Any competitive sport demands discipline. This ranges from sleeping patterns, to media consumption, to cessation of vices, and to proper eating habits. Among the factors mentioned, diet is one of the most crucial and effective disciplines for readying the mental and physical performance of athletes. What you eat and how you eat shows when you compete.
Competitive swimmers have a specific diet requirement. Aside from the average daily calorie need of 1800 for women and 2000 for men, an additional 800 to 1000 calories are required for days with at least an hour-long training session (this is the benchmark for a 60kg swimmer – the amount of energy needed by each depends on the swimmer’s training, size, weight, and muscle mass).
Why eat right? What are the benefits?
If you think you can outswim a bad diet, then you probably don’t know the extent of your potential because you actively withhold yourself from being a faster swimmer.
“Getting your nutrition right is key for athletic success. The right meal and snack choices every day will significantly improve your performance in training and competition. You will be able to train harder for longer, recover quicker between swim practices and, most importantly, race faster at swim meets. Not only that, but you will stay healthier throughout the season, which means fewer training days and competitions missed through sickness.” – Abby Knox, author of Eat Right, Swim Faster
Basic guidelines for eating right
Carbs and protein are the two nutrients swimmers need to pay particular attention to:
Most important basic fuel for the swimmer’s body
Eating carbs at regular intervals throughout the day keeps the body energized and strong; it gives swimmers the needed push during training, avoiding fatigue
Each meal or snack—whether pre or post workout—should have carbohydrates to top up your muscle fuel
Complex carbs help swimmers stay energized for a longer period of time
Examples: Whole grain breads, whole grain breakfast cereals, wholemeal pasta, oats, brown rice, quinoa, baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweetcorn, chick peas, beans, lentils, and fresh fruits
Needed for muscle growth and repair
Examples: Milk, cheese, yogurt, boiled eggs, nuts, meat
What about fats?
Only take in good fats (monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats) like avocado, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds, and coconut flesh. Bad fats can cause digestive problems and nutrition deficiency.
Rule of thumb: What to eat and when to eat it
The best way to remember what to eat is to know when you will eat.
Two (2) hours before swimming ----- A rice meal or a sandwich with a serving of lean protein covering one-quarter of the plate; for instance, a chicken or ham sandwich, toast with boiled eggs, baked potato with beans, etc.
One (1) hour before swimming ----- A smaller serving of carbs and protein such as whole-grain cereal and milk, homemade smoothie, etc.
Thirty (30) mins before swimming ----- Having lesser time to digest means eating less, so a light carbohydrate snack like a banana or a granola bar would suffice
You have to recover by eating the right food that will refuel your body and aid muscle repair. Do this within 30 minutes right after training.
“Eating as soon as possible after training (especially during the first 30 minutes) is the key to starting your body’s recovery process. Missing this prime recovery window will reduce your ability to optimally refuel and repair your muscles. This is especially important if you have two training sessions in one day.” – Abby Knox, author of Eat Right, Swim Faster
You will need food rich in protein (at least 10-20g) for muscle repair and carbohydrates (at least 40-80g) for glycogen restoration. Furthermore, a low-fat snack is ideal because less fat keeps digestion speedy, thereby aiding quicker muscle recovery. Examples are: granola bar with low-fat Greek yogurt, smoothie with low-fat milk, a honey sandwich and 2 boiled eggs, baked sweet potato and lean meat, and bananas.
What about drinks?
Make sure to bring a bottle of water with you when you hit the pool to keep yourself from dehydration. Carelessness in this respect can affect overall energy levels and performance. Also remember to drink before and after a swim!
Note to the leisure swimmer:
There is no reason for you to eat unhealthily just because you don’t train competitively. The “average person” still has to be responsible for their overall health – that means eating right, sleeping right, and being responsible with time. The same principles apply to the leisure swimmer: intaking proper amounts of complex carbs, protein, and good fats are definitely more recommendable than a “convenient diet” (a term used for those who only eat whatever is convenient depending on their current situation, ie. fast food, microwavable meals, pizza, etc.)
Ultimately, health and fitness are not exclusive to athletes. Every created human body has the potential to improve and stay fit; likewise, every created human being has the responsibility to take care of the body given to them. Therefore, as the steward of your own body, stay away from lazing around—aim for good health so that, with an able body, you can run towards our life’s purpose: to the glory of God.