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Diet and nutrition for competitive swimmers

Forget trying to outswim a bad diet – achieve the performance you deserve by thinking smart with your eating. Here we explain how.

You put in the hours in the pool, work hard and stick to your training plan, but if it all goes wrong in the kitchen, you could be selling yourself short. Don’t let a poor diet ruin your hard work and training. Instead, maximise your performance by feeding your body with all the nutrients and energy-giving food it needs.


Every swimmer’s needs and training plans are different, so determine the food and diet approach that work for you (assessing your energy levels is a good way to start). A pre-race Big Mac may be elite swimmer Tyler Clary’s go-to meal before a meet, but it’s unlikely to work for the rest of us!


How often to eat


Swimming competitively demands high-energy exertion, so eating smaller, nutritionally rich meals is important – this should satisfy your appetite, keep your blood sugar balanced and your energy levels high and free from dips. Opt for this approach over three larger meals a day, which may leave you feeling lethargic in training and when competing.


Complex carbohydrates and protein


A diet rich in complex carbohydrates (wholegrain breads and pasta, green veg, beans and sweet potatoes, for example) and protein will provide the energy you need to perform at your best. Aim for carbohydrates to make up half of your meal and ensure that you include protein (to aid muscle repair after a swim) at every sitting, along with vegetables and good fats such as avocado, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and coconut flesh.

Eating carbohydrate and protein-rich foods such as eggs, wholemeal bread, pasta, beans and chicken around 2-3 hours before a swim, is recommended.


Before and after training


Pre- and post-training session snacks and meals are important to help keep blood sugar levels balanced, particularly immediately after a swim. Aim to refuel your body within 20-30 minutes of training with a mix of muscle-repairing protein and glycogen-restoring carbohydrates.


Avoid fatty foods which put extra demands on your digestive system and cut all nutritionally empty food from your diet. Instead, opt for healthy, light snacks such as fresh fruit, smoothies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, protein shakes and cereal bars.


Stay hydrated


Dehydration can affect your energy levels and performance, so take a water bottle with you to the poolside and drink plenty before, during and after your training.


For more top tips and technique advice, visit our news, tips and technique section here.