Fueling for the Main Event: Swimming



SwimmersMany college students do not pay much attention to what they eat. Athletes, however, must be mindful of the food they are putting into their bodies. Though the collegiate swimming season in over, the summer swim season is in full swing for college-bound swimmers. No matter the sport, nutrition plays a huge role in performance and training. Although each sport has different nutrition challenges, all athletes struggle to replenish their energy stores with high-quality fuel. For competitive swimmers, the challenge is usually how to eat healthy foods while still consuming enough calories to train. Many swimmers are under the misconception that they can eat whatever they want simply because they exercise for many hours a day. The typical collegiate swimmer swims about 3 hours each day in addition to lifting weights 3 times per week. While it is true that swimmers have a high activity level and, therefore, may not gain weight from eating chips and sweets everyday, competitive swimming puts stress on the body and depletes energy stores. This means that swimmers must remember to fuel their bodies with high-quality energy.

There is no magic formula for eating right for competitive swimming. Each swimmer has a different body type, energy needs, and workout regimen. Some basic nutrition advice, however, does apply to all swimmers. The collegiate swimming season lasts from September to the end of February. During this time, swimmers may expend anywhere from 5,000-6,000 calories per day. Many athletes find it difficult to replace all of these calories with high-quality fuel.

In general, swimmers should try to eat 3 meals and 3 small snacks per day. They should also remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day and especially during workouts. This will help prevent dehydration and fatigue. Each meal and snack should include protein and carbohydrates. For example, low-fat chocolate milk is the perfect recovery snack, providing carbohydrates for energy and protein to build muscle and speed up recovery. Don’t worry about the sugar in the milk; it helps replenish your blood sugar quickly. Swimmers can be creative and choose foods that they like, but they must remember to treat their bodies well! Here is an example of a diet for a collegiate swimmer in peak training season:


2 eggs

2 pieces of whole-grain toast with peanut butter

A glass of low-fat milk

A piece of fruit

Mid-morning snack after weight lifting:

Container of Greek yogurt or low-fat chocolate milk


Turkey and cheese sandwich on whole-wheat bread

An apple

Carrot sticks with hummus

Pre-training snack:

Handful of nuts and dried fruit

Post-training snack:

Chocolate milk and a banana


Whole-wheat pasta with chicken and marina sauce



Bran cereal with low-fat milk

Eating for competitive swimming can be tricky. Some swimmers train hard all season but if they don’t eat properly, they will not see the results. Eating too few calories or too many empty calories will prevent even the best athlete from performing well. Now is the perfect time to dive into a better diet so that you can swim at your peak.

Photo Credit: Kara Feeney

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