What Is a Healthy Diet for a Swimmer?
Nutrition is often the one part of most swimmers training that gets neglected. Your body needs a well-balanced diet to stay healthy and energetic. But if you are a swimmer, you will need a diet that supports a higher level of physical activity by boosting your energy, immunity and muscle strength. A poor diet not only affects your performance, but it can expose you to health complications. Of course, you can manage to do your training without giving nutrition a second thought, your body is pretty efficient at turning whatever you eat into usable fuel, however, the right combination of foods can boost your energy levels and keep those levels high for longer. If you fuel your body with good nutrition, over time you will feel and perform better.
Water is a crucial part of your diet as a swimmer. Because your body does not make or store water, you must replace what you lose through sweat and urine to avoid dehydration. Drink water before, during and after training without having to wait to feel thirsty. By the time you feel thirsty, your body will have lost about 2 percent of its weight, which can affect your performance. While everyone should drink at least eight cups of water every day, a swimmer requires more. Dehydration can cause overheating and fatigue. Take a look at our Hydration Guide for more information on how much and what to drink.
Vitamins & Minerals:
Swimming is a strenuous activity that requires muscle health and strength. Vitamins and minerals boost your immunity and aid in energy production. For example, your body needs the B vitamins for energy. Vitamins B-1 and B-2 help your body produce energy, and they affect the enzymes that influence your muscle, heart and nerves functions. Deficiency of some B vitamins can result in muscle cramps, tiredness and loss of appetite. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, and it protects you against free radicals, which can cause disease. Also, minerals play a significant role in your performance. Iron carries oxygen to all cells of your body, and calcium improves your bone health and muscle function.
Carbohydrates provide your body with 40 percent to 50 percent of your energy requirements in the early stages of moderate exercise. Eating a diet that provides 70 percent of your calorie intake from carbohydrates three days before a competition can help boost your endurance. Also, choosing whole grains over refined starches protects you against energy lags; whole grains have a low glycemic index, and your body absorbs the sugars slowly for lasting energy. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat bread, oats, whole-grain rice and cereal (be careful not to choose a sugar laden cereal, not all cereals are equal). For general training needs, you require 2.2 to 3 grams of carbohydrates per pound of your body weight. Endurance athletes need up to 4.5 grams per pound of body weight.
Your body needs proteins to build new tissues. The amount of protein your body requires depends on the intensity and duration of your exercise. If you are a competitive swimmer, you require 0.5 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. Sources of animal protein include poultry, meat, eggs, dairy and fish. Vegetable proteins include quinoa, tofu, beans, peas, seeds, nuts (including nut milks) and leafy greens. Eating protein in excess of your body's needs is unnecessary; the body stores excess protein as fat.
Breakfast in an important part of a swimmers diet. A healthy breakfast replenishes your glycogen levels – the stored form of glucose – which may be a bit low after sleeping. Start fueling your muscles with energy earlier in the day to avoid an energy slump and decreased physical activity. It is equally important to eat foods that contain good fats such as peanuts, avocados, olives and walnuts. Your total fat intake should be between 20 percent to 35 percent of your total energy intake.