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Swimming Nutrition, Diet & Food: The Complete Guide

Posted by Team Veloforte on
Man swimming nutrition diet and food

As a swimmer, it’s easy to spend hours smashing out laps, improving your stroke with drills and strengthening your shoulders in the gym, but nutrition can often be an afterthought. After all, it’s not easy to stay fuelled in the water. 

But there’s much more to swimming nutrition than grabbing something from the vending machine on your way out of the pool (or the equivalent for you open water swimmers). If you’re serious about your pool performance, it pays to build an effective swimming nutrition plan.

A well put together swimming training diet will ensure you take on the right fuel at the right times, power your training, give you a performance edge in races and events, and even help your muscles repair and recover after a tough session in the water or land training.

At Veloforte, we’re experts in sports nutrition. We obsess about creating powerful and tasty real-food fuel to boost performance. Whether you swim in a pool, open water or as part of a multi-sport event like triathlon, in this swimming nutrition guide, we’ll give you everything you need to develop your own simple but effective swimming nutrition plan. 

Here’s what you need to know about the best food for swimming.

Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for swimming

When you’re thinking about a well-balanced diet and nutrition plan for swimming, it’s worth brushing up on the basic nutrient building blocks that will help your training, aid your muscle recovery and support your immune system.

Man swimming in water

Here’s a basic guide to the important macros, micros, vitamins and minerals that make up a good swimmer’s diet plan:

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred fuel for exercise. They’re converted into energy, which can be used immediately or stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen. Someone who’s exercising for one to two hours three to five times a week, needs around 3-5g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight.If you’re training two to three hours a day, five days a week, you should take on around 5-8g of carbohydrate per kg of bodyweight.

Our glycogen stores are finite, the body can only store enough for 60 to 90 minutes of exercise. A full fuel tank should be enough to get you through most swimming sessions though, provided you ensure you’re well stocked to start with. 

If you’re swimming in the early morning before breakfast or at night before your evening meal, you might want to keep a natural sports drink, containing carbohydrates poolside so you can fuel on the go. Veloforte’s all-natural electrolyte powders contain 22g of carbohydrate per serving.

Pouring electrolyte powder in bottle for swimming nutrition

For longer marathon swim events you’ll have to top up with fuel from a boat or pontoon.

After your swims, you also need carbs to restock your tanks, a crucial part of effective recovery.

Protein

Protein is an essential part of any healthy diet. For swimmers, it’s particularly important as it supports post-exercise recovery and aids the repair of microtears in your muscles caused by high-intensity sprints and tough sessions in the gym.

How much protein you need varies depending on factors such as sex, weight and how active you are. As a rule of thumb, the British Dietetic Association recommends endurance athletes consume 1.2-1.8g of protein per kg of body weight each day.

It’s best to consume protein every three to four hours throughout the day, so try and include a protein source with each meal. After a hard training session you can also try a snack such as a Veloforte Mocha or Forza protein bar, which have the perfect 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein for optimal recovery.

Veloforte Forza Energy Bar

Fat

While the trans fats and saturated fats found in biscuits, cakes, crisps and fatty red meats should be limited, good fats should be an essential part of any swimmer's nutrition plan.

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in oils, avocados, nuts, seeds and fish, help your body function properly and allow it to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E.

Good fats like nuts for swimming nutrition

Eating good fats can also help reduce inflammation in the body, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.

Electrolytes

Electrolytes are salts and minerals found in the blood that conduct electricity when mixed with water. They’re essential for normal bodily function, help keep you hydrated, regulate nerve and muscle function, regulate your blood pressure and PH level and help rebuild damaged tissue.

The most important electrolytes for swimmers are sodium, potassium and magnesium.

  • Sodium: The main electrolyte lost through sweat – and yes, you do sweat in the water. 
  • Potassium: Helps with muscle contractions – including the heart and digestive system – and aids energy production.
  • Magnesium: Helps you maintain a regular heartbeat and regulates the use of nutrients for energy. It can even aid sleep, to help you recover when you’re training hard.

All of which are found in Veloforte electrolyte powders.

Pouring electrolyte power for swimming nutrition

Best food for swimming

Most of the vitamins and nutrients you need for optimal performance can be achieved through your daily intake, so a good swimmer’s diet should be well-balanced and include fresh fruit and vegetables, slow-release (or complex) carbs and lean protein. Well, at least 80% of the time, no one’s perfect.

If you’re looking for foods that give you more bang for your nutritional buck, try adding some of these swimmer’s favourites to your diet.

Bananas

Bananas are the perfect portable food for swimmers, they’re easy to chuck in your kit bag for a snack throughout the day or on your way to the pool.

Bananas contain fast-acting easily-absorbed carbs to give you energy as you train, as well as potassium to support muscle function. They can also help reduce muscle cramps and soreness.

Banana and energy bar for swimming nutrition

Sweet potatoes

A great source of slow-release carbs, sweet potatoes are lower GI than white potatoes and provide a more steady supply of energy – good news for longer sessions.

They also pack iron, which helps keep your energy levels high, and potassium and magnesium to help with muscle and nerve function.

Sweet potatoes for swimming nutrition

Rice

Rice is a good source of carbohydrate for swimmers but opt for brown rice where possible.

Brown rice is less processed than white so contains more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It’s also high in manganese, a mineral that helps with bone development, muscle contraction metabolism, nerve function and blood sugar regulation. Just one serving contains nearly 100% of your recommended daily amount.

Rice and vegetable meal for swimming nutrition

Oats

Oats are a great breakfast choice for swimmers.They’re low-to-moderate GI, which means they provide slow-release energy and help regulate blood sugar so you don’t get peaks and troughs throughout the day.

If you’re training early in the morning and opt for a few extra minutes in bed instead of breakfast, they make a  good post-swim meal too. They’re higher in protein than most grains so can help aid recovery. Add a dollop of nut butter to boost the protein goodness.

Oat meal and energy bar with banana for swimming nutrition

Lean protein sources

Chicken, turkey, tuna and tofu are all good sources of protein for swimmers. Try and eat some form of protein and carbohydrate with each meal such as a tuna sandwich or stir fry with tofu and rice.

Eggs are another great protein-rich foodstuff. Two large eggs provide around 15g of protein and 100% of your RDA of vitamin B12, which helps you unlock energy from food. Hard-boiled eggs also make a healthy, filling snack.

Egg salad for swimming nutrition

Energy bars

Energy bars are a perfect snack around 60-to-90 minutes before training to give you a boost when you don’t want to eat a full meal.

Veloforte’s energy bars are all natural and contain the perfect balance of essential proteins and dual-source carbohydrates for sustained energy. Experiment with the whole range to find your favourite.

Woman eating energy bar for swimming nutrition

Protein bars and shakes

If you’ve finished a swim but have to get home before you can have your meal, protein bars or shakes are a convenient recovery kickstarter. Avoid heavily processed options, though, as they’re often full of sugar. 

Veloforte’s recovery protein bars have the optimal 3:1 carbs to protein ratio for post-swim recovery. Or for a rapid liquid refuel, Veloforte recovery shakes pack the same proven mix of macros for effective replenishment.

Woman holding an energy bar for swimming nutrition

Energy gels and chews

Some swimmers – especially those competing in multi-sport events such as triathlons – will have an energy gel or energy chew before an event to give them a kick. The dual-carbohydrate format of Veloforte’s all-natural energy gels gives you fast energy and they’re specially designed to be gentle on the stomach using ingredients found in nature, such as date, beetroot, lemon and ginger. 

Always try this out in training first though, to make sure it works for you.

Energy bar and energy gel fro swimming nutrition

Importance of hydration for swimming

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. You might be surrounded by water when you swim and though you might not get the same sweating sensation as dry-land training, it’s still important to make sure you consume enough H20 to stay well hydrated. And not the chlorinated, salty or lake type.

Just 2% dehydration can have a detrimental effect on your training and warm pools and leisure centres can easily dehydrate you further, so take on fluids before and after training and keep some poolside.

Swimming man

Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, feelings of dizziness, muscle cramps and increase your rate of perceived exertion (RPE), making swimming feel much tougher.

The NHS recommends drinking around 1.2 litres of fluid a day to replace normal water loss but if you’re exercising and sweating heavily, you’ll want to increase that. Your individual needs vary depending on a number of factors such as age, weight, exercise intensity and the weather, but as a rough guide, aim for one-and-a-half litres of fluid for every kilogram of body weight you lose during a tough exercise session.

And remember, as you sweat you lose essential electrolytes too, so add some Veloforte electrolyte powder to your post-swim water bottle. The fruity blends offer real fruit, botanicals, pure electrolytes, energy and natural caffeine to keep your electrolyte balance on an even keel. 

Swimming nutrition and diet plan

When it comes to nutrition plans for swimming, one size doesn’t fit all. Everybody swims different distances at different intensities, your training frequency, sex, weight, genetic factors and the stroke you’re swimming all come into play, too. So finding out what works best for you is a case of trial and error.

If you eat well already, you might not need to make too many tweaks to your diet to fuel your swimming but it’s important to ensure you’re eating enough. As a rough guide, a 70kg person burns anywhere between 450 and 820 calories in an hour of swimming. 

If you’re worried about cramming all your calories into big meals and feeling sluggish and full in the water, try grazing instead. Lots of swimmers have more frequent, smaller meals and healthy snacks throughout the day to keep their blood sugars stable and fuel their training. 

These guidelines should give you an idea of how to eat to support your swimming.

The day before

The day before a big swim make sure you’re well hydrated and ensure you don’t eat anything too fatty, fibrous or spicy, which could cause you digestion problems in the water.

For most swims there’s no need to carb load as you’re not going to be in the water for much longer than 90 minutes. If you do want to increase your carbohydrate intake ahead of a big event, eat a little more in the preceding days rather than having one huge bowl of pasta the night before, which could leave you feeling bloated on the day.

Healthy pasta meal for swimming nutrition

Before your swim

The best food to eat before swimming is a meal containing carbohydrates for energy and a small amount of protein to aid recovery, two to four hours before training or a race or event. 

Porridge with a spoon of nut butter or eggs on toast would be a good breakfast, or you might have chicken and rice for lunch for example.

You can top this up with a snack such as a Veloforte energy bar one-to-two hours before your swim. If you’re fueling for a race, make sure you’ve tried your chosen foods in training and sussed out the timings that work for you.

If you’re training early in the morning and usually miss breakfast, a snack around one to two hours before should give you some extra energy. If you’re racing, set your alarm early and have breakfast, you can always go back to bed afterwards.

Woman holding an energy bar for swimming nutrition

In the run up to a training session or an event, sip water little and often. This will ensure you’re hydrated without leaving you feeling bloated and overfull. You should also keep water poolside during training or in your kit bag for afterwards.

After training

After a tough session or race it’s important to top up your glycogen stores and replace some of that lost energy. You also need to take on protein to help with your body’s recovery process.

If you’re at the pool or lake, eating a full meal might not be possible – and you often don’t feel like eating too much straight away – so make sure you pack a healthy snack or shake. Veloforte's Mocha, Forza protein bars and Vita and Nova recovery shakes have the perfect 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein for optimal recovery.

Woman pouring energy shake with energy bar

Take on plenty of water and replace lost electrolytes with an electrolyte drink, too.

To boost recovery, aim to eat a main meal up to three hours after a hard swim. Include carbohydrates for energy, around 20g of protein for recovery and some good fats.

How to create your own swimming diet plan 

When you sit down to create your own swimming nutrition and diet plan there are a few things to take into account:

Duration

The longer you’re swimming the more energy you’re going to need. For longer sessions you might need to pack snacks and electrolyte drinks and ensure you’re fuelling adequately beforehand.

Frequency

If you’re swimming more than once a day, eating good meals becomes trickier – you don’t want to eat too much too close to a swim and might not have the means to cook up something healthy during the day.

Tupperware is your friend here. Prepare smaller meals and snacks to take with you so you can graze to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Grilled chicken for swimming nutrition

Stroke and intensity

The harder you work out, the more glycogen you burn through. Fast freestyle or butterfly typically use more energy than backstroke or breaststroke, too. 

Where you swim

If you swim in the sea or open water, currents could increase your workout rate so you may need to take on more fuel. You’re less likely to find a cafe at a remote swim stop too, so take plenty of snacks and fluid with you.

Man in swimming suit

Getting started with swimming nutrition

1. Focus on your goals

Before you plan your swimming nutrition, note down your goals. How do you want your nutrition to impact your training?

Think about anything you want to add or remove from your diet or any good habits you want to get into, such as eating protein post-workout or making sure you have breakfast before an early-morning session.

2. Create your swimming diet and nutrition strategy

Think about what you’ll eat before training sessions and for recovery, and keep a note of how you feel when you try something new. That way you can discover what works best for you. You can also play around with timings to see when to eat before a swim.

In busy training periods, planning out your weekly diet and batch cooking at the weekend means you’re less likely to reach for highly processed foods, particularly when you’re tired after a swim and can’t be bothered to cook. 

You can also ensure you’re taking on enough calories, protein and other nutrients and adapt your plan as you learn more about your body’s requirements.

3. Create your swimming hydration strategy

Pay attention to thirst, the colour of your wee and monitor how much sweat you lose in hard training sessions by weighing yourself afterwards. This gives you a good idea of whether you’re getting enough fluids before your swim and during training. 

Experiment with electrolyte drinks in longer training sessions and see if it makes a difference to how you feel and perform.

4. Stock up

Invest in some Tupperware for snacks and meal prep and stock up on different energy bars and protein shakes and bars to see how they work for you.

We don’t think you’ll need to look further than Veloforte’s range of all-natural, real-food bars, gels, electrolyte powders and chews. They offer carefully balanced, powerful and delicious options for every swimmer’s needs.

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