Food for Swimming
Swimming Nutrition is often a hot topic for discussion. Trying to find time to swim with a busy schedule is challenging enough, then there’s the question, what do i eat. When, how much, at what time, have I eaten enough protein etc.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what to eat and drink, before and after you swim. It’s time to drop those excuses and hit the pool!
The ideal time to eat before training is 2 hours. This allows the body to digest the food and turn it into fuel for your muscles before your swim. Any longer than this and you may experience low blood sugar levels during your swim which will impact on your performance; any shorter than this and you may feel nauseous from trying to swim on a full stomach.
Pre swimming nutrition should include a high carbohydrate, low fat meal 3 hours before moderate intensity exercise is ideal. Here is a list of Ideal meals to eat 2-4 hours before exercise:
- Wholemeal pasta with a tomato based sauce and vegetables
- Rice salad
- Jacket potato with beans and salad
- Mixed bean hotpot with potatoes
- Stir fry
- Wholegrain cereal with your choice of milk/yoghurt
Inevitably not everyone’s schedule will allow for a full meal before a training session. If you don’t have time for a meal, then I recommend a low fat, high protein snack an hour before you swim. Scientific studies show that maintaining a steady blood glucose level when exercising allows you to perform better and sustain your exercise much longer. Here is a list of ideal snacks for this purpose as they slowly release energy to your muscles as you swim, maintaining a steady blood glucose level.
- Fresh fruit
- Cereal bar
- Shakes/ smoothies
- Toast with jam
Just remember this one basic rule of swimming nutrition- The closer you are to the start of your exercise session, the smaller your meal should be.
Post swim fuel
After exercise your body needs to refuel as quickly as possible to aid recovery.
During exercise you will have depleted your glycogen stores, depending on the intensity of the exercise it can take between 20 hours and 7 days to restore these levels. After your swim you need to refuel with a high carbohydrate meal or have snacks on hand to have little snacks often throughout the rest or the day to help rebuild your glycogen stores.
If you train regularly without sustaining your glycogen stores between workouts you will not be able to train as hard or as long, and not achieve your training goals. This process of refuelling improves the more you exercise, this is why an elite athlete is able to train every day, often multiple times a day, where as a beginner needs to build up a few times a week.
During the first 2 hours post- exercise, replenishment is most rapid. It is important to start the refuelling process as soon after exercise as possible. During the next 4 hours the rate will slow but remain higher than normal, so it is important that you eat a in this window. The longer you leave your recovery meal the less effective it will be. This can result in prolonged fatigue and muscle soreness.
Post swimming nutrition should include both carbohydrates and protein to encourage muscle repair and recovery. Your meal should include protein: carbohydrate in a ratio of about 1:4. Each of the following meals/snacks have this ratio and are excellent for muscle recovery:
- Baked beans with 2 slices of wholemeal toast
- Wholemeal pasta with broccoli
- Boiled eggs and wholemeal toast
- Hummus and vegetables
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Milkshake, banana and a cereal bar.
Staying hydrated is extremely important during any exercise however, it can be easily overlooked in swimming. When you’re in the water, although you don’t often feel it, you are sweating just as much as if you were running/cycling as the same intensity. Staying hydrated during your swim is much easier if you are fully hydrated before you even enter the water.
The American college of Sports medicine recommends drinking 5-7ml of water per kg of body weight slowly between 2-4 hours before exercise. So someone weighing 70kg should drink approx. 490ml of water leading up to exercise. Drinking a little extra, ~100ml 5-10 minutes before you start swimming will be able to replace any sweat loss immediately.
During swimming it is thought that for a low to moderate intensity session lasting an hour or less plain old water is perfect for rehydration. For higher intensity exercise such as sprints or really pushing yourself for an hour an isotonic drink is recommend. These can either be purchased or made at home by adding cordial/ squash to your drinks bottle and a little bit of salt, the very end of a tea spoons worth. This replaces any electrolytes you lose through sweating at a fraction of the cost.
Post swim, water and salt levels in the blood both need to be replaced after any exercise intense enough to cause sweating. If you eat immediately after your session the salt levels will take care of themselves in most cases so just continue to slowly sip water throughout the next few hours after your session to replenish your fluid levels. Maintaining a healthy level of hydration every day, whether you intend to exercise or not, is vital for good recovery and an overall healthy body.
Swimming Nutrition – Data from the Health Sciences Academy Sports and exercise nutrition course.