Smart Nutrition for Swimming

Sports Nutrition Handbook: Eat Smart. Be Healthy. Get on Top of Your Game. makes better fueling simple. This handy guide answers the most common sports nutrition questions and unpacks the need-to-know concepts for athletes to make smart food and diet choices for better training.

A Nutrition Plan for Swimming

An effective nutrition plan in a discipline such as swimming, especially in adolescents, is extremely important. This is mainly due to training patterns in swimming: Often, swimmers have two or even three sessions per day. With an early-morning session, it’s important for a swimmer to fuel properly not only for that first session, but to start the day off right for fueling in subsequent hours. In the early morning, if it’s not possible to eat a full meal in advance of the workout, a liquid or semiliquid breakfast or an appropriate supplement can guard the body against hypoglycemia. The lack of breakfast slows down metabolism because after a night of hunger, the body needs a new dose of energy, and if it does not get one, it begins to reserve resources and slow down processes in the body. In the long term, this leads to fat deposition and a lack of energy when the athlete needs it most.

The daily energy expenditure of an adult swimmer varies between 3,600 and 6,100 calories depending on age, sex, training load, style, and swimming speed. Numerous researchers determined that the total energy expenditure of swimmers covering an average distance of 9 kilometers per day was about 4,600 calories.

During workouts at an intensity of 65–85 percent VO2max, the main factor limiting an athlete’s exercise capacity is the amount of muscle glycogen available. Studies show that swimmers will have lost 12 percent of their glycogen after an interval workout. To rebuild these resources within 24 hours after the effort, the right amount of carbohydrates in the diet is important. Carbohydrates should contribute 65 percent or even 70 percent of a swimmer’s caloric intake; for a 4,600-calorie diet, that equates to 750–805 grams of carbohydrates per day.

Poor nutrition, especially in teenaged swimmers, may impair their physical and mental development, weaken the immune system, and increase the incidence of infectious diseases. An unbalanced diet will also impede a swimmer’s performance, leading to overtraining and possibly injury.

Breakfast in the form of a smoothie is a good option before entering the water. It is not too high in calories, and because the morning training mostly stays within the aerobic zone, there isn’t as great a demand for carbs. If you’re trying to lose a little weight, the morning session is helpful because it remains aerobic and thereby encourages the body to generate energy from adipose tissue.

Smoothies made with yogurt or kefir make healthy morning meals for a swimmer; athletes with lactose intolerance could use lactose-free milk or coconut water. Add a small amount of healthy fats—for example, avocado—and chia seeds, berries, and millet flakes. Dairy-based snacks or meals are also beneficial as part of the daily diet because they are a valuable source of calcium necessary to build and maintain proper bone density. And a study conducted on more than 10,000 people showed the inverse correlation between calcium intake and body mass: More calcium in the diet correlated with lower body weight.

Dairy products have a beneficial effect on body weight because of their calcium and whey protein content. Intracellular calcium concentration is an important factor regulating the metabolism of adipocytes (fat cells), affecting how they utilize and store triglycerides. High calcium intake will therefore contribute to the inhibition of fatty acid synthesis and an increase in lipolysis, which in turn leads to the reduction of adipose tissue. In addition, increased calcium intake is accompanied by increased fat excretion in the feces, so the calories available to the body are reduced. Numerous studies also report that dairy products reduce visceral fat.

Yogurts are a good base for morning smoothies, even for people with lactose intolerance, because through fermentation and the presence of bacterial strains, gastric problems are in most cases minimized or nonexistent. However, if gastric problems occur, you can exclude dairy, using calcium-enriched lactose-free products or plant substitutes (for example, rice, almond, or soy milk) instead.

Post-workout, you’ll want foods that release carbs quickly (e.g., an isotonic sports drink) and slowly (e.g., the carbohydrates in cottage cheese) to rebuild lost glycogen reserves. This refueling is important because although the body derived a lot of energy from fat, glycogen was also depleted. The body needs sufficient refueling, especially because another training session—the more intense workout—will start in less than 12 hours. Foods rich in protein help rebuild microtears in the muscles, and vegetables provide antioxidants to further promote recovery. Additionally, an adequate level of hydration is important so as not to interfere with metabolic and physiological processes by lowering fluid levels.

Sports Nutrition Handbook: Eat Smart. Be Healthy. Get on Top of Your Game. makes better fueling simple. This handy guide answers the most common sports nutrition questions and unpacks the need-to-know concepts for athletes to make smart food and diet choices for better training.

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