Nutrition for Athletes


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I often hear from athletes and parents wanting answers to their very pointed questions about, “what will make me stronger,” “what will help me recover faster,” and “what will keep me healthy.”  Oftentimes, they are fishing for the quick and easy solution.  They want to hear the latest trend or fad diet that will hold the secret to success.  Upon further assessment, I am astonished to learn how often these same people aren’t doing the basic things that, in my opinion, are the foundation for success for an elite athlete.  


1. Know your blood chemistry
Elite athletes ask a lot of their bodies, every day.  Working hard and pushing through hard workouts means that your body has to be resilient and able to adapt to that stress.  There are a few blood markers that are accurate indicators of low levels of nutrients in the body that affect performance.  Low Iron stores (Serum Ferritin) and Vitamin D (25-hydroxyD3) results in a blood test can both cause fatigue and can inhibit recovery.  A doctor or dietitian can use these results to make dietary modifications or recommendations to improve performance.  Know your numbers!


2. Have your nutrition planned out for EVERY training day
Timing is everything.  Elite athletes should be fueled for every training session, no excuses.  This is especially important for the first-thing-in-the-morning practice. After sleeping 6-8 hours, it’s crucial to eat something to prevent muscle breakdown, which can easily happen when training hard in the fasted state.  I’m not expecting athletes to wake up and make an large egg breakfast first thing, but eating SOMETHING to elevate energy levels and jump start the metabolism after sleep (nap or overnight) can get the body moving and if it’s a high intensity training session, a small dose of protein in that snack can prevent muscle breakdown and encourage strength gains.  That alone makes a pre-workout snack worth it!  Think toast with peanut butter, a granola bar, or a yogurt smoothie drink


3. Recovery nutrition
If you’re doing doubles of any kind of workout, eating something ASAP afterwards encourages faster, more efficient recovery, compared to consuming nothing when time is limited.
Yes, your body will eventually bounce back and be ready to take on another day of training, but if only a few hours (or minutes with back to back swim and lifting sessions) separate one training session from another, recovery nutrition will make the difference. Quick absorbing carbohydrates and whey proteins are the best for this time (think fruit + cottage cheese, or pretzels + yogurt).  You are already investing the time and putting in the effort…make it count!


4. Get enough, but not too much protein 
Swimming is unique in that a lot of the training is in water, which is lower impact than running on pavement or pushing against solid weights.  Yes, it requires strength, but the muscle damage is not as high as in other sports.  I recommend swimmers try to hit a daily protein intake of 0.6-0.7 grams of protein for every pound of body weight.  That means for a 150lb athlete they should eat between 90-105g of protein every day.  Eating more than that can take the place of energy-yielding carbohydrates, and not eating enough can inhibit strength gains and negatively impact body composition.


5. Cut out the crap drinks
Simple as that… High sugar energy drinks and alcoholic beverages consumed outside of training time do nothing to improve performance or aid in recovery. I would go as far as to say alcohol inhibits performance and delays recovery, and the energy drinks can be harmful to the heart and overall health.  If you are focused on performing well this summer, cut the crap out now.  Get serious.  Cold turkey.