Nutrition Guidelines for Swimmers/ Athletes

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Here is a useful summary and a guideline of how you should nutritionally prepare yourself before competition.  It is not merely enough to turn up on the day of an event and expect that you will or should do well. Coupled with the training regimen and recovery you have adopted as your own, you should make sure that you are adequately prepared with your nutrition.

Your body is akin to a car’s engine, if you don’t put enough fuel in the car (petrol) it won’t get you to where you want to get to, the harder you press the accelerator and the faster you go, the more fuel the car uses. Your body is exactly the same but instead of petrol, the fuel we need is food and fluids.  If you consider that the make up of a human’s body is 60 to 70% water (depending on which journals you read) you can see why it is so important to keep on top of your hydration, most importantly H2O…Water.

Although I have not given you actual meal plans, I have given you some indications of what to eat and when in relation to the various periods prior to your event.

Swimming pools are massively hot places and sitting around at swimming meets in hot / humid climates can very quickly leave you in a negative hydrated state. The body only allows a tiny window of fluctuation of variability before it starts taking control and deciding how our body performs. No matter how determined you are towards your race, if your nutrition and /or hydration is neglected, you will NOT perform to the best of your ability.

The odd sugary sweet on poolside is acceptable, but emphasis must be on a few. If you consume these in large amounts you will experience a rapid rise in blood sugar, and a spike before a plummet in your insulin levels. These drastically affect the chemical composition of your body where again, it will take over and decide for you how you will perform. The most common outcome, once you start to exercise with intensity (ie race) is that you will either feel or be sick. As you begin to work hard, blood is required by the working muscles to deliver oxygen to maintain the energy requirements, once the blood gets shunted away from the stomach, there is not much left to perform the actions required to digest the food in there, as such the body will realise it and needs to solve this problem and therefore its only natural action is to make you vomit.

Hydration is critical as an athlete, and you must make sure you continually sip drinks (not FIZZY) throughout the session or day. Water is perfect, Isotonic or Sports drinks also, but good quality electrolyte drinks are the best to promote the best possible situation at a cellular level, but beware of consuming too much, too close to your race.

So Remember

  • No Fizzy drinks
  • No sweets in large amounts
  • Plenty of drinks especially Carbohydrate drinks
  • Do have snacks that are digestible, rice cakes, energy bars, meal replacement drinks/bars, dried fruit, bananas, small amounts of smoothies
  • But at all times DRINK, DRINK, DRINK

Pre competition meals

Pre competition Breakfast 2- 4 hours before

  • Breakfast cereal or porridge with low fat milk and fresh fruit (berries, prunes, apricots , banana )
  • Toast, Bread, bagels, with jams, honey, syrups
  • English Muffins with honey/Jams
  • Meal replacement shake

Pre Competition Lunches 2 – 4 hours before

  • Sandwiches or Rolls, with tuna, cottage cheese or chicken, fresh fruit
  • Pasta or Rice with tomato (home made, basic) sauce, Fresh fruit
  • Baked potato with low fat filling, fresh fruit

Pre Competition meals 1 hr before an event

  • Smoothie
  • Yoghurt drink
  • Fruit, bananas, oranges, melon, kiwi, berries, raisins, figs
  • Tinned fruit
  • Meal replacement or energy bars
  • Sports drinks
  • Dried Apricots
  • Low fat yoghurt
  • Rice pudding
  • Mini or Scotch pancakes

Snacks between races

  • Bananas
  • Rice Cakes
  • Energy Bars
  • Energy Gels
  • Jaffa Cakes (a few)
  • Carbohydrate sports drinks



Food and Drink Recommendations


The Week Before

1.Fill muscle glycogen Stores

2.Maintain Hydration

Taper Training

60-70% carbohydrate or 7-8g/kg body weight per day

Low GI meals

Monitor fluid intake & urine

Pasta with fish or beans

Rice with Chicken

Jkt Pots with tuna or cottage cheese

The Night Before

1.Top up muscle Glycogen

2. Maintain Hydration

High CHO meal

Plenty of fluid

Moderate-low fibre

Low Fat

Familiar food

Pasta dish with tomato based sauce

Rice dishes

2-4 hours before

1.Top up Liver Glycogen

2.Maintain hydration

3.Prevent hunger

Low GI meal

High CHO, low fat  med protein

Easily digestible

400-600 ml fluid (cho based)

Cereal & low fat milk

Bread, Bagel, toast Sandwiches or rolls

Pot with Tuna or cottage cheese

1 Hour before

1.Maintain Blood sugar

2.Maintain Hydration

1 g CHO per kg of body weight

Easy to digest

Sports drinks


Energy or meal replacement bar

Dried Apricots

15 – 30 min before

Maintain Hydration

Up to 150 ml fluid


Sports drinks

Between heats or events

1.Replenish muscle and liver glycogen

2.Replace fluids

1g/kg of body weight within 2 hours


500 ml fluid immediately after race

Continue fluids

Sports drinks

Meal replacement products

Rice cakes, Energy bars


Post Competition

1.Replenish muscle and liver glycogen

2.Replace fluids

1g/kg body weight


500 ml fluid immediately after

Continue fluids

Sports drinks

Energy bars

Pasta dishes

Rice dishes



•   CHO = Carbohydrate          
•    GI = Glycemic Index 

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