Rocket Fish Swim Meet Preparation

What to Bring

For swimmers:

  • Sharpie marker for event numbers at check-in, heat/lane assignments during the meet
  • 2 towels
  • 2 caps (*every* swimmer must race with a RF cap and black suit)
  • 2 pairs of goggles (tinted for outdoor, sunny meets, clear for indoor)
  • 2 suits
  • Sunscreen/ chap stick
  • Swim parka
  • Money for concessions
  • Book to read, homework, games, etc. (sometimes there is a lot of waiting between events). Electronics with headphones (bring at own risk – breakage, lost, stolen).

For parents:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sharpie marker
  • A highlighter to mark swimmers’ events and lane assignments on the heat sheet
  • Portable folding chairs
  • An umbrella or poncho for protection from the rain. Remember swimming is not cancelled for rain unless there is lightning.
  • A cooler with drinks and food. Most of the time the host team has a concession stand, but the choices they have may not be what your swimmer likes to eat.
  • Food suggestions (see articles at end):
    • Cut up fruit/vegetables
    • Slices of lean ham or tuna, bagels, soda crackers, peanut butter sandwiches
    • Water. Good hydration is critical for swimmers at all times, but it is particularly important at meets, whether indoors or outdoors. Please encourage your swimmer to drink water before, after and throughout the meet. Occasional Gatorade is good too for electrolytes and a little sugar boost, but too much isn’t doing anything except add extra sugar. Food sugars, such as carbs and fruits are much better for metabolic energy needs.
    • It’s better to have a steady stream of smaller, healthy snacks throughout the meet than larger portions, unless you have a particularly long break.
    • “Carb loading” is not necessary the night before: eat healthy and balanced meals; in fact, kids can't actually physiologically benefit from carb loading as adults do (see below). In addition, carb loading is really reserved for races lasting more than an hour.

At the Meet

Arriving at the meet

Be prepared for parking to be crowded, so plan accordingly.

Find the check-in table – usually near the entrance of the pool – and check in for your events *BEFORE* team warmups. They will have you write the event numbers on your arm. *Parents* - swimmers must check in in-person; you cannot do it for them. You can stand with them, but they have to be there.

Please be on time for check-in and team warm-ups. This is an important part of preparing to compete, including the only time they get to be in the competition pool except for races.

What to do during the meet

After warmups, there will be a brief team meeting.

4-5 events before your event, start checking the Heat/Lane sheets – they will be posted somewhere around the pool – Boys and Girls on separate boards. Write your heat and lane next to your event number on your arm!  If you are new at this, ask your teammates to help you out!

Once you know your Heat and Lane, go see your coach by the coaches area and let them know – this is the only way they will know to watch your race! They will also give you tips about your race as well as any warmup information.

Get “behind the blocks”, ready to race, at least 5 heats before your race (depending on the length of the race – 50’s Heats go faster than 200 Heats). Make sure you have your cap and goggles.

For everything but backstroke, many swimmers put their cap over their goggles for races to help them stay on during the dive.

After your race – go see your coach again! They will give you tips about your race, and tell you what to do for cool down, and prep for next event.

Stay out of the sun – it drains your energy; not the time to work on your tan.

If you're waiting more than 45 min. for your next race, talk with your coach about another mid-meet warm-up.

For very young swimmers, they will, of course, need help with the above, but try to explain and teach what’s happening, so they can eventually do it themselves. Other parents are also very happy to help explain and walk you through.

Talking with meet officials and administrators. If you have questions or concerns about something that comes up at the meet regarding a race – check-in, heat, disqualification, etc. - please talk with a coach! Do not approach officials or the administrators with questions or concerns!

In certain circumstances, a swimmer will need to check in at the admin tent – please do not do this unless you have talked with a coach first.

Timing. In order to obtain official USA times, parent volunteers from all of the teams present are required to provide timers – this is an easy job, and actually a great seat on the action!

A computer starts the clock on each swimmer’s lane, but for the finish, there are three “pickles” (buttons) that the three timers for each lane will push as the swimmer finishes.

One of the timers will have a stop watch to start/stop each race for their lane. This is a backup watch, and also they give the time to the “clipboard” timer. The stopwatch timer also presses a pickle at the end of each race.

The clipboard timer presses a pickle and then writes down the time from the Stopwatch.

Watch this for 5 minutes, and you’ll have it down no problem.


The most important thing for new swimmers to do is have a fun and positive experience. It’s an accomplishment for them just to compete, especially in the beginning. Focus on the effort and the process, and don’t be concerned about results early on. Swimming takes time and consistency for success.

Disqualifications (DQ’s) – It happens; don’t stress. The coaches try to limit the kids in the beginning to events we feel that they can be successful in, but mistakes, nerves, etc. happen, and it happens to everyone at some point. The officials don’t give many breaks, but it is the best, fastest way for the kids to learn.


Carbohydrate Loading for Young Swimmers

It’s not uncommon to see teams of young swimmers filing into the local Italian restaurant to load up on pasta the night before a big meet. Or hear of parents planning to cook up a big meal with pasta, rice or potatoes at home. The common conception is that loading up on a high carbohydrate meal will prepare the muscles with a ready source of glycogen (stored carbohydrate in the muscle) the following day, usually a race day. As a result, the swimmer will avoid early muscle fatigue, low energy, and the big bonus: swim fast. 

So the thinking goes. 

The problem with the idea of carbohydrate loading in young athletes is that it is an approach based on what we know about the adult metabolism of carbohydrate. The reality is there is little scientific evidence supporting the benefit of this practice in children. 

Kids are not like adults when it comes to breaking down, utilizing, and storing carbohydrate. Young swimmers (and all child athletes) use fat more readily as an energy source, which is not the case for adults. Young swimmers have a limited ability to store large amounts of carbohydrate in their muscles. And females have less overall muscle mass compared to males, and therefore, less capacity for glycogen storage. 

Also, swimming on race day generally occurs in short, fast bursts. This limits the need for accessing glycogen and breaking it down, a need associated with prolonged exercise. And the truth is, we don’t have a lot of evidence that high carbohydrate intake during prolonged training is beneficial in young athletes, either. 

While this may go against what you have long believed about carbohydrate loading and general carbohydrate consumption for swimmers, rest assured, researchers still advise a daily high carbohydrate diet for young athletes. 

They just don’t support the idea that there is a benefit to carbohydrate loading for swimmers who are still growing. We do know that as children age, their ability to metabolize (process) carbohydrate becomes more adult-like. 

The healthiest and best approach to getting the carbohydrate needed for optimal swimming performance is to follow a training diet that is loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat dairy products. Just as important is getting the timing of eating regulated. Eat every 3 to 4 hours, so there is a steady supply of carbohydrate and nutrients to the muscles and brain. Nailing these two nutrition strategies will keep the young swimmer ready for competition without a need to “load” with carbohydrate-rich foods the night before a meet, or go above and beyond your normal healthy meal. 

When a Meal Is a Meal 

When I wrote Growing Swimmers May Need a 4th Meal, I noticed a lot of comments on USA Swimming’s Facebook page indicating that 4 meals wasn’t nearly enough food for a swimmer.

Take a peek at some of the comments:

More like six meals... I used to get out of morning practice and eat a whole Costco box of Honey Nut Cheerios. Then had to stop doing that and ate three eggs and toast before school. 4th meal before noon ;-) 5, 6 or 7 meals depending on the day! A FOURTH?! Try fifth, sixth... in fact, my swimmer eats all day long. 4 meals? That's a joke, right?

The comments spurred this article, something I hope clarifies what defines a meal, and how to go about planning ones that satisfy the young swimmer’s appetite and the associated nutrient needs for growth and sport. 

Young athletes should strive to eat a meal that contains at least 4 food groups. This ensures a wide variety of nutrients are provided, particularly protein and carbs, which helps keep the young athlete fueled for exercise and recovery, while covering his growth needs. 

The food groups are as follows:

Lean protein: beef, chicken or other poultry, pork, eggs, beans, fish, tofu, nuts and nut butters 

Dairy or non-dairy substitute: milk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, or soymilk, for instance

Vegetable: starchy (potato, corn, peas) or non-starchy (broccoli, green beans, lettuce); these can be in the form of fresh, frozen, canned, or juice

Fruit: any type; fresh, frozen, canned, or 100% juice

Grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, bread, muffins, bagels, crackers, pretzels, popcorn

Healthy Fats: olive oil, vegetable-based oils, avocado; nuts, seeds, and nut butters (these are also considered a source of protein)

Examples of a meal: 
    •    Chicken breast, baked potato with butter, broccoli, strawberries, glass of milk
    •    Spaghetti, meatballs and sauce, tossed salad, peaches, and milk
    •    Black beans, rice, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and avocado
Ideally, meals are anchored by a source of protein (lean meat, dairy/non-dairy substitute, or high protein grains), with complex carbohydrates (grains, fruit, vegetable, dairy) served alongside. 

Young swimmers have considerable energy needs—they are exercising and growing, after all. But it’s often the type or combinations of foods a young swimmer eats that stands in the way of being satisfied and energized. Hence, frequent eating may occur.

Thing about this: If a swimmer starts the day with a donut, when does he get hungry again? Does that donut keep him hunger-free until lunch?

Or, if the young swimmer has a healthy salad at lunch, will she feel energized throughout practice? 

Unfortunately, meals like toast for breakfast, salad for lunch, or plain pasta for dinner, usually don’t offer lasting fuel for the swimmer, nor do they cover hunger. 

And, if a meal is sub-par, then hunger may set in earlier than usual, requiring more eating to feel satisfied and energized.

Athletes can cover hunger and energy needs better by including most of the food groups at mealtime, making sure to include a good source of protein.

Many kids think a bowl of pasta is a meal, but it isn’t sufficient to cover hunger, or perhaps even energy and nutrient needs. Pasta is a grain (a carbohydrate), and can be utilized by the body quickly, especially if the athlete is exercising. Throw some tomato sauce, a chicken breast, a variety of veggies, or a few meatballs on top-- then pasta better delivers the nutrition an athlete needs.

Every young athlete is different in his or her growth, swimming level, exercise demands, appetite, and more, and because of this, what satisfies one athlete’s appetite and nutritional needs may be different from the next athlete. 

Try an appetite assessment: Start the day with a full breakfast, including 2 hard-boiled or scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, and milk. Take note of how long it takes to get hungry. Compare that breakfast to a day started with cereal and milk. How do these different breakfasts stack up against each other? How does a breakfast with protein and a variety of food groups compare to a granola bar or a bowl of cereal? 

Swimmers can do the same experiment with lunch and dinner, and even snacks. The point is to figure out which meal combinations keep the swimmer’s appetite satisfied for the longest and energizes him for exercise. 

What goes into meals can be the perfect antidote to constant eating, unrelenting hunger, and low energy in the pool.

Are your meals doing the job they should be doing—keeping your appetite satisfied for three to four hours, and covering the calories and nutrients the young swimmer needs to grow and perform?

Recovery: A Crucial Component for Successful Swimming
The Professionals at Hammer Nutrition | January 3, 2011

Training causes physical stress and depletion. Recovery is when adaptation to that stress occurs; it involves improvements in muscle tissue rebuilding, glycogen storage, and immune system functioning. After a hard swim practice your body is basically saying, “If there’s another workout like this tomorrow, I’d better be prepared.”
It’s up to you to provide the nutrition your body is crying out for, and when you do give your body what it needs as soon as possible after a swim workout or race, it will respond wonderfully in the following ways:
    •    Your body will be able to store more and more of a premium, ready-to-use fuel known as muscle glycogen.
    •    You will strengthen, not weaken, your immune system.
    •    You will “kick start” the rebuilding of muscle tissue.
Bottom line: You can really give yourself a major advantage in all of your swim practices, and especially on race day, if you'll take the time to put some quality nutrition into your body as soon as possible after all of your workouts.

What to Do
Replenish your body with complex carbohydrates within the first 60 minutes after all of your workouts – When you begin a swim practice or race, the primary fuel your body uses for the first 60–90 minutes or so is known as muscle glycogen. You've got a finite amount of this premium fuel, but its importance can't be overstated. In fact, several studies have shown that the pre–exercise muscle glycogen level is the most important energy determinant for exercise performance. Needless to say, to have a good swim workout or race, you need to start with a full load of muscle–stored glycogen; athletes who have more of this readily available fuel in their bodies have a definite advantage. The good news is that you can substantially increase your glycogen storage capacity through the process of training and replenishing. Here’s how:
Along with insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels of ingested carbohydrates, an enzyme known as glycogen synthase converts carbohydrates from food into glycogen and stores it in muscle cells. This also drives the muscle repair and rebuilding process. However, to maximize the recovery process, you need to take advantage of glycogen synthase when it's most active. Carbohydrate replenishment as soon as possible after exercise, when the body is most receptive to carbohydrate uptake, maximizes both glycogen synthesis and storage. Glycogen synthesis from carbohydrate intake takes place most rapidly the first hour after exercise, remains fairly active perhaps another hour, and then occurs at diminished levels for up to 4–6 hours longer. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin demonstrated that glycogen synthesis was highest when subjects were given carbohydrates immediately after exercise.
Bottom line: Your swim workout or race truly isn’t over, not until you’ve put some high-quality carbohydrates back into your body as soon as possible after their completion. Give post-workout refueling as much importance as what you do in the actual swim practice or race and you will most assuredly reap noticeably positive benefits.

Include Protein
Be sure to include protein, along with complex carbohydrates, in your post-workout/race fuel or meal – Carbohydrate intake promotes many aspects of post–exercise recovery, but it can't do the job alone; you need protein as well. Protein in your post–workout fuel provides these benefits:
    •    Raw materials to rebuild stressed muscles – Whey protein isolate is the premier protein source of the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs – leucine, isoleucine, valine) used for muscle tissue repair.
    •    Enhanced glycogen storage – Numerous studies have shown that the consumption of carbohydrates plus protein, versus carbohydrates alone, is a superior way to maximize post–exercise muscle glycogen synthesis.
    •    Immune system maintenance – We strongly recommend whey protein isolate, with its high levels of amino acids that spur the production of glutathione, arguably the most potent antioxidant there is.

Resupply Vitamins and Minerals
Resupply your body with vitamins, minerals and (especially) antioxidants – After a tough workout or race your body is begging for nutrient support. You’ve depleted it, now you must replenish!
As important, if not more so, however, is the consumption of a wide variety of antioxidants, which help protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals (of which there are several types) are unstable atoms or molecules, usually of oxygen, containing at least one unpaired electron. Left unchecked, free radicals seek out and literally steal electrons from whole atoms or molecules, creating a destructive chain reaction. Excess free radicals, in the words of one nutritional scientist, “are capable of damaging virtually any biomolecule, including proteins, sugars, fatty acids, and nucleic acids.”
Those words should sound the alarm bells loud and clear, because as a swimmer you consume huge amounts of oxygen and metabolize far greater amounts of calories than a sedentary person does. This means that you're generating free radicals on the order of 12–20 times more than non–athletes! During periods of peak swim training periods and racing stress, free radical production increases even more. While the benefits of your swim training sessions and races far outweigh the potential negatives caused by free radicals, excess free radical production and accumulation, if not properly resolved, may very well be a swimmer’s worst foe. The human body can oxidize and decay, like rusting steel, from excess free radical production. Not only can this negate everything that you've worked so hard to achieve in your swim training, but it can also result in severe consequences to your overall health.

Remember, how well you recover today greatly determines how well you'll perform tomorrow. The fact is that swimmers who attend to the recovery process as much as they do to active training have a distinct advantage over those who disregard or neglect it. Therefore, if you want to reap the benefits out of all the time and energy you put into your training, as soon as possible after you finish your workout—ideally within the first 60 minutes—it's crucial for you to replenish your body with adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates, whey protein isolate, and supplementary vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of antioxidants.

Pre-exercise fuel recommendations
    •    Eat a pre-race meal of 200-400 calories at least three hours before exercise.
    •    Focus on complex carbs, starches, and a little protein for your pre-race meal.
    •    Avoid high fiber, simple sugars, and high fat in your pre-race meal.
    •    If you must, consume a small amount of your supplemental fuel (Hammer Gel, etc.) about five minutes before exercise.
    •    Make sure that you re-supply your muscle glycogen by eating a good recovery meal after your workouts.

Any of these pre-race meal suggestions will keep you in the preferred 200-400 calorie range:
    •    One white flour bagel and a half cup of active yogurt
    •    A banana and a cup of active yogurt
    •    Cream of Rice
    •    Half of a skinless baked potato topped with a half cup of plain active yogurt