By By Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Swimmers want to win. They want to do better than their last
performance, and perform at their best every time they compete. It
takes a lot of hard work to get to the next level. Endless hours in
the pool, working on stroke technique, weight training and
Many swimmers know that nutrition is an essential part of their
success. In other words, they understand the importance of food to
their performance results. But sometimes they learn this
information late in their career. What if the ground rules about
nutrition were common knowledge? What if swimmers followed these
rules from the start?
Just like an automobile, athletes need fuel in the tank to perform
well. And not just any fuel! Premium fuel is the nutritious,
wholesome food and beverages swimmers eat to perform at peak level.
Fried foods, sweets, and sugary beverages, although tasty,
aren’t the ideal foods in which to anchor the diet if
swimmers want to take their performance to the next level.
Carbs, or the carbohydrate found in whole grains, fruit, vegetables
and dairy foods are desirable fuel sources for exercising muscles.
They require some time to digest, allowing a slow release of energy
to the muscles. Refined carbs, such as those found in sweets,
sports drinks, and dried fruit, contain sugar and offer the muscles
a quick source of energy. Swimmers can use a blend of both types of
carbs to support their performance.
Too much protein can contribute to dehydration as well as other
potential problems for the young athlete. Eating large amounts of
protein at the end of the day, or not eating enough protein at
breakfast isn’t the most effective way to grow and repair
muscles. Ideally, wholesome protein sources like meat, eggs or
beans are eaten at spaced intervals throughout the day, such as at
breakfast, lunch and dinner.
muscles don’t work well
Drinking plenty of fluids is a constant effort, as thirst
isn’t always easy to identify for young swimmers. If it is
noticed, it doesn’t mean they will drink, so gentle reminders
are helpful. If dehydration does occur, it may impair athletic
performance and contribute to muscle cramping.
recovery is a key to progress
The harder you train, the more important nutrition is to your
recovery and development as an athlete. Eating a snack that
contains protein, such as chocolate milk or nut butter and
crackers, and carbohydrate after an extended training
session, helps the athlete repair muscle damage, promote muscle
gain, and reload muscles with fuel for more training.
can’t out-exercise a bad diet
No matter how hard you work, the habits of overeating, skipping
meals, poor food choices, or under-eating work against optimal
performance. The body performs best when it’s given premium
fuel (nutritious food).
habits are key to lifelong health
Swimmers may not swim forever, but their eating habits can last a
lifetime. Making nutritious and balanced choices now means a better
chance at optimal health later in life.
When swimmers eat is
just as important as what and how much they eat. If a swimmer
skips out on breakfast and lunch, how will she have the stamina and
strength to train hard after school? Or, if a swimmer
‘backloads,’ eating large amounts of food at the end of
the day, an optimal weight for sport may be harder to maintain.
Understanding these ground rules can help swimmers get to the next
level in their athleticism, while keeping their growth and health
front and center.
Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a
registered dietitian, childhood nutritionist, and youth sports
nutritionist. She is the author of
Eat Like a Champion:
Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete. Learn more about Jill at
athletes, and check
out her free list of 70 Awesome Pre-Workout Snacks for
here. Coming soon!
Eat Like a Champion
class for young
athletes and their parents.