Nutrition for Swimmers

Originally this was a power point made for coaches and swimmers we knew who had questions about proper nutrition. Feel free to share with your team. (Full article to come).

Nutrition for Swimmers
(and their parents) 

The Goal

1. Need to refuel the muscle’s sugar storage as much as possible after every workout

2. Need to avoid sending sugar to fat cells instead of muscle

3. Need to schedule the right foods around workout and competition

4. Controlling body weight the correct way

5. Keeping gut bacteria happy and micro-nutrients


A good Balance

  • Protein: 10-35%
  • Fat: 20-35%
  • Carbs: 45-65%
    • BUT… not all carbs are the same
    • And… they have different effects at different times


If you zone out… remember this

  • Eating food that is good for you is all that matters
  1. The faster something spoils, the better it is for you
    1. Milk and veggies vs chips and jam
  2. The longer it takes to make it, the better it is for you
    1. Pot roast vs microwaving a pre-made frozen meal


Protein… simple

  • Not used for fuel (for the most part)
  • Swimmers don’t need to bulk
  • So really don’t need to adjust in a swimmer’s diet
  • Can be useful in refueling the liver since protein can be converted to sugar there. And Sugar from liver maintains blood sugar during exercise.
If you wanna be fancy (but not necessary):

    1. Protein use is highest during the first two weeks of the season before your body is in shape

    2. Increase intake from 1 to 2.0 grams/kilogram/day for first 2 wks



    • Used a lot as fuel in swimming
    • Basically unlimited supply is available (even in skinny kids), so we don’t need to increase our intake, especially since carbs and proteins can be converted to fat if we overdose on those
    1. Stay away from the trans fats:
      1. These are synthetic fats that have no use in the body
    2. Limit Saturated fats: Bacon, coconut oil, fat in milk and red meat
    3. Feel free to eat up mono and poly-unsaturated fats: Olive oil, fat in nuts, avocados


    Where to find bad fats

    • Cakes, pies and cookies (especially with frosting) Most cake and cookies
    • Biscuits
    • Breakfast sandwiches
    • Margarine (stick or tub)
    • Crackers
    • Microwave popcorn
    • Cream-filled candies
    • Doughnuts.
    • Fried Fast food
    • Frozen pizza


    Carbs (aka… sugar)

    • Swimming workouts burn carbs, and you only have a limited amount in muscles
    • At the end of workout, we need to refuel the muscles as quick as possible
    • But the wrong carbs at the wrong time will refuel fat cells instead of muscles= bad

    We can control where the sugar goes by understanding:
    1. Insulin
    2. Glycemic index
    3. Workout loopholes
    Hint: fructose has no use in the body and 90% eaten will turn into fat no matter what, so avoid at all costs!


    Insulin gives permission for muscles/fat to take sugar out of blood


    Insulin is bad…mkay

    • Sending half the sugar we eat to fat cells is not going to help in the next workout
      • Need to maximize getting sugar to the muscles

    • Different foods will cause a different rise in insulin
      • Measuring that is called the glycemic index (GI)


    Glycemic index measures how fast blood sugars rise, and therefore how high insulin rises


    Foods by glycemic index


    FYI: Glycemic index vs. Glycemic load

    • The glycemic index is measured by feeding people 50g of carbs from a food and measuring the effect on blood sugar
    • This does not take into account how much actual sugar is in each serving
    • That means even though watermelon has a glycemic index of 72, each serving has so little sugar, you would half to eat the whole melon to get any rise in sugar.
    • Combining gi and sugar per serving is called: glycemic load

    • Since swimmers overeat just about everything, we can simplify the world and just focus on glycemic index


    The workout loophole:
    Muscles can “steal” sugar out of the blood without permission from insulin if working out!



    Carbs summary

    • Insulin is bad
    • Sugar raises insulin
      • High glycemic index foods raise insulin more, causing fatness and muscles don’t get the sugar they need
    • Insulin can be avoided by eating low glycemic index foods or by eating high glycemic index foods during and right after workout (like… within 30 min of getting out of the water)


    Meal planning: 3 meals 3 snacks

    • Knowing what we learned and running doubles… Let’s schedule 3 meals and 3 snacks per day to fuel

    • The pattern:
    1. High glycemic liquids during workout
    2. Medium glycemic foods after workout
    3. Lower glycemic foods the further away from workout
    4. No junk food: garbage in = garbage out


    1. Wake up for morning practice
    2. Snack 1: refueling liver
      1. 30-60 min before hitting water
      2. Liquid snack of low to medium GI food focusing on carbs and caffeine
      3. Breakfast shake, apple, orange (not juice… the real fruit please)
    3. Morning workout
      1. Sugar drinks (super high GI) after warmup and throughout workout.
      2. Between exiting the pool and hitting the shower, another big bottle of sugar drink
      3. (hard candy, chocolate, fruit rollups… they are ok here, but only before showering)
    4. Meal 1: Breakfast
      1. Balanced meal with medium GI carbs, protein and fats
      2. Eggs, bacon, oatmeal, milk…
      3. No juices! We are gonna be done with those. NO doughnuts, pancakes or cakes or processed bread, too much trans fats
    5. Snack 2 (can be before or after meal 2, depending on when lunch is at school)
      1. Low GI foods, something salty to keep your hydration up
      2. Almonds, avocado, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, another shake, cheeeeeese
    6. Meal 2: lunch
      1. Balanced meal with low GI carbs, protein, fats
      2. Meat and veggies, very paleo here
      3. No corndogs, hamburgers, fried chicken… too much bad fat. If you have to bring food to school, do it!!
    7. Afternoon workout
      1. Sugar drinks after warmup and throughout workout.
      2. Between exiting the pool and hitting the shower, another big bottle of sugar drink
      3. (hard candy, chocolate, fruit rollups… they are ok here, but only before showering)
    8. Meal 3: dinner
      1. Balanced meal with mostly medium GI carbs, protein and fats
      2. Spaghetti, beans, rice with associated meats and veggies. Fruit for dessert.
      3. No cake, no bread, no bagels, no cookies or muffins please. We are done with these too.
    9. Snack 3: bedtime recovery
      1. Protein based snack with some very low GI carbs
      2. Protein shake, cheese, jerky, milk.

    You Can remove snacks 1 or 2 if you only have one workout that day.
    Remove all snacks on off days and during the off season. 


    Fluids throughout the day

      Need to get about 4 liters (1 gallon) of fluid a day. That’s 4 x 32oz bottles. Not sugar based drinks unless it is during workout. If needed, weigh yourself daily before and after practice to monitor for hydration status. A loss of 1-2% of body weight in water will cause practice to hurt more and suck more.


      Meet Day Eating

      • The goal is to race without feeling hungry or full
      • We want insulin to be on the way down, and blood sugar to still be high
      • Since you can spend 8 hours at the pool between prelims and finals, snacks will be essential

        1. Try to eat a meal 2-3 hours before getting on the blocks
          1. Mostly low to medium GI carbs with some protein (probably a shake is best). Limit fat since it takes a long time to digest.
          2. Snack on salty low GI carbs to keep you thirsty and not hungry. Dried fruit, nuts…
          3. Eat a big balanced meal as soon as possible after the session, this may be the only meal before finals
          4. End the day with more emphasis on protein to rebuild muscle during the night


        Body builders have saying:
        “built in the gym, chiseled in the kitchen”

        We can learn from that too


        Microbiome: keeping your gut bacteria happy

        • An experiment was done where they took the gut bacteria (poop) from a thin mouse and put it in a fat mouse, and vise versa. Without changing diet or exercise, the fat mouse got thin, and the thin mouse got fat.
        • Gut bacteria are a big deal, and you can feed the good ones or the bad ones based on what you eat.
          • Fiber and Probiotic foods feed good bacteria
          • Processed sugar and trans fat (junk food) feed bad bacteria

        Yogurt (non-flavored please), miso, kimchi, keifer, sauerkraut are all good probiotic foods. Can also supplement with culturelle, especially if your not “regular”



        • As long as the diet is balanced, most swimmers get most micronutrients, and multivitamins are mostly a waste of money
        • Except for these
          • Iron: girls (and vegans) especially should be on a daily iron supplement. Nature made 65mg are probably the best. Can cause constipation and black poops fyi.
          • Vitamin D: especially up north where the sun don’t shine. 1-2000 units a day is good. (can’t really overdose on this stuff).


        Depending on parents and school to cook you good meals and snacks is not an excuse for eating crap.

        Go to the grocery store with your parents and cook for yourself if you have to.

        Bring food from home and eat your own lunch at school. I remember the garbage they serve and it’s cheaper if you do it yourself.


        That’s it! You know everything about good nutrition.

        It’s probably time for practice.


        Karl Hamouche- Swim Smart founder
        © 2017 Swim Smart, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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