Nutrition is an important part of your training programme. Eating the right types and amounts of food, as well as drinking enough fluid before, during and after each training session will help you perform better and recover faster between training sessions. It will also help to keep you healthy and reduce your chances of getting colds and other upper respiratory tract illnesses.
Here are some nutritional strategies that can be used to improve your training sessions.
What’s a healthy diet for swimmers?
Swimmers need a nutrient-packed diet to fuel their bodies during training, as well as adequate protein for growth and muscle repair, and (mainly unsaturated) fat for fuel and overall health. A general guideline for training days is to have one third of the plate carbs (pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, or cereal), one third protein (fish, chicken, lean meat, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu) and one third vegetables. You should also include healthy fats (olive oil, oily fish, nuts) and at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day to ensure you get the omega-3 fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre and other protective nutrients needed to stay healthy and promote recovery.
Eat something before early morning training
A 2-hour training session early in the morning will certainly tax your body’s carbohydrate (glycogen) stores. Without anything you may feel ok for the first half of the session but devoid of energy for the second half. Training on empty may result in low blood glucose levels, early fatigue, light headedness, nausea and a poor performance.
Try to have nutritious high-carb foods, such as porridge, wholegrain toast with honey, a banana (or other fruit), a fruit & nut bar (e.g. Nakd) or granola.
Can’t face any solid food? Try a nutritious drink, such as a smoothie, or a yogurt. Some fuel is better than no fuel at all.
Have plenty of water to rehydrate after the night’s sleep.
Have a big breakfast after morning training
Re-fuelling within 30 minutes after training is especially important if you’ll be training again in the evening. This will help your muscles recover faster.
It should contain plenty of carbohydrate to replenish depleted fuel (glycogen) stores as well as protein to repair and rebuild the muscles
Suitable foods include porridge with fruit and nuts; strained Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts; eggs and toast; wholegrain cereal (e.g. granola, muesli or Weetabix) with milk and yogurt.
Regular snacks and meals throughout the day
Make sure you eat at regular intervals and never skip meals. The more active you are the more fuel you’ll need.
Plan and organise meals and snacks. Take suitable food for snacks to school
Rule of thumb: 3 meals and 2 – 4 snacks
Fuel up 2 hours before evening training
If you train in the evening, your earlier meals and snacks will help to fuel your workout.
The optimal time for the pre-exercise meal is 2 hours before training.
If your training session starts at 7pm, have dinner at 4 – 5pm. Aim for ‘comfortably full’, not stuffed.
If training starts at 5pm, then have a smaller meal or healthy snack 3 or 4pm, with a drink.
If you don’t eat before training, you will lack energy in training.
If you eat too much or too close to training, you will feel uncomfortable, heavy or nauseous.
Eat carbs and protein before training
Of all the foods you could have before a workout, prioritize ones rich in carbohydrates, especially if you will be training for 2 hours. This is the body’s preferred energy source during exercise.
Opt for wholegrain carbs wherever possible, together with a source of protein and some veg – this will provide sustained energy and improve performance.
Pre-and post-training meals (2 -3 h before or immediately after):
- One-pot meal: curry, stew, casserole, tagine, dahl, risotto
- Stir-fry with chicken, prawns or tofu with veg + noodles
- Rice + fish/ bolognese/ lentils with veg or salad
- Pasta + chicken (or beans) + veg
If you don’t have time for a meal (eg early morning training), have a snack 30 min before training.
Pre-training snacks (1/2 – 1 h before) :
- Toast (wholegrain) with honey or jam
- A banana (or other fresh fruit) & yogurt
- A handful of dried fruit (e.g. raisins, apricots) and nuts
- Porridge or wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk
Refuel with carbs and protein within 30 min (if you train 2 x day)
Start re-fuelling with carbs and protein within 30 minutes after training, even if it’s late in the evening. This will help your muscles recover faster and you’ll feel better in the morning.
- 500 ml milk, hot chocolate, milk shake or flavoured milk
- Banana; yogurt and nuts
- Wholemeal toast/ sandwich with PB/ cheese/ fish/ chicken
If you had only a snack before training, have your dinner when you get home.
Drink plenty before, during and after training
Dehydration slows you down and will make swimming feel much harder. The most important thing is you arrive at your training session properly hydrated, (you can check for dehydration with the ‘pee test’).
Drink plenty during the day, little and often.
Have around 250 – 300 ml 2 hours before the session.
During training, drink little and often e.g. 3 – 4 gulps every 15 minutes (or at convenient intervals), rather than a large volume in one go.
The harder you’re working the more you sweat, so you’ll need to drink more. Generally, the rule is to drink about 125ml of fluid for every kilometre swum. Approx 500ml – 1l per 2 hour session
Drink plenty after training to aid recovery.
How to avoid fatigue during training?
Early fatigue during training can be caused by:
- Dehydration – avoid this by making sure you drink enough before and during the session
- Low blood sugar levels – avoid this by choosing diluted squash, 1 part squash, 6 parts water (e.g. Robinsons Select) or any ready-made drink containing around 5g sugar/ 100ml
- Depleted reserves of carbohydrate in your muscles (glycogen) – avoid this by eating a balanced meal containing carbs and protein (and some fat) about 2 – 3 hours before training; eat consistently during the day; do not skip meals.
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