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How to fuel your swimming sessions effectively

8th March 2021

A well planned eating strategy will help support any swim training programme, whether you are training for fitness or for competition. Getting your nutrition right can also promote efficient recovery between sessions, reduce the risk of illness or injury and help you to achieve your full potential in the pool. More specifically, what, when and how much you eat before a swim session will affect your performance, strength and endurance. Pre-workout nutrition can have an impact on your energy levels in the pool, your levels of concentration and alertness during a session and assist in delaying fatigue.

Consuming carbohydrate before exercise has been shown to result in improved performance when compared with exercising on an empty stomach. It makes sense, carbohydrates provide energy which fuels your workout. But carbohydrates are also important to assist in delaying the onset of fatigue during a session. Individual requirements for carbohydrates will vary, but it is recommended to consume 1 – 4g/kg body weight of carbohydrate within 4 hours of a training session.

Protein is important for muscle repair and muscle protein synthesis. The amount of protein consumed can affect your rate of recovery so it’s pretty important to think about, to ensure you are consuming enough. The benefits of protein after exercise are pretty well known, but consuming protein before a workout can help to minimise protein breakdown during a session and improve recovery. There is no recommended amount on how much you should look to include in a pre-workout meal, but if you aim to include a source of protein with every meal and most snacks throughout the day, you are likely to be hitting targets.

Putting it all together – Pre-swim meal
You should aim to include a source of carbohydrate and protein in your meal before a swimming session. Your source of carbohydrate should ideally have a low glycemic index (GI), this is the effect the food has on your blood sugar levels. A low GI refers to a slow release of glucose, which will sustain your energy levels. Ideally, you should eat a meal between 2 and 4 hour hours before training, leaving enough time for your stomach to settle so you don’t feel too hungry or full. The exact timing of your meal will depend on your daily schedule and the time of day you plan to train. If you are swimming in the morning, a meal may be too much to consume before you get moving. Keep reading to find out more about snacks before your session, this could be a better option.

Some meal ideas include a sandwich, pitta or wrap with chicken, fish, egg or tofu and salad. A jacket potato with tuna or cheese, tomato based pasta with beans or lentils and vegetables, root vegetable and lentil casserole with potatoes, a chicken, lean meat or tofu stir fry with noodles and vegetables or lentils, tofu or chicken with quinoa or rice and salad

What about snacks?
The closer you eat to your training session, the smaller your meal should be. Therefore, it can be a good idea to have a snack within 1 hour of your session if you had your last meal a while ago, if you’re training in the morning or have left it too late to eat a meal. For example, having an ample lunch then a snack before training is a good idea for an evening swim. In contrast to your pre-swim meal, you may benefit from including a higher GI source of carbohydrate in your snack. This places less strain on the gut, means glucose is absorbed quicker and energy is release sooner, just in time for your session. The focus here should be high carbohydrate and low fat.

Great snacks to include could be fresh or dried fruit with a flapjack, yogurt with fruit, toast or a bagel with honey or jam, an energy or cereal bar, a fruit smoothie, oat and fruit muffins, crackers or rice cakes with jam or honey

Should you avoid anything?
The last thing you want to do before a swimming session is upset your stomach. The gut is a very sensitive organ of the body, so knowing what to avoid before a session can be useful. Avoiding high fat and processed foods such as cream or ice cream, cakes, biscuits or crisps can be useful.
Consider keeping spicy meals for after your workout too, such as curries. Large amounts of spice can move quickly through the gut, which may cause discomfort during your session. Keep your fibre (for example lentils and beans) for your meal rather than snack. Ensure you are comfortable with consuming these foods too, never try a new food for the first time just before a swimming session!

Don’t forget about hydration
Remaining hydrated before a session is important, beginning a session dehydrated can seriously impair performance. Dehydration can cause fatigue, lack of concentration, headaches and muscle soreness. Gulping down a litre of water 5 minutes before your session isn’t the goal here, you should aim to be drinking 5-10ml per kg body weight within 4 hours of your session.

Finding what works well for you is important when it comes to pre-training nutrition, it may be a case of trial and error to see what suits you best. If you feel like something could be improved, try it! You never know how much it could improve your performance in the pool.

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