Nutrition for Swimmers
The question of what to eat is an important one for athletes. Like other sports, swimming consumes large amounts of energy. So how you eat will have a direct effect on your performance. We’ve spoken about how getting serious with your swimming will mean thinking carefully about how you live your day-to-day life and this includes diet. Thankfully, this, as well as many other factors, is something that you can start addressing right now, even if you can’t get to the pool. In this post, we will be describing good nutrition for swimmers. We will also outline some of the unique challenges that swimmers face when it comes to dietary choices.
One of these unique challenges comes from the fact that swimming happens in water. This is obviously very different from land-based sports, where dehydration is obvious. Being in the water, on the other hand, makes it harder to tell how much you are sweating, for example. Also, indoor pools tend to be pretty humid environments. To deal with this, it’s important that you always have fluids on hand to replenish yourself at the edge of the pool.
The optimal fluid balance seems to be about half a litre of water, two hours before you start training. Then, once you’re in the pool, make sure you have some fluids – either water or an energy drink – by the pool’s edge to drink throughout your session. And finally, once your session ends, have another drink, even if you don’t feel particularly thirsty.
What to Eat
On the plus side, if you’re a swimmer you can get away with eating more carbohydrates. In fact, if you are training regularly, or competing as a swimmer, you can afford to give carbohydrates up to half your overall caloric intake. This might sound like a license to go wild, but it’s not. There is a tendency for journalists to exaggerate just how much carbohydrate pro athletes actually eat. Nevertheless, if you’re putting in serious time in the pool, you need fuel. Try to go for higher quality carbohydrate sources such as rice, potatoes, lentils and whole-grain foods. If you’re craving something sweet, fruit is a much better idea than processed foods or sweets.
The rest of a swimmer’s food intake needs to consist of protein and, most importantly, healthy fat. Protein is essential to muscle repair, which is essential to muscle growth and strengthening. Meats, eggs, dairy and nuts are the best sources of dietary protein, in that order. These same foods are also sources of healthy fats, although to get the fat intake that you need as an athlete, you might need to incorporate more variety into your diet. Olive oil and avocados stand out as readily available means of dietary fat.
Eating for Recovery
Apart from fuelling your training, correct nutrition helps you to recover so you are ready for the next challenge. This means that how you eat after training is just as important as how you eat before training. Every swimmer knows that hard training, though satisfying, can bring soreness and stiffness. This is because exercise causes muscle fibres to tear. That sounds like a bad thing, but the body increases blood flow to those muscles to ramp up the repair process. This is called inflammation, This in-turn makes the muscle grow and become stronger. As they say, there’s no gain without some pain. But if you’ve experienced Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) a few hours after training, you know that it’s unpleasant and it may even prevent you from getting back in the water for a while.
Thankfully, you can reduce the severity and the duration of DOMS by eating certain foods. Even better, these all happen to be things that you will enjoy eating. Here’s a list of foods that help to reduce inflammation, thereby aiding recovery:
- Turmeric. This yellow spice contains curcumin, an agent proven to reduce pain in large muscle groups, especially in the legs. You can add this to almost any savoury dish.
- Berries. This is really good news because in addition to being a tasty treat, berries contain antioxidants that help fight inflammation. Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are among the best.
- Cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables like broccoli help to lower inflammation and have even been correlated with longer life expectancy. Eat your greens! But remember to cook them thoroughly; the compounds that you need are more accessible once the plant has been cooked.
- Olive oil. In Mediterranean countries, olive oil is consumed liberally. Not only does it reduce inflammation, but it is a great source of healthy fats.
- Fatty fish. If you can get past the gamey smell, sardines, mackerel and salmon pack a powerful punch when it comes to inflammation. The fatty acids they contain help the body to produce chemicals with names like “protectin”. You get the idea.
Good habits can last a lifetime
As with so many things, success begins long before you reach the pool. Swimmers with a varied diet can gain significant advantages, such as increased strength and decreased recovery periods. If, like most people, you are currently unable to train as normal, take the opportunity to learn more about food and build new habits that will stand you in good stead once life goes back to normal.