who used water paired with carbohydrate rich chewables. Their findings indicate that by including a snack high in carbohydrates with a bottle of water, performance is improved. Such snacks can be something like a small box of raisins or single banana.

Breakfast – Serious swim training commonly occurs first thing in the morning. Pre-workout fuel is then what a swimmer eats for breakfast. Swimmers often find early morning nutrition a challenge. To get the most from training, be as disciplined at the breakfast table as you are at the pool. Stop and fuel up. Even if you do breakfast on the go, make it a portable breakfast rich in carbohydrates and protein.

Egg or peanut butter and banana sandwiches are perfect pre-workout breakfast choices. If you have time for a sit down breakfast, make it oatmeal with fruit and low fat milk. Cottage cheese, nuts, beans and even chicken can all be included as healthy breakfast options.

Post-Workout Food

After a long training session, post-workout dining is all about recovery. Athletes need to provide their body with the nutrition necessary to repair and replenish spent muscles. The key ingredients to post-workout food choices are protein and carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates – While training, an athlete depletes glycogen levels. Glycogen is the extra carbohydrate stores within the tissues of the human body. In other words, glycogen are your energy reserves.

But carbohydrates also serve another function. They assist protein delivery to muscles through insulin. A full glass of chocolate milk or soy milk contains both carbohydrates and protein, perfect for restoring depleted carbohydrate and glycogen levels.

Protein – During the workout, muscles are strained and pushed to their limits. To maximize repair and minimize soreness, as well as to get the most gain from your workout, immediately replenish the body with leucine-rich proteins. Plan a protein-rich meal within half an hour of completing a rigorous workout. This will protect muscle tissue from breaking down, giving it the necessary nutrition to replenish and repair tissue.

A five-ounce serving of red meat or one cup of chicken, cooked and chopped, are great sources of leucine-rich protein. If you need replenishment on the run as you leave the gym, a protein and carbohydrate rich peanut butter/banana smoothie is another great option.


A proper diet is just as much part of training as performing laps and lifting weights. By following these easy tips, swimmers can maximize the potential of their pool time and train like a champion.

Complex carbohydrates – Outside workout meals should include about 6-10 grams of complex carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight. Beans, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables are great examples of complex carbs.

Simple carbohydrates – Pre-/mid-/post- workout fuel examples of simple carbs includes bananas, raisins, pretzel/peanut butter snacks.

Protein – Pre-/post- workout nutrition should focus on the quality of the protein instead of how much is consumed. Examples of protein sources packed with essential amino acids and usable protein are whole eggs, fish, soy, and milk.

Balance – A 3:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein is a good rule of thumb.

Hydration – Remember to drink plenty of water even while in the pool.