Swimming Nutrition

Healthy on Land, Faster in Water

Teen swimmerCompetitive swimmers often have a unique routine, both for practices and meets. Early-morning practices are normal, and so are meets that include multiple races with breaks in between. Proper nutrition can help swimmers stay fueled during those long days of practice or long meets.

Eating the right foods in the right combination of carbohydrates, protein and fats can help swimmers avoid the post-meet crash. It can also promote recovery and make sure swimmers get the most out of their workouts.

The USDA recommends the following for most athletic children and teens:

  Female  Male 
9-13 years old
14-18 years old      
1,600-2,000 calories a day     
2,000 calories a day 
1,800-2,200 calories a day
2,400-2,800 calories a day 

With long morning practices and afternoon workouts, some swimmers tend to stay very active. Resources recommend 3,000 calories for these extremely active swimmers. An hour-long practice can add about 1,200 calories to a swimmer’s daily dietary requirements.

Before a Practice or Meet

CarbohydratesSwimmers should eat a full meal two to four hours before a practice or meet. Since some practices happen early in the morning, a swimmer might not have time for a full meal. In that case, he should eat a small snack before practice, like a bagel with peanut butter or some fresh fruit.

The goal for this meal or snack is to:

  • Keep the swimmer from becoming hungry during a practice or meet.
  • Settle a nervous stomach.
  • Top off energy storage.

The pre-meet meal should be made up of foods that are high in carbohydrates, like breads, cereals, pasta, rice or fruits. These kinds of foods help build energy in a swimmer’s body and provide the long-lasting energy that endurance athletes need. It can also be helpful to eat similar meals the night before a practice or meet.

It is always important to hydrate throughout the day. Two to three hours before a practice or meet, a swimmer should drink at least 16 ounces of fluids. Closer to the start of the event, he should drink another 8 ounces of fluid.

During a Practice or Meet

It is important to replace the sweat you lose during an event with fluids. But a swimmer needs to be cautious about overhydrating. He should only drink to replace what he lost during the event. Overhydrating can make the sodium levels in the body drop too low.

A swimmer can also refuel during a practice or meet by consuming energy gel and chasing it with water. A light snack can also be helpful, as long as it doesn’t weigh the body down.

After a Practice or Meet

ProteinWithin 30 minutes of finishing a practice or meet, it can be helpful to have a small snack. This snack can help restore the energy used for the event. It can be a variety of different foods, like sports bars, a bagel, cereal, fruit or a recovery beverage.

It is also important to drink 12 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during a practice or meet.

Within one hour after a practice or meet, a swimmer needs to have a full meal that provides carbohydrates and proteins and continues to replace fluid. The carbohydrates help restore glucose levels and the protein helps repair and build muscle tissue. 

Some examples of good post-exercise meals include:

  • Macaroni and cheese with green beans and low-fat milk
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and a wheat roll
  • Lean steak, potatoes and pasta salad
  • Pita sandwich with turkey or ham, lettuce, tomato and mustard

Contact Us

Call the Children's Sports Medicine Program at 404-785-6880 for more information.