Swim Meet Nutrition- What Swimmers Should Eat
Swimming can be a high-intensity sport, especially when taken at an elite level, with professional swimmers training up to 12 times a week. This much training requires an appropriate amount of food and regulated diet to sustain yourself. When it comes to competition time, your diet and food intake is even more important, as irregular meals and high-fat foods can cause discomfort prior to a race.
Below are tips on what swimmers should eat before, during, and after a swim meet or competition. Remember to consult a professional dietitian or nutritionist before undergoing any recommended diet, especially when you have dietary requirements or allergies. A meal plan also varies among people, as everybody has different needs, particularly when a sport is involved.
The day before
Prior to competition day, you wouldn’t want to introduce your stomach to anything new or out of the ordinary, as you would want to be in your tip-top shape before a big race. It’s always good to be experimental when it comes to food, but before a heat, it’s best to stick to what you know. If you feel like trying out that spicy curry, consider doing so another day, as anything unpredictable – especially if you are not used to eating them – can cause discomfort. Bloating and feeling gassy are not things you want to be feeling on the morning of your competition.
Start the morning with a tall glass of water and keep yourself hydrated throughout the day. Remember to drink little amounts often, instead of chugging huge amounts in one go. As opposed to the traditional three big meals, divide them up into smaller portions and space your meals out along the day. By eating every two to four hours, you’ll keep your blood sugar levels steady. When you do get to eat, go for meals and snacks that are high in complex carbohydrates, such as a quinoa salad or brown rice and fish.
For dinner, don’t over eat and avoid a big meal, if you can. Consider dinner as the least priority in your day’s meal plan and eat only what you can. A large feat will mean your body will take longer to digest, making you feel uncomfortable and lethargic the following morning.
In the morning / 2-4 hours prior to first race
Similar to the previous morning, have plenty of fluids, especially water. Sip water regularly in the lead up to your first race. For breakfast, have a high carbohydrate and easily digested foods. Think cereal, fruit and yoghurt, toast with jam, or porridge. For something savory, a sandwich with lean meat and cheese will do the trick.
Sometimes, you can get pre-competition jitters and are too nervous to keep anything solid down. If that’s the case, blend together some fruit for a smoothie or a protein shake or a yoghurt drink. Remember that you should not swim on an empty stomach, so if you can’t have a big meal, try liquid ones.
You should try rehearsing your competition meal routine, as much as you practice your swim. This way, your body is used to what you eat and you won’t have any surprises when it comes to competition day.
In between heats
As your breakfast might be wearing off closer to your first race, it’s a good idea to have a small snack one or two hours before as a last chance to top up your energy. If you have a short break in between races, fuel up with a muesli or energy bar, fresh fruit, unsalted nuts. Even smoothies, sports drinks, juice or milk will work if you don’t feel like anything solid. Just try to avoid high fat and simple sugar foods, as you’ll find yourself having a sugar crash before your next race. Don’t forget to hydrate and wash it down with more water or an energy drink!
If you don’t have long before your next race, try to eat as soon as you can after your first swim to give yourself plenty of time to digest and recover. However, if you have a longer time to kill before your next race – say one to two hours – you can certainly squeeze in a more substantial and filling meal to avoid getting hungry. Look for more complex carbohydrates again, such as pasta, rice or noodle dishes, sandwiches, and even sushi.
A helpful tip is to be bring your own food to the competition venue. More often than not, there are limited options in suitable and quality food, drink, and snack options. Be organized and prepared by packing a cooler bag with healthier options! Make sure your bag is accessible enough for you to grab in between races, so you can easily top up your energy levels at a whim.
When it’s all well and over, it doesn’t mean you should gouge down on junk to celebrate. Similar to cooling down after any sport, the meal that you have after a competition is important in recovering your body. In fact, it’s just as vital in the lead up to a race! Recovery nutrition is important and should be implemented in your diet and training schedule, as your body needs replenishing after weeks of heavy training.
A good recovery meal plan should contain carbohydrates for fuel, protein for muscle repair and development, and fluids and electrolytes to regain sweat losses. The latter can be easily regained by drinking a good amount of sports drinks and water. A nutritious recovery meal could be omelets or eggs on toast, chicken breast with pasta or rice, and a dairy-based fruit smoothie to finish off.
That rumbling in your stomach after a great swim or race isn’t just your body telling you that you’re hungry. It’s also a reminder to have your recovery meal and snacks as soon as possible, preferably after you’ve completed your final race. This is especially applicable if you have a busy training schedule, as you would want to stay in shape before your next training period.