By Jill Castle, Registered Dietitian & Child Nutrition Expert
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.
a USA Swimming
Sports Medicine and Science Series
Everything you do influences your performance, but your food choices have the most effect due to the long term and short term benefits. A proper diet, including proper selection of foods, will help your training and performance while also achieving a healthy lifestyle once you stop competing.
To help ensure a balanced diet, remember that there are no magical nutrition remedies. So forget the fads and eat a variety of wholesome foods from the four food groups--milk, meat, fruits & vegetables, and grains. Foods in these groups provide protein, fat carbohydrate, fiber and all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Your ideal diet should include the following percentage of calories:
This nutrition series is designed to help you better understand good nutrition and to provide guidelines for ideal food choices. Within sports, there are four major periods that nutrition will impact.
1. Training represents the period in which athletes spend most of their time. Therefore, this category represents the most critical period. During this time, a diet high in carbohydrates is important. This is important since it is not uncommon for athletes training 4-6 hours a day to burn 2500 to 4000 calories a day. The best way to replenish these calories is with a high carbohydrate diet. By being conscious of this and by taking high carbohydrate foods or dring in the first 30 minutes following a workout, you can minimize depletion of energy stores.
2. The major purpose of the pre-event diet is to ensure sufficient energy and fluid for the athlete. Two to three days before competition, a high carbohydrate diet with plenty of fluids should be emphasized. The pre-event meal should include light, high carbohydrate meal three to four hours before the event.
Nutrition During Competition
3. Provided that good nutrition practices were followed during training, middle distance and sprint events will not be limited by nutrition-related factors. During a three to four day competition, make sure you consume plenty of fluids and each meal should include high carbohydrate, lot fat selections.
Nutrition After Competition
4. High intensity work will deplete the muscle's energy supplies. Therefore, carbohydrates play an important role after competition to make sure energy stores are maintained.
The best food choices include a well balanced, mixed diet with choices from each of the four food groups. You can get all the nutrients you need by selecting a variety of foods in the recommended serving size from each of the following food groups.
Fresh, Frozen, Canned, Dried and Juiced Fruits and Vegetables (Vitamins and Carbohydrates)
8 or More
Cereals, Breads, Rolls, Pasta, Muffins, Pancakes (Carbohydrates and Miinerals)
8 or More
Cakes, Cookies, Pies, Candy, Soft Drinks, Chips (Carbohydrates and Fat)
ONLY if you need additional calories AFTER selections from above
Fast Food Nutrition (??)
Yes! "Fast Food" restaurants play an important role in the diets of athletes on the go. Today, these restaurants can provide a viable source of good nutrition--but the choice is yours and selection is critical. Here are some guidelines to make wise choices:
Fat content must be watched when selecting menu items. If you see one of the following words, try to make another selection:
Fried, Crispy, Breaded, Scampi Style, Creamed, Buttery, Au Gratin, Gravy.
Selection adjectives that are good include:
Marinara, Steamed, Boiled, Broiled, Tomato Sauce, In Its Own Juice, Poached, Charbroiled.
Depending on the restaurant you go to, here are some timps when selecting foods:
Mexican - Choose pot beans instead of refried beans and chicken or bean burritos and tostados. Ask for baked, soft corn totillas instead of deep fried shells. Salsa is fine, but watch your chip intake.
Intalian - Pasta with marinara sauce is good but watch alfredo sauces. Pizza, plain or with vegetables, is a good choice. Bread is good (watch the butter). Low-fat italian ices are better than rich dessert choices.
Chinese - Stir fried and steamed dishes, like chicken & vegetables and rice, are good choices. Minimize fried egg roll intake or avoid all together.
Burger Places - Salad bars are great but watch the dressing. Look for grilled burgers, hold the mayonnaise and go light on the cheese. Watch your french fry intake (select a baked potato with a little butter if you can) and go easy on the milk shakes.
Breakfast Cafes - Always ask for butter on the side of pancakes, toast, muffins, etc. Select fresh fruit, juices and whole-grain breads and muffins.
Fast Food Choices
Listed below are a partial list of fast foods and their calorie & fat content. When selecting, always go with the low fat choice.
Ham, Chs.., Mushrm, Omelet
French Toast (2 slices)
Sausage with Biscuit
Pizza (3 slices of 12 inch pizza)
Quarter Pound Burger
Quarter Pound Cheeseburger
Baked, Cheese & Broccoli
Whopper with Cheese
Baked with Cheese
Chicken Nuggets, 6300
Chicken Salad Sandwich
Chicken Team Sandwich
Miilk and Miilk Shakes
Soft Serve Cone
Nutrition Do's & Dont's
Carbohydrate intake is important during every stage of nutrition. For each meal and snack, follow these Do's and Don'ts for wise food choices during training.
Eat hot cereals like oatmeal or oat bran.
Select whole-grain or high fiber cold cereals.
Eat breads, including muffins, biscuits and bagels.
Try milk, skim or lowfat is best.
Choose fruit, including fresh, canned and fruit juices.
Drink hot beverages such as hot chocolate and hot
Eat pancakes, waffles and french toast.
Choose eggs up to two or three times weekly.
Choose fat-free toppings like syrups and jams as an
alternative to butter
Eat sausage, ham or bacon more than once or twice weekly.
Opt for eggs every day.
Choose sugary children's cereals.
Choose fast food breakfast sandwiches and fat-laden croissants every day.
Use too much margarine or butter.
Eat doughnuts or pastries daily.
Pack a lunch when possible.
Choose whole-grain breads
Choose lean meats like turkey over salamii or bologna.
Use mustard and ketchup as condiments.
Choose a hamburger over hot dogs.
Choose a baked potato over french fries.
.Eat pasta as much as you like, but choose tomato sauces rather than cream sauces.
Try pizza without fatty meat toppings.Eat hearty soups and stews.
East fast-food meals too frequently.
East fried foods like fish 'n' chips too frequently.
Overuse condiments like mayonnaise or salad dressings.