BY JILL CASTLE, MS, RD, LDN Courtesy of USA Swimming

What do you pack to eat on race day? What’s your nutrition prescription? 

Everybody has a different approach when it comes to eating on race day. Having a strategy and an execution plan can remove doubt and worry about hunger, energy levels, digestive problems, and keep you focused on the race at hand. 

Here are a few guidelines for smart eating and packing up the cooler:

  • Don’t DQ your day. Breakfast at home or on the road is the metabolism boost every swimmer needs. Instant oatmeal made with skim or low fat milk, toast with nut butter, dry cereal, yogurt and fruit are all light options that rev up the body. If you are competing in the morning, be sure to keep it light. Opt for a heavier breakfast if competition is in the afternoon.
  • Pack variety. A few options of fruit, vegetables, grain and high quality protein sources should cover the variable appetite and tummy tolerance you may experience on race day. It’s better to have more food options than a large quantity of only two or three foods. Don’t make the mistake of relying on a single food or energy bars to get you through the day. While they can do the job of fueling your body, they may not rate in appetite satisfaction. Having a variety of food sources increases the odds of proper fueling and healthy eating.
  • Pack enough. You don’t want to run out of food, and you may want to share with other swimmers (well-fueled swimmers help the whole team, right?).
  • Pay attention to temperature. If you are packing perishables, be sure to add an ice pack. It’s no fun to get tummy cramps before a race because something has spoiled.
  • Pack in the protein. Protein will be an ally in keeping your blood sugar stable, thus keeping hunger, energy and mood in check. Nibble on cheese sticks or slices, nuts, peanut or nut butters, deli meat slices, yogurt or yogurt drinks, boxes of low fat milk, hummus, hard-boiled eggs or edamame.
  • Don’t forget the Carbohydrate. Your muscles rely on carbs for fuel. Pack easily digestible sources such as 100% juice, fruit leather, applesauce, fresh or dried fruit, or veggie sticks. Don’t forget the more complex carbohydrate foods too, such as crackers, unsweetened dry cereal, pita or other breads, pretzels and graham crackers. Stay away from refined sugars such as soda, candy and desserts on race day.
  • Nosh or Nibble? Save “meals” or large quantities of food for big breaks between events. Nibble small amounts of food before and after events that are closely scheduled. At a minimum, you should be nibbling to stay energized and keep your muscles fueled on race day.
  • Think your drink. Water, 100% fruit juice and sports drinks are appropriate at a swim meet. Plain and flavored milk are great recovery drink choices after the meet; they provide protein for muscle repair and carbohydrate to re-fuel muscles.
  • Know your eating style on race day. If it is counter-productive to racing, follow these guidelines as a strategy for optimal eating. Don’t tempt yourself by packing foods or making concession purchases that you (really) don’t want to be eating.
  • Fiber Facts. Fiber can be a problem on race day, or not. Fiber is a food component to which each swimmer has an individual tolerance. Don’t experiment with high fiber foods on race day; sort this out during training season and avoid tummy trouble when it matters most.




Calories provide the energy your young swimmer needs for everyday activity, swim performance and growth. 

With hints of calorie intakes in excess of 10,000 calories per day, Michael Phelps blew the competition away in 2008 and blew our minds with his over-the-top calorie consumption. And it produced the nagging question in parents’ minds, “How much does my young swimmer need to eat?” 

Children aged 9–13 years need about 1,500-2,400 calories each day, depending on age and gender, to support the demands of normal growth and development. Add the energy burn of a regular two-hour swim practice, and the energy needs can skyrocket to the tune of 2,700 – 3,600 calories or more per day. 


Martinez and colleagues (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2011) recently found that young, amateur swimmers on semiprofessional teams (year-round club teams) had low energy consumption compared to what they needed. They also found these young swimmers were overdoing protein and missing the mark on other important vitamins and minerals. 

What happens if kids don’t get the calories they need? Fatigue, impaired focus and concentration, low physical performance and perhaps a delay in physical development (lag in muscle building, slowed height growth and/or delay in adult development) may occur when calorie intake is less than needed over time. 

As parents, it‘s our job to make sure that kids get the energy they need, and from the proper food sources. Avoid the mistake of delivering high calorie, nutrient-poor foods from the fast food drive-through. Not only are they excessive in fat, salt and sugar and under-deliver important nutrients like iron, calcium and B vitamins, they set the tone for future food cravings and selections that won’t support good health when swimming is over. 

Sound complicated? It’s not. 

Here are some ways to assure your growing child gets the right amount and type of calories he needs as an active swimmer: 

  • Stock your kitchen with good quality nutrition: whole foods in their natural state, such as low fat dairy products, lean meats and other protein sources, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. These are the foods that should be a part of every healthy, growing child’s diet.
  • Make sure your child gets three nutritious meals a day. No skipping! A meal should include at least 3-4 of these foods: a protein source, dairy, fruit, vegetable, healthy fats and/or a whole grain food source.
  • Aim for two snacks each day that include a protein source. Meats, beans and bean dips, nuts and nut butters, cheeses, yogurt, milk or milk substitutes, and protein-rich whole grains such as quinoa are great sources of protein for the swimmer. Unsweetened cereal and milk; yogurt, fresh fruit and nuts; whole-wheat toast and peanut butter are all examples of a healthy protein-rich snack for your school-age athlete.
  • Timing is everything. Kids perform best in all aspects of life when they eat regularly. Try to provide a meal or snack every 3-4 hours, and avoid sending your swimmer to practice on an empty stomach.

With a little bit of planning, it’s easy to assure your young swimmer gets enough nutrition to cover all his needs. The benefits of that are worth it, keeping your swimmer healthy, growing and energized for performing in the pool.



Nutirtion Cheat Sheet
By Mike Mejia, M.S., C.S.S.//Special Correspondent 

Keep in mind that in order for nutrition to have an appreciable impact on your performance, you have to eat the right way on a year-round basis. Not that you can't occasionally indulge in some fast food, or sweets; just make sure that your daily diet follows the 80% rule, meaning that you make the right choices at least 80% of the time and reserve the other 20% percent for some of your favorite "cheat" foods. This way, you'll know you're supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to feel and perform at your best. 
The following recommendations will help you stay on the right path:
The Right Kinds of Carbs

Make sure that the bulk of your diet comes from complex carbohydrate sources (approximately 50-60% of your total caloric intake). It's important that these carbs are predominantly in the form of whole grain breads and cereals, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, yams (or sweet potatoes) and beans. Try to stay away from white pasta, rice, breads and bagels as much as possible. They have an unfavorable effect on blood sugar levels and can really hamper your performance. 
Protein Intake
Try to opt for quality, low-fat protein sources like skinless, white meat chicken and turkey, lean beef, eggs, tuna, flounder, sole and cod, skim and low fat milks, low-fat yogurt (not the "fruit on the bottom kind") and tofu. Limit your intake of high-fat cuts of beef and pork, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fried chicken and pretty much all fast food, as much as possible. Proteins should make up anywhere between 20-25% of your total caloric intake.
Watch the Fat
Keep an eye on your fat intake. As a general rule, try to limit your intake of saturated fats, or any type of "hydrogenated oils" and "trans" fats. You can do this by cutting down on higher-fat cuts of beef and pork and all types of fast food. Also try to read as many nutrition labels as possible, as most clearly list the breakdown of both total fat, and saturated fats. Make sure that any food you choose has no more than 3 grams of fat per every 100 calories (i.e. in a 200 calorie food, 6 grams of fat is the limit), and that no more than about 1/3 of the total fat comes from saturated fat. So, that same 200 calorie food with 6 grams of total fat should have no more than 2 grams of saturated fat. Overall, fats should comprise anywhere from 15-20% of your total caloric intake.
Don't Forget Fruits and Vegetables
Eat as many fresh vegetables and fruits as you possibly can. Most kids fall way short of the recommended 5-9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables. They provide tons of vitamins and minerals, as well as much needed fiber.
Proper hydration is absolutely key! You can't drink next to nothing for several days and think that jumbo Powerade you're swigging in the car on the way to the pool is going to do anything. Here's a breakdown of how much you should be drinking and when: 
Overall water consumption for kids age 9 to 13 should be 2.0 to 2.5 liters per day, whereas 14-18 year-olds should strive for 2.5 to 3.5 liters, with girls falling near the lower end of the range, and boys at the higher end. Keep in mind, we're talking about water here, not juices, sports drinks, or soda. This should be your target for each and every day, with your fluid requirements increasing with athletic activity.
Sports drinks are really only necessary for activities lasting at least one hour in duration, but can otherwise be consumed in moderation if they encourage young athletes to drink. Watch the sugar content, though. When choosing a sports drink, look for one with a 6-8% carbohydrate concentration, or 50-80 calories per 8 ounces, with 120-170 milligrams of sodium.  
Provided that you've adhered to the guidelines listed above, there are a couple of steps you can take the day of the meet to help make sure that you perform at your best. We'll bring those to you next week!




Just because you’re in the water it doesn’t mean you don’t need to drink water.

After 30 minutes of swimming, dehydration can occur. Environmental factors contribute to a swimmer’s dehydration—warm water temperature and warm, humid air around the pool can increase the need for fluids. The National Association of Athletic Trainers recommends drinking about 2 cups (16 ounces) of water 2 to 3 hours before a workout or swim meet with another 1 cup (8 ounces) 10 to 20 minutes before diving into the pool. Most workouts are long and strenuous, so drink about 1 cup of fluid every 10 to 20 minutes during your workout. Keep a sports bottle filled with water at poolside so it is in easy reach. 

What should you drink? Try these 5 choices and switch up your drinks for variety. 

1. Water is best for most athletes. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, ask mom or dad to slice up lemons or limes to drop into your water bottle for a fresh taste. 

2. Sports drinks are a good choice when you have long, hard workouts or have to race many times during a meet. Stick to the basic tried and true sports drinks….like Gatorade or Powerade because they provide a good balance of carbs, sodium and potassium to replace losses. 

3. Light sports drinks or zero-calorie sports drinks. These beverages, like G2 or Powerade Zero provide the same amount of sodium and potassium as regular sports drinks. These are good choices when you are trying to get lean or when injured and you are not able to train as hard or as long. These drinks contain artificial sweeteners, so drink them in moderation (1-2 servings per day). 

4. Diluted fruit juice. Why dilute fruit juice? Fruit juice is too high in natural sugars to be a good fluid replacement. Fluids that have more than 6 to 7% carbohydrate (fruit juice has about 10% and some fruit juices even more) takes longer to leave the stomach so fluids don’t reach your working muscles as quickly. 

5. Low-fat milk is a good pre-workout and post-workout drink because it provides carbs, sodium, potassium (like sports drinks) with the added benefit of protein for muscle recovery and calcium for strong bones. Choose fat-free or 1% milk to lower the fat content; and it is OK to choose low-fat flavored milk like strawberry or chocolate if you prefer the taste. 

Staying hydrated can help improve your performance and keep you healthy. Develop an individualized fluid plan and don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink…stay ahead of thirst so you don’t get dehydrated.

Chris Rosenbloom is the sports dietitian for Georgia State University Athletic Department and is the editor of the American Dietetic Association’s Sports Nutrition Manual, 5th edition.



NUTRITION Guidelines For Meets - Preparation and Recovery

The week leading up to the Event

  • Ensure a high-carbohydrate eating plan.
  • Include more rice and pasta: they have more carbohydrate than potato.
  • Include nutritious carbohydrate-based between-meal snacks (see list below).
  • As your training will be tapered pre-event, you won't need to eat more.
  • Eating the right balance of increased carbohydrate and less fat is the key.

The Pre-Event Meal

  • Eat this meal about 2-3 hours before competition (approximately 2-3 hours before warm-up).
  • This meal should top-up your blood sugar levels after the night's rest.
  • The meal does not have to be large, but should fill you up for the next few hours.
  • High-carbohydrate foods are the best options: e.g., bread, cereals, fruit, pasta, rice, etc.
  • Ensure that the meal is low fat, this speeds up digestion.
  • Eat breakfast before you get to the pool, this leaves time for the carbo fuel to get in.
  • Have a drink to optimize hydration: try sports drink, juice, or best of all, WATER.
  • Avoid the caffeine in cola drinks, coffee, chocolate, and tea
  • it is dehydrating.
  • If you feel too nervous to eat, try a liquid meal (see later in this article).
  • Practice with your pre-event meal prior to THE BIG MEET to fine tune this eating strategy

After the Warm-Up - Recover for the Heats

  • After the warm-up, replace fluids immediately (have your drink bottle at pool side, and drain it).
  • Sports drinks have their benefits as they replace fluids and carbohydrate simultaneously, but make sure they're not sweet like Kool-Aid if you're mixing your own.
  • If there is less than 1 hour between races, just keep to fluid replacement.
  • If there is more than 1 hour between the warm-up and your first heat, try to eat a little.
  • The best approach is to eat a little and often during the day.
  • Eating too much at once can make you feel heavy and lethargic.

Drinking and Eating

  • In longer breaks of at least 90 minutes, have something to eat.
  • In shorter breaks, use a sports drink or water to replace fluids.
  • The indoor pool environment is humid and dehydrating, so DRINK, DRINK, DRINK.
  • Adequate fluids are essential all day to keep your blood and energy pumping.
  • If there is a longer break (a few hours) through the day, use it to eat a bit more.
  • Take your own high performance foods and drinks with you (don't rely on the canteen).
  • A cold pack and thermos helps to keep foods and drinks cold, which aids in absorption.
  • Record your food and fluid intake to keep count of when you last ate and drank.
  • To monitor hydration check that your urine output is regular and "looks clear.".
  • Monitoring body-weight change over the day is another way to check hydration.
  • In general, crackers are bad!  they tend to be high in fat and salt, which makes you retain water

Recovery After a Hard Day's Competition

  • Have something to drink and eat immediately after your last swim.
  • Avoid the "fast food" chains on the way home
  • their high fat foods will delay recovery.
  • Have some high-carbo food prepared so you can eat as soon as you arrive home.
  • If possible take a thermos with a meal inside so you can eat even earlier.
  • Check your body weight to ensure you are re-hydrated.
  • The worst thing you can do is wait a couple of hours, then stop at McDonald’s or KFC or the like, and fill up on whatever they’re serving  very low in carbohydrates, and much too high in fat and salt!

Top-Up Snacks Bewtween Events (1-2 hour breaks)

  • Snack fruits (small cans of fruit) or canned baby fruits.
  • Bananas.
  • Fruit that is peeled and cut up (easier to eat this way).
  • Plain bread rolls (white bread may be less heavy) - try pita bread.
  • Fruit buns (e.g., hot cross buns) or raisin bread.
  • Rice cakes (you can top them with honey, jam, or banana).
  • Rice pudding or bread pudding (use reduced-fat milk).
  • Instant noodles (varieties that do not contain oil or the flavor packet).
  • Jam or honey sandwiches (NOT with peanut butter.
  • Plain boiled pasta with a little tomato sauce.
  • Low-fat breakfast or plain (non-chocolate-covered granola bar.
  • Fruit fingers (see baby food selection at supermarket).
  • Plain crackers (not high-fat types).
  • Low-fat puddings or jello.
  • Small amount of reduced-fat yogurts.
  • PowerGel (or imitations)
  • PowerBars (or imitations)

Note 1: A quick way to tell if something really is "low fat" is to check the nutrition label.  If there are more protein grams than fat grams in a serving, it's probably OK.  If there's more fat, then it's probably better to go with something else.

Note 2: Choose smaller amounts if you only have just over 1 hour. In longer breaks you can afford to eat a little more, but don't eat constantly. Items in bold might be better for middle length breaks as they are smaller and perhaps easier to digest.

Longer Breaks or After the Competition

  • Sandwiches with low-fat fillings (avoid butter and tuna
  • or egg
  • “salad” as the “salad” is mostly high-fat mayonnaise).
  • Pasta or rice with tomato pasta sauce (a little chicken or very lean meat in sauce is okay).
  • Probably the most important thing to remember is that while you need to eat some food, you will swim better being a little hungry than a little full. So drink lots, eat a little, and you should be well on your way to swimming success.


Top Healthy High-Fat Foods By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, CSSD, USA Swimming

Athletes know to avoid high-fat foods, right? Nutritionists and coaches tell you to stay away from fatty burgers, fries and fried chicken. However, there are some high-fat foods that are good for you so no need to adopt a fat-free diet. Just be smart about fat. For those of you trying to gain weight, fat provides more than twice the calories of carbohydrate or protein, so try these healthy, high-fat foods to increase calories and make a part of your performance diet. 

1. Avocado is one of the few fruits that contain fat, and it is the heart-healthy type of fat called monounsaturated fats or MUFAs. You might only think of avocado as guacamole served in a Mexican restaurant, but there is a lot more you can do with it. Slice avocado on a sandwich for a creamy alternative to mayonnaise, or dice into a salad and use less salad dressing. People in Brazil even use avocado in ice cream. Ask your mom or dad to buy some “alligator pears” (another name for avocado because of their appearance) and after you eat it, save the pit and try to grow your own avocado tree.

2. Olives and olive oil are also good sources of MUFAs. Try olives (green, black, Greek olives) as a topping on cheese pizza for a salty, meaty topping to replace pepperoni. Add olives to pasta and salads, or make a paste of chopped olives and spread on bread instead of butter. 


3. Canola oil is another healthy fat to use in cooking if you don’t like the strong taste of olive oil. Canola oil gets its name from a contraction for “Canada” and “oil” as most of the oil comes from Canada, although many U.S. farmers are now growing canola plants for the healthy oil. Canola oil is also found in margarines and mayonnaise as heart-healthy spreads. 


4. Nuts and nut butters make great snacks for swimmers, and nuts have the advantage of containing protein along with the fat. Another plus for nuts is that they are a good source of the fat-soluble vitamin E which is in short supply in many diets. Vitamin E is a potent anti-oxidant that can help your muscles recover after a hard workout. 


5. Salmon and tuna are fatty fish with essential fats that have many health benefits. Tuna canned in water is just as healthy as tuna canned in oil (the healthy fats are in the flesh of fish, not in the oil). Try grilled salmon or a tuna sandwich as a recovery meal for high quality protein and fats. If you don’t like fatty fish, how about scallops or shrimp? Or if seafood isn’t your favorite, try flax seeds, walnuts or soy nuts for the essential fats that are also found in fatty fish.


Chris Rosenbloom is the sports dietitian for Georgia State University Athletics and is the editor of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Sports Nutrition Manual, 5th edition.



Top Fast Food Choice for Swimmers By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RD, CSSD, USA Swimming

I’ve had the joy of working with athletes for over 20 years, and I know that athletes, like all Americans, eat fast food. 

In an ideal world, parents would be feeding their kids healthy, home cooked meals, but when that isn't possible in this fast-paced society, healthy choices can be made when eating out. Instead of telling athletes to avoid all fast food, I think it is more realistic to help them make good choices when dining out. 

If you think you can’t eat healthy at quick service or fast food restaurants, think again. Healthy options are popping up in all of your favorite restaurants but it is up to you to make the healthy choices. Here are some of the better choices at the top restaurant chains:

  1. McDonald’s has more healthy choices than you might image. Menu boards now post calories and about 80% of menu choices are less than 400 calories. My favorite choices for athletes include Egg McMuffin, Fruit & Maple Oatmeal, Strawberry Banana Real Fruit Smoothie, Vanilla Cone, Fruit’N Yogurt Parfait, Fat-free Chocolate Milk, Apple Slices, Scrambled Eggs, Southwest Salad with Grilled Chicken, and Ranch BLT Grilled Chicken Sandwich. You can even download a McDonald’s app for nutrition information on your phone. 

  2. Subway recently announced that they will pilot the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check Meal Certification Program which to date is only found on food in the grocery store. For athletes, my favorite picks at Subway include any 6” 6 grams fat or less sub, Subway Club with avocado, Subway Melt, Ultimate Veggies with avocado, Yogurt Parfait, and Egg & Cheese with Spinach Breakfast Sandwich. 

  3. Chick-fil-A has tasty chargrilled chicken sandwich, but that is not all that tops the healthy choices at this restaurant. Try the Southwest Chargrilled Chicken Salad, Carrot & Raisin salad, Yogurt parfait, Chick-n-Minis, Mini-Sundae or Icedream cone. 

  4. Wendy’s offers Homestyle Chicken Go Wrap, Ultimate Chicken Grill, Broccoli & cheese potato, Chili, and Small Original Chocolate Frosty that can all fit into the calorie budget of an active teen. 

  5. Dunkin Donuts is adding oatmeal to the menu so sweet, fried pastries are not your only breakfast option. The “DDSmart” menu offers Egg White Turkey Sausage Wake Up Wrap or Multi-grain bagels for a quick grab and go meal. 

I know some parents will be surprised that a dietitian is recommending fast food. To be sure, there are many high-calorie, high-fat, not so healthy choices to be made at any restaurant, but there are more options than ever for a healthy, quick, inexpensive meal or snack that young swimmers will like and parents can feel good about. 

Chris Rosenbloom is the sports dietitian for Georgia State University Athletics and is the editor of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Sports Nutrition Manual, 5th edition. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches. Email her at [email protected].


Nutrition: Protein Post-Training
By Dan McCarthy, National Team High Performance Consultant, USA Swimming

Ongoing research has led to more concrete information regarding the timing of protein intake, the quantity of protein ingested and the best source of protein for hard-working athletes. The existing research is very sound; however, modern tools and methods have made evaluating the ability of skeletal muscle to synthesize protein possible.


Post-exercise the muscle’s ability to synthesize protein is increased. Recent research suggests that four equally spaced meals throughout the course of the day and one larger pre-sleep meal may be ideal for maximizing protein synthesis and negating protein breakdown. Hard-working athletes should time one of their meals to occur after each workout to benefit the most from the enhanced muscle protein synthesis. The larger pre-sleep meal helps lessen the impact of protein breakdown that occurs during slumber, when no eating is going to occur.


How Much 
Each meal should contain .25-.30 grams of protein/kg of body weight/meal. The larger pre-sleep meal should contain .60 grams of protein/kg of body weight. For a 150 pound athlete:

  • 150 pounds/2.2 kg/pound = 68 kg

  • .25 grams of protein/kg x 68 kg = 17 grams of proteinper meal

  • .30 grams of protein/kg x 68 kg = 20.4 grams of proteinper meal

  • .60 grams of protein/kg x 68 kg = 40.8 grams of protein pre-sleep

A 150-pound hard-training athlete should have a meal four times per day with 17-20 grams of protein per meal and a larger meal containing 40 grams of protein before bedtime. Breaking the protein intake up throughout the day is a key strategy for maximizing protein synthesis.


Ingesting large quantities of protein at one meal and very little at other meals does not appear to be effective, nor does eating mini-portions (2.5 grams of protein) frequently (10+ times) appear to be an effective strategy for maximizing muscle protein synthesis either.


Best Source 
Research has also shown that milk proteins are slightly better than soy proteins following exercise. The combination of whey and casein proteins in milk seem to be slightly more effective at promoting protein synthesis and suppressing muscle degradation following intense exercise than soy protein. After intense exercise, whey protein, found naturally in milk, cheese and yogurt, is critical in promoting muscle protein synthesis because of the amino acid, Leucine. 
It is important to note that the recommended protein intake is for athletes engaging in a hard or intense training cycle. During training that does not result in the breakdown of skeletal muscle it is generally recommended that athletes eat .8 grams of protein/kg of body weight per day.