When you ask a dietitian a simple question you want a simple
answer, but you are more likely to hear, “it depends.”
There is a good reason for that answer because dietitians look at a
person’s eating pattern, workout intensity, and duration for
the entire day week, or competitive season, not just a snapshot of
Recently, a young swimmer emailed me to say that he works hard at
his land-based and pool training but not so much on his nutrition.
He asked three simple questions, but as you will see the answer is,
1: What is a good pre-work out meal in the morning?
depends on how much time there is between eating and your work out.
Swimmers are encouraged to eat something in the morning after
an overnight fast because their liver glycogen (carbohydrate
stores) can be nearly depleted. Breakfast can also prevent hunger,
which can be distracting, and can provide carbs for working muscles
especially if stores were not replenished from the last workout. If
there is only an hour before workout, aim for 0.45 grams of
carbohydrate per pound of body weight. For a 150-pound swimmer that
is about 65 grams of carbohydrate, the amount found in a 6-ounce
carton of fruited yogurt and a slice of toast.
If you can’t eat breakfast before practice, eat 30 grams of
easily digested carbs such as a small banana, 16-ounces of sports
drink, or small energy bar to help improve performance for a long
pool workout. However, not all energy bars are the same; study the
ingredients and avoid those that are high in protein, fiber, or
sugar right before a workout. Or, go for the energy bar
“bites” or ½ a bar to get energy without
ingredients to slow you down.
2: What are some good snack options to eat throughout
depends on if you are eating regular meals, as in breakfast, lunch,
and dinner, or you are a grazer, eating many small snacks
throughout the day. Swimmers should time their snacks to complement
their activity or recover from training. And, while there is room
in your diet for “junk” foods, try to make your snacks
count by giving you needed nutrition. Good snack choices include
fruit (fresh, frozen, dried, canned, or in a pouch), peanut butter
and fruit spread sandwiches, trail mix with nuts and dried fruit,
an energy bar that delivers more quality carbs and fiber than
sugar. Snacks can also be a good way to boost hydration; think of
milk, hot chocolate, or soup to deliver both nutrition and extra
3: What are some post-practice strategies for recovery?
depends on your training or competition cycle; if you will be
having a hard practice the next day, start recovery as soon as
possible after getting out of the pool. Right after a glycogen
draining workout your muscles are most receptive to taking up the
carbs and protein from food. We call that the “window of
opportunity,” so a carb-protein snack is a good choice. Low
fat chocolate milk, string cheese and crackers, pretzels and
hummus, chickpea snacks, or cereal and milk are all fine recovery
If, after a hard workout, you are going to take a day or two off,
then don’t worry about recovery foods, just eat your usual
Of course, your smartest nutrition strategy is to work with a
registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition to
personalize a plan.