It may not look like it at first glance, but swimming is an energy-intensive sport. Because of the resistance the water exerts on the body as a person tries to move through it, swimmers tend to burn far more calories than athletes who exercise on terra firma, so a good swimmer’s diet is crucial. Depending on factors such as weight, swim stroke, and level of activity, it’s entirely possible to burn almost 1,000 calories in a single hour of swimming.
When you’re dealing with that much of an energy expenditure, you need to be refueling your body properly in order to maintain performance levels. Failing to consume the proper foods at the proper times, or even in the right portions can leave you feeling weak, drowsy, bogged down, or otherwise struggling to do your best.
Cultivating a healthy swimmer’s body requires building a healthy swimmer’s diet, and both men and women will find better results by managing their diet effectively. Here are some tips for those looking to learn how to do just that.
Before the Workout
No matter what swimmer body type you are, with regards to making sure you’re fueled up for a practice or a competition, when you eat is about as important as what you eat. In essence, you should never swim on an empty stomach. This all starts with a good pre-workout meal, as failing to eat before swimming will rob you of energy, making your performance suffer dramatically.
What you eat and how much you eat depends on how intense of a workout you’re planning, and how long it will be between the meal and the workout. During training, many athletes are hitting the pool at 5:00 AM, which makes it difficult to eat a hearty breakfast two hours prior. In these situations, you’ll want something small and easily digestible, preferably paring carbohydrates with some simple protein. Here are some examples:
- A bagel with cream cheese
- Some yogurt and an apple
- A small bowl of cereal and milk
- A banana and peanut butter
These foods (in small quantities) will digest quickly while still giving your metabolism the fuel it needs to power your body.
If you have the opportunity to eat a real meal in advance, you’ll want to plan your plate accordingly. Expect to fill at least half your plate with complex carbohydrates:
- Cereal and other grain-based foods
These carbs are what actually fuel your body’s activity, so you want to make sure you’re eating enough of them. Again, pair your carbs with lean, healthy protein sources like fish, eggs, white meat, and dairy. These will be important for muscle building and muscle recovery, so don’t be stingy with these either.
To balance your diet and ensure you’re getting the micronutrients you need, you’ll also need to include vegetables and healthy fats in your meals. Most vegetables are fair game and can be eaten in large quantities, but try to focus specifically on veggies with a strong color—dark green, or something equally vibrant. For fats, foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and just about any oil that’s liquid at room temperature will serve you well.
During the Workout
Just as skipping food before hitting the water is a bad idea, failing to eat during a long swim will make it difficult to maintain energy levels. If you’re going to be in the pool for hours on end, you can’t expect your body to run on an empty tank, so you’ll want to bring some snacks with you. The key is to have the right snacks.
If you’re going to be moving almost constantly, you’re not going to want to bog down your digestive system with something heavy, so pick snacks that mimic what you eat before a five-in-the-morning workout: fruits (especially berries), nuts, dark chocolate, yogurt, slices of toast, vegetables, etc.
If you’ll be having decent breaks in between your bouts of physical exertion you can offer your stomach something more substantial. Try cheese sticks, sliced meat, cereal, protein or energy bars, and so forth. In either case, you’ll want something on hand to rehydrate yourself, with water, fruit juice, and sports drinks being the best choices.
Also, gauge your portions off of the time to your next dip in the pool, and don’t overeat. Trying to pack too much in before you start swimming again will only cause you digestive distress.
After the Workout
Lastly, once you’ve completed your workout in the pool, you still need to refuel. Besides what you eat before and during your practice or competition, the most important meal you eat is the one right after a workout, as failing to refuel properly will negatively impact your recovery.
In your post-workout meal, your macronutrients should be your priority. Skimping on carbs after an arduous swim session will only hamper you in returning to pre-workout energy levels. Similarly, the damage you’ve done to your muscles will be difficult to repair if you’re not filling up on protein, so go for those lean meats and dairy products again. Add in some vegetables and healthy fats, and you have yourself a solid recovery meal.
Throughout the rest of the day, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals (preferably from food, rather than supplements), and you’ll want to make sure your calorie intake can keep up with your output. While you’re not likely to need Michael Phelps’s 12,000 calories a day, you will start losing weight you may have intended to keep if you don’t maintain your intake, so get used to eating more than normal.
Whether your swimmer body type is male or female, it takes some effort to build a healthy swimmer’s diet, but you’ll be thanking yourself when you find you have the body of a swimmer. More importantly, you’ll see your best performance when you’re fueling your body properly, so experiment a little, and find the regiment that’s best for you.