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Nutrition Tips

General Nutrition Tips and What to Eat at Swim Meets

Information provided by Dr. Jackie Berning, Assoc. Professor, University of Colorado and Nutrition Consultant to the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Indians

General Nutrition Tips:

Most Americans spend their day in a 'negative energy balance.' This means that they usually skip meals in the morning and backload all sorts of calories (i.e., pig out) at the end of the day. Eating in this way is not good as it can result in higher body fat content and feeling tired throughout the day.

To maximize your energy, you should be eating 4-6 meals throughout the day. Never go 3-4 hours without some sort of food. By spreading out your meals (e.g., small breakfast, snack at mid-morning, small lunch, snack at mid-afternoon, small dinner, and then an evening snack) you spread out your caloric intake throughout the day. This usually results in lower body fat and increases lean muscle mass. Plus, you don't feel as tired or hungry. And that means more energy for practice. YAY!

So what should you be eating? As an athlete, you want your food intake per day to be broken into 1/3 grains/breads (e.g., pasta, bagels, oatmeal), 1/3 fruits and vegetables (e.g., apples, oranges, salad, peas), and 1/3 proteins (e.g., chicken, fish, eggs). As athletes, carbohydrates are our friends since they fuel our muscles.

What Should I Eat/Drink on a Meet Day/Weekend?

You should ALWAYS have something to eat on the day of the meet. In fact, you should stick with eating 3 meals a day and depending on your events, you should have some snacks between events or heats. Even if it's an early morning swim, you still need to eat something. I know that nerves can get the best of us, but food = energy. No food means that you are running on pure adrenaline alone, and adrenaline will only get you so far (basically, one race). You need food and drinks on race day and throughout the meet.

For example:

  • Breakfast: Eat some oatmeal, or a bowl of cereal with low fat milk, or energy bar.
  • Right after you swim in the morning: Carton of yogurt, peanut butter sandwich, smoothie
  • Lunch: Small sub sandwich, fruit and/or vegetables, sports drinks
  • Mid-afternoon Snack: Fruit/vegetables, low fat string cheese, whole grain crackers
  • Dinner: Standard basic meal that includes entre, starch, vegetables and low fat milk
  • Snack before bed: Smoothie, yogurt parfait, bowl of cereal

On a race day, you want to consume mostly carbohydrates as they are digested faster than proteins and fats. The closer you are to the event, the less time your body has to absorb food. So the closer you are to the event, the less food you should eat.

So 3-4 hours before you swim, you should eat something, say a turkey sandwich, French toast, spaghetti, yogurt, string cheese and crackers, etc. If you only have 2 hours or less before you swim, stick to sports drinks and simple carbs, such as wheat toast, muffins, cereal with low-fat milk, etc. If you have just 1 hour before your event, stick to liquids and sports drinks.

Do NOT drink soda, juice or so-called "energy drinks" before a race. Ever. Soda and juice can actually dehydrate you because of the caffeine and sugar they contain. 'Energy' drinks are just pure stimulants - they don't provide true energy, they just rev up your central nervous system. Nutritionists do NOT recommend them at all.

Always, always, always hydrate (drink water or a sports drink) before, during and after a swim meet!!! Drink BEFORE you feel thirsty. Feeling thirsty is not an adequate indicator of how much fluids are in your system. You can be dehydrated before you know ALWAYS drink your water or a sports drink throughout the day. It is recommended that you drink at least 12-20oz. of water or sports drink 2-3 hours before the meet, and drink 6-12 oz. every 20 minutes DURING the meet. Yes, you will be running to the bathroom a lot, but at least you will be hydrated. And hey - it will give you something to do if you're bored.

Here's another good tip: For long swimming weekends, you should eat a small snack within 30 minutes after you swim. Why? It normally takes between 24 to 36 hours to replace muscle energy (glycogen). By consuming a healthy snack immediately post exercise (within 30 minutes), you can reload the muscles in 12 to 16 hours. So that means your muscles can recover faster, and hopefully you can continue your great swims well into Sunday night. NOTE: Eating outside this 30-minute window will delay replacement of glycogen. Having a small snack immediately right after the meet, rather than waiting an hour or two before you have a major meal, is a GOOD idea. If anything, it will take the edge off your hunger and will keep you from pigging out at dinner. Examples of healthy snacks: nutrition shake, smoothie, peanut butter sandwich, energy bar, yogurt, turkey sandwich, string cheese and crackers, etc.

A tip about goo-packets: Goo packets are ok to take between events if you have a short recovery time. However, the glucose in the packet will NOT be absorbed by the body in time to be of any benefit to your next event unless you ingest the appropriate amount of water to dilute the concentrated goo packet. It's probably best to mix the goo with water and sip it throughout the meet.

If you have any other nutrition questions, please feel free to send me an email and I'll do my best to answer it. Thanks!