Swimmers Diet and Nutrition

All athletes need fuel to power them through their sport. Competitive swimmers are no exception. A swimmers’ diet is critically important for their athletic performance.

While most of us will never experience the thrill of competing on a world stage, we can still benefit from the same sound nutritional advice the pros follow during training and before a big meet.

Jeff Lucchino, MS, RDN, CSSD, a sports nutritionist at UPMC Sports Medicine, has provided five nutrition tips for swimmers — and non-swimmers — alike.

1. Choose carbs wisely

Carbohydrates are an important part of any athlete’s training. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for moderate to high intensity activity. They assist with muscle repair, muscle preparation, and of course, performance.

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According to the American College of Sports Medicine, when you are training at a competitive level, carbohydrates should make up the majority of calories in your diet. For example, the average 160-pound swimmer needs between 580 to 720 grams of carbohydrates each day, or roughly 3.5 to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight.

But not all carbs are created equal. You’ll want to consume simple carbohydrates — such as energy drinks, sports gels, fruit, and pretzels — before, during, and immediately after a workout, because your body digests them very quickly, which provides you with needed bursts of energy.

The rest of the time you should focus on complex carbs such as whole grains, beans, lentils, rice, and vegetables. These types of carbs break down more slowly, keeping blood sugar steady over time.

It’s important to note that both types of carbohydrates do assist with carbohydrate replacement, but the timing of each is invaluable for optimal athletic performance.

Learn more about the dietary needs of competitive swimmers

2. Pick quality proteins

Consuming reasonable amounts of protein — about 15 grams for a 160-pound person — two to four hours before a workout can help your muscles recover after training. Choose nutrient-dense sources of protein, such as eggs, milk, chicken, pork, nuts, fish, beef, and soy.

3. Stay balanced

We all need a well-balanced diet to cover our nutritional bases. Your everyday diet should consist of complex carbs, lean meats, dairy, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Immediately following a workout, you can replenish your body and prime yourself for recovery by eating meals or snacks that contain a ratio of 3 to 4 grams of carbs for every 1 gram of protein. Replenish within 15 minutes of workout/training completion. For example, a 1 gram protein profile is an 8 ounce serving of low-fat chocolate milk.

4. Pack a snack

Keep your blood sugar even by enjoying a small snack about an hour or two before you begin a training session. Good choices include fresh or dried fruit, trail mix, yogurt, whole-grain cereal or toast, and energy bars.

5. Wet your whistle

Ironically, as you swim in water, your body requires more of it. In fact, dehydration can sap your performance. Stay hydrated by drinking water, consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables that naturally contain a high water percentage, and swigging other healthy fluids throughout the day. The best measure of hydration is the color of your urine, which should be pale yellow.

About Sports Medicine

Sports and physical activity bring with them a potential for injury. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury – or improve athletic performance – UPMC Sports Medicine and the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program can help. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our experts partner with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers, and about 100 other high school, college, and regional teams and events throughout Pennsylvania – working daily to build better athletes.