Your food is your fuel, sports people cannot ever hope to reach their full potential if they fail to fuel themselves properly.
The field of sports nutrition is a constantly evolving one, but there are good basic foundations that you can follow yourself to optimise your training performance and recovery.
We all know, keeping up with the tough and grueling regime of a swimmer gives you license to eat a lot, and we mean a lot! However the key is making sure you’re eating a lot of the right stuff!
Setting the Foundation
You’ll already know intuitively how some foods affect you in the pool so with this in mind, think about what you eat alongside your training schedule. The best time to eat is around two to three hours in advance of your training session. Fuel your muscles and raise your glycogen levels by choosing food with a rough balance of 60% carbohydrates and 40% protein. A portion of meat or fish served with a big plate of vegetables and a small portion of rice is an example of a great choice.
Some fat in your diet is useful but be sure to avoid junk and sugar. If you need a sweet treat after your meal, opt for some fruit, some sugar-free yoghurt or perhaps a square or two of dark chocolate, which is packed with antioxidants.
Remember to try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and opt for the dark and most colourful varieties, as these tend to contain the highest levels of protective nutrients such as antioxidants.
It’s wise to have an energy-boosting snack before you train to maintain focus and get the most out of training.
Some swimmers swear by whey protein shakes for a great mix of easy-to-digest carbohydrates and protein, but these can be expensive and you can make your own by blending milk, ice cubes, a banana and some frozen berries.
If you’re training hard, you will need to refuel your body within around half an hour of finishing your session. Your body needs protein to repair muscles, carbohydrates to restock diminished glycogen levels and a broad range of vitamins and minerals to fortify your entire system. A simple sandwich is a great choice with a protein filling and plenty of salad vegetables. Otherwise a specific energy-recovery drink or a handful of almonds with a glass of milk and an apple can do the trick. Remember that if you don’t refuel after training, your muscles cannot repair themselves and get stronger.
Being in the water can lead you to think you are hydrated because you are surrounded by it. However, swimming makes you hot and sweaty like all high-intensity exercise, and you need to make sure you are regularly topping up your levels. Even a minor drop in hydration can make you slow, lethargic and befuddled – not ideal for setting those personal bests.
Keep a bottle of water with you at all times when you are training and sip water throughout the day. Don’t simply gulp down 1.5 litres in one sitting and expect that to help. Spread your water intake out throughout the day and sip regularly. You can tell if you are adequately hydrated with a simple test. A well-hydrated urine sample is a light colour. A dark sample suggests that you rapidly need to start upping your water intake. Water is the key here – not sugary drinks which will simply add unnecessary calories and have few additional benefits.
Be wary too of caffeine, which can dehydrate the body, although it can help with performance gains and provide energy. A good-quality coffee or a few cups of tea will not hurt, but avoid drinking lots of diet coke and strong cups of coffee or your nerves will become shot and your body increasingly dehydrated. Caffeine can also inhibit nutrient absorption, so enjoy it as an occasional treat.
Swimmers should be careful to eat sufficient calories to train. An average man will typically need around 2,000 calories a day for a fairly sedentary life – without swimming training factored in. Speak to your coach about assessing correct calorie levels if you are training competitively.
Always prioritise quality calories over quantity. Anyone can eat 2,000 calories of chips in a day, but you can expect to regress in your performance as a result. Aim to pack in as many nutrients as you can for your calorie allowance. Rather than focusing on what you can’t have, embrace healthy foods and enjoy them in abundance – low-fat animal proteins, nuts, eggs, colourful fruits and vegetables and whole foods. Your times and distances should see a boost as a result and rapidly convince you of the benefits of eating well.