Nutrition Guide

Nutrition and hydration are important elements to any high performance athlete especially swimmers.   Competitive swimming is a demanding sport which requires special needs.  Below is a list of recommendations provided by USA Swimming. 

       Example Nutrition Tips:



Hydration- Swimmers need to stay hydrated during practice as well replenishment after practice.  

  • “If you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.”  Be proactive in hydration
  • Stay Hydrated during practice - Bring a water bottle
    • Water only if practice is 1 hr or less, sports drink if practice is more than 1 hour.
    • Drink 3-8 oz every 20 minutes during practice
  • Pre/Post Workout Weight Loss-  Drink 16 oz for every pound lost
  • Urine color is a good indication of proper hydration. Color chart

Protein  Protein is a necessary part of every child’s diet. It is fundamental for organ function, new tissue development and the repair of muscle damage. Children need protein to stay healthy and grow.

  • The average child, aged 9-13 years, needs about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Youth swimmers and other young athletes have a slightly higher protein requirement and need about 0.5-0.7 grams per pound of body weight, depending on age and gender.
  • 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. 
  •  Milk, yogurt, cheese, milk-or yogurt smoothies, eggs, turkey, chicken, lean beef and pork, nuts, seeds and beans and peas are all good sources of protein
  • Good protein sources for vegan athletes include brown rice, protein-enriched pasta (like Barilla Plus protein and omega-3-enriched pasta), nuts, tofu, soy milk and soy cheese and soy yogurt, tempeh, peanut butter and beans and peas (black beans, kidney beans, black-eyed peas and lentils).

Iron Swimmers need adequate iron for performance. Iron is the key part of the blood protein hemoglobin. Its job is to pick up oxygen from the lungs and transport it to working muscles. Without enough hemoglobin your muscles don’t get enough oxygen.

  • Lean beef in spaghetti sauce, tuna chunks in pasta salad, fish tacos, or a chicken drumstick all contain the most absorbable form of iron.
  • Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is a potent enhancer of iron absorption. It can change iron to a more absorbable form—up to three times more iron can be absorbed when food is eaten with a good source of Vitamin C.

Calcium There is one golden opportunity for building bone and optimize bone health and that occurs in the first two decades of life.

  • Unfortunately, young swimmers are swimming against the current when it comes to bone health. Swimming is a non-impact sport, and according to a literature review in 2011 by Tenforde et al, is not associated with improvements in bone health. This makes optimal calcium intake, as well as the consumption of other important bone nutrients, and participation in other impact-loading exercises, more critical to healthy bone formation. 
  • During the period of childhood and adolescence (ages 9-18 years), the needs for calcium are at their highest in life, a level of 1300 milligrams per day Romano cheese: 452 mg per 1 ½ ounce
    • Ready-to-eat cereals, calcium fortified: 100 – 1,000 mg per ½ cup
    • Orange juice, calcium fortified: 500 mg per 1 cup
    • Soy beverage, calcium fortified: 80 – 500 mg per ½ cup
    • Plain non-fat yogurt: 452 mg per 1 cup
    • Low fat fruited yogurt: 338 – 384 mg per 1 cup
    • Mozzarella cheese: 333 mg per 1½ ounces
    • Low fat milk: 305 mg per 1 cup
    • Low fat chocolate milk: 290 mg per 1 cup
    • Soft serve vanilla frozen yogurt: 105 mg per 1 cup

CarbohydratesCarbohydrates supply important nutrients and a critical energy source for the young swimmer

  • Carbohydrates are categorized as simple (sugar) or complex (starch and fiber). Foods such as grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy products are complex carbohydrates and desirable for the athlete.
  • The more complex the source, the longer it takes to digest and absorb, making glucose available to the muscles over a longer period. 
  • Simple carbohydrate sources, such as a sports drink, can be beneficial before and during training or competition.
  • Complex sources are the foundation foods from daily meals and snacks, keeping muscles, brain and body well fueled.
  • During moderate- to high-intensity training for 1 to 3 hours/day, aim for 2.7-4.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. On low volume training days or rest days, decrease carb intake to 2.3-3.1 grams per pound. 
  • Max on complex carbohydrate foods and minimize the simple ones—not only will the young swimmer be set for training and competition everyday, he’ll get a healthy dose of good nutrition too. 
    • Eat an array of fruit and vegetables, targeting 5 servings (1 cup) each day. 
    • Incorporate starchy (potato and other root vegetables) and non-starchy vegetables into meals and snacks. 
    • Eat whole grains (cereal, bread, pasta, rice, crackers) over refined grains, at least half of the time. 
    • Drink and eat low-fat dairy products (or dairy substitutes), targeting 3 cups each day. 
    • Scale back on desserts, candy, processed snacks, soda and other sweetened beverages—keep it to one or two servings (or less) each day. 
    • Strategically use sports drinks during training and competition, not as an accompaniment to a meal or snack. 
  • Breakfast Skipping breakfast is a bad idea. 
  • Breakfast offers a host of nutrients the growing swimmer needs, not only for growth and development, but also for muscle repair (protein) and replenishing energy in muscles (carbohydrate). Other nutrients, like iron and calcium, help the swimmer avoid fatigue and build bones, respectively.
    • If solid food causes cramps or other discomfort before swimming, focus on a liquid breakfast: smoothies, an instant breakfast drink, milk or non-dairy substitute, kefir, a packaged yogurt drink, or 100% fruit juice. Liquid breakfasts will be digested faster than a solid breakfast. 
    • If you have the time, and jumping in the pool happens later in the day, eat a well-balanced breakfast: cereal, milk and fruit; eggs, toast and 100% fruit juice; bagel, peanut butter and milk; or yogurt, granola, nuts and berries. 
  • SmoothiesSmoothies are a great choice for swimmers because they provide nutrient-rich carbohydrates to fuel muscles before a workout and can rapidly replace lost muscle glycogen after a workout. 
  • Milk - While milk may not have the amped up marketing of other protein-rich drinks, milk has many benefits for swimmers .
    • Researchers think that not only are the proteins in milk beneficial, but that also a liquid source of protein is superior to a solid protein when it comes to muscle building.
    • Fat-free milk has the same nutrients as whole, 2% fat milk and flavored milk. The sugar in low-fat chocolate milk isn’t has high as you might think…flavored milk contributes only 3% of added sugars to the diet of young people, far less than other sugar sweetened beverages like tea, soft drinks, lemonade or fruit punch. 
    • There are some athletes who are allergic to milk and for those athletes, soy milk provides a good source of protein that can contribute to muscle growth but not as rapidly as dairy milk.
  • Eating Guidlines - A swimmer's diet should vary depending on the level of activity in a day.  
    • Easy Day - More fruits & veggies, less carbs.
    • Moderate Day - Proteins, Carbs, Fruis Veggies 
    • Hard Day - More carbs 
  • Recovery Nutrition - Follow the 4 Rs for Recovery Nutrition after hard workouts. 
    • Re-hydrate with fluids and electrolytes 
    • Replenish muscle glycogen stores with carbohydrates
    • Repair and regenerate muscle tissue with high quality protein
    • Reinforce your immune system with nutritious, fresh foods (e.g., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, olive oil)


How to talk to your atheletes about nutrition