What to eat as a swimmer?
Below you can find articles written by Chris Rosenbloom

Chris Rosenbloom is a professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University and provides sports nutrition consulting services to athletes of all ages. She is the editor-in-chief of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Sports Nutrition Manual, 5th edition and editor-in-chief of an online Sports Nutrition Care Manual for health care professionals. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches. Email her at


Carbohydrate is the primary fuel for active muscles. Without adequate carbohydrate in your daily diet, you will find it hard to sustain hard training, and the outcome can be poor performance during a meet. To be sure, there are some carbohydrate-rich foods that are healthier than others and some foods we classify as carbohydrates are higher in fat than carbs (pastries, doughnuts, and biscuits to name a few).

Sports nutritionists try to educate swimmers to have enough carbohydrate availability to support daily training. The amount of carbohydrate you need changes as your training and competition schedule changes. 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. Spread your carbohydrate intake over the entire day to make sure carbohydrate is available for training sessions.

Try these quality carbs to fuel your muscles and your brain (your  brain’s preferred fuel is the carbohydrate, glucose).

• Fresh fruit of any kind is mostly simple sugar, but that sugar is diluted with water and also contains vitamins and minerals. Choose in-season fruits for the best taste and price. When drinking juice, look for 100% fruit juice versus fruit drinks that are higher in added sugars.

• Veggies of all kinds. Salad greens to starchy white and sweet potatoes are healthy carbohydrates. A baked white or sweet potato will be healthier than fries or chips (yes, sweet potato fries may sound healthier, but are comparable to fried white potatoes). And, if your broccoli contains more cheese sauce than vegetable, you might reconsider the sauce.

• Whole grains like brown or wild rice, whole wheat bread and pasta, and hot and cold cereals can help you meet your carbohydrate needs. While we encourage whole grains, you only need to make half of your grains whole, so if you don’t like brown rice, white rice is OK and is better than fried rice.

Dairy foods may be thought of as a high protein food, but milk and yogurt also contain a less sweet carbohydrate, lactose, so a glass of milk or a carton of yogurt provides quality carbs along with protein, vitamins and minerals.

• Other quality carbs include dried and frozen fruits, frozen fruit bars, fruit or yogurt smoothies, vegetable juices, canned fruits in juice, flatbreads, graham crackers, beans (kidney beans, black beans, baked beans etc.), peas (black-eyed peas, green peas, etc.), and popcorn.



Can Nutrition Help Muscle Cramps? Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD

A young swimmer asked if there were any nutritional strategies that prevented muscle cramps. If you have experienced the pain of an exercise-induced muscle cramp, you might just try anything to avoid another cramp. Sucking on mustard packets from the local fast food joint to swallowing pickle juice have all been reported to be miracle cures for cramping. One report found that 25% of athletic trainers suggest pickle juice for immediate relief. Muscle cramps have plagued not only athletes, but those who do hard, physical work in hot and humid conditions, like coal miners. But, while cramps are not uncommon in active folks, the reason for cramping remains in question. There are generally two theories on cramping and neither theory has been proven beyond a doubt to be the cause.

The first theory is that cramps are related to dehydration and loss of the electrolyte, sodium, especially in hot and humid environments. That is where mustard and pickle juice come in...both are concentrated sources of sodium. One study compared pickle juice to sports drinks, but did not show that pickle juice elevated blood sodium levels quickly enough to relieve cramps, yet some athletes do report relief. Another problem with this theory is that cramps occur in cool weather conditions or while swimming in cooler water, so there is more to cramping than just hot weather conditions. Lastly, not every athlete who cramps is dehydrated.

The second theory is that cramps are caused by an imbalance in nerve signals to muscles, sometimes called the neuromuscular theory. Cramps tend to occur more frequently at the end of competition or hard physical work when the muscle is tired. Rest and stretching the cramping muscle are the treatment options based on this theory.

So, where does that leave the cramping swimmer? It still makes sense to ensure good hydration and have adequate salt intake. While it may not be the sole cause of cramps, dehydration can affect performance, and severe dehydration can result in life threatening heat illness. Research with football and tennis players have found that those athletes who have a high sweat rate and high sodium losses in sweat (the “heavy and salty sweater”) are cramp-prone. So, try these tips and see if they help reduce cramps:

  • Monitor your body weight by weighing before and after practice. If you lose more than 2% of your body weight (for example, a 150-pound swimmer who loses more than 3 pounds in a workout has lost over 2% of his body weight) try drinking about a liter (4 cups) of a sports drink 1 hour before your workout.

  • Add about 1/3 teaspoon of salt to a liter of sports drink (shake well) to make your own endurance formula sports drink.

  • Consume higher sodium foods or beverages in your pre-workout meal or snack; try chicken noodle or tomato soup, beef or turkey jerky, tomato juice, salted pretzels or baked chips.

  • Drink sports drink during your workout; keep a sports bottle handy and drink a few swallows when you can.




BY CHRIS ROSENBLOOM, PHD,RD, CSSD nutrition contributor, Jill Castle, recently published “Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School” (Jossey-Bass publisher, 2013), and I asked her to offer her top tips for feeding teen swimmers. Many of our readers are looking for sound nutrition advice with practical tips for families of active swimmers and this book is the go-to source.

With parents and teen athletes on different schedules, how can the family eat meals together so that mom and dad aren’t short order cooks?
“Start by checking everyone’s schedule for the week, and I’ll bet you can find at least two or three meals the whole family can enjoy together,” says Castle.

It might be breakfast or a weekend dinner, but look for opportunities to eat together. Plan the menu and announce the plan to your family. Tell them they are expected to be present, and if plans change, Castle suggests a pre-plated meal for the absent person that can be reheated in the microwave or oven.

How can parents limit fast food consumption?

Castle suggests several strategies to curb unhealthy fast food choices. First, help your teen learn about healthier fast food items so he can make good choices most of the time. Visit the restaurant’s website or download an app to encourage choosing grilled items, yogurt parfaits, wraps or egg sandwiches. Second, have healthy, quick items within easy reach in your fridge. Yogurt, smoothies, low-fat milk, veggies and dip, and mixed fruit cups should be grab-and-go items for teens,” Castle says. In addition, keep trail mix, nuts, and dried fruit available for quick after practice snacks.

What can a parent do to get a teenage girl to get adequate calcium if she won’t drink milk?
If your teen doesn’t drink milk, look for other good sources of calcium that she will include in her diet. Castle suggests calcium- fortified orange juice, yogurt smoothies, cheese, pudding or ice cream. Other calcium-rich foods include almonds, soy nuts, tofu and cooked greens. Also consider why your teen won’t drink milk. Is it lactose intolerance or another issue? Soy milk, rice milk and almond milk are all fortified with calcium, and your teen might like these alternatives better than dairy milk.

With heavy practice schedules and schoolwork, how can parents help swimmers get enough calories?
“Structure a meal and snack plan,” Castle says. The plan should include 3 meals and 3 snacks each day. Experiment with free phone apps that help athletes track food intake, and set the phone to beep for reminders to eat throughout the day. Castle recommends powerhouse foods that contain both carbohydrate and protein for pre- and post-workout snacks to refuel tired muscles. “Peanut butter on whole grain bread, a banana and a cheese stick” contain high quality nutrients for fueling.



The two most frequently asked questions I get from swimmers (and parents of swimmers) are, “Can you provide a detailed food plan for me (or my swimmer)?” and “Where can I learn more about nutrition for swimmers?”

The first question, providing a food plan, is best referred to a local sports dietitian nutritionist who is licensed in the state where the swimmer lives. A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who has sports nutrition expertise (credentialed as a certified sports dietitian or CSSD) can provide an individualized nutrition plan to meet growth and development demands of young swimmers while supporting training and competition.

The RDN can also ensure that energy needs are met with the best ratio of carbohydrate, protein and fat with adequate vitamins and minerals tailored to the age, gender and activity of a swimmer.

While many personal trainers try to provide nutrition advice, it is often outside the scope of their practice and training. In my 25+ years of experience as a sports dietitian, it is my opinion that personal trainers just don’t have the depth of knowledge in nutrition to provide nutrition consulting to athletes.

To find a qualified sports nutritionist, connect to the website of Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition (SCAN) and search in the “Find a SCAN RD” window. The website for SCAN is

The second question on finding resources is easy. However, don’t just “Google” sports nutrition, because you may get a lot of links to websites trying to sell you supplements you don’t need. Try these resources instead. For books, check out these recommendations:

Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, 5th edition, published by Human Kinetics (2014 copyright).

Suzanne Girard Eberle’s Endurance Sports Nutrition, 3rd edition, published by Human Kinetics (2014 copyright).

Jill Castle’s Fearless Feeding, published by Jossey-Bass, (2013 copyright), and author of sports nutrition articles on this website.

For online resources, check out the United States Olympic Committee’s sports nutrition resources at Development/Sport-Performance/Nutrition. You will find many resources here including videos, recipes, and athlete eating guidelines. I especially like the athlete’s plates – a quick visual on what to eat on easy, moderate or hard days of training.

SCAN has free sports nutrition fact sheets on a wide range of topics at

sheets/ and mom and dad may also want to look at the handouts on the cardiovascular and wellness sites of SCAN.

The Australian Institute of Sport has been a leader in sports nutrition for Australian athletes. You don’t have to go down under to take advantage of their expertise; just go to to see the many free resources to help you with a healthy eating plan and to learn more about good nutrition.