What every swimmer should know to swim their best
It's been nearly six years since I swam competitively. Something called "life" got in the way; I got derailed. I was a former Ironman triathlete with a strong swim background. I even competed in a couple of long distance ocean swims, namely the Bonaire Eco-Swim and the Bermuda 'Round The Sound Swim. And when I say long distance, I mean long: 10K (that's 6.2 miles for the non-metrics out there.) It wasn't unlike me to train 2-3 hours in the pool for one of these swims. And - I knew how to train.
As a coach with over twenty years experience, I taught both myself and others how to maximize their training, physically, nutritionally and mentally. Which brings me to today's topic: eating to swim.
I'm back in the pool, swimming with my local masters swim team in Chicago (hi to my fellow Swedish Fish out there!) My first few practices beat me up pretty bad, until muscle memory kicked in and muscular strength increased. As my conditioning increased and I started to build speed and endurance, I knew that I had to train smarter, and that included eating like an athlete again. I've created a list of what I consider to be the best in smart training nutrition for swimmers (and most athletes for that matter).
- HYDRATE - Drink plenty of water before, during and after practice. Most individuals should drink (in ounces) their body weight divided by two every day. You pass the "pee test" if your urine is clear to light yellow in color. Dehydration (for example, 1-2% of body weight), can increase heart rate up to 5bpm, falsely making training efforts appear "harder" than normal. Sports drinks are not necessary, unless training volume exceeds 90 minutes in most cases.
- CONSUME APPROXIMATELY 300 CALORIES 2-3 HOURS BEFORE PRACTICE - This will ensure that your tank has enough fuel to get you through practice. Ideally, these calories would come from mostly complex carbohydrates, although up to 25% protein would be ideal. Examples of an ideal meal might be a banana or apple with peanut butter, half of a turkey sandwich, or a bowl of oatmeal with a handful of raisins or nuts. A meal replacement bar with the proper ratio of carbohydrates to protein could suffice. This could be a well balanced regular meal as well.
- OR, CONSUME APPROXIMATELY 100 CALORIES WITHIN 1 HOUR BEFORE PRACTICE - When you're short on time, something is better than nothing. In this case, stick to simple carbohydrates, which will give you quick energy. Examples would include a banana, an orange, or a 100% juice drink.
- CONSUME 100-200 CALORIES WITHIN 20-30 MINUTES AFTER PRACTICE - Studies have shown that our muscle fibers are "open and receptive" to receiving fuel up to about 30 minutes post exercise, then, the fibers start to close up. Consuming a combination of carbohydrate and protein in a 3:1 (or 4:1) ratio is perfect for repairing damaged muscle fibers.
- AVOID THE BAD - It doesn't make sense to put in hours of solid physical training, with the goal of getting and staying healthy or competing, if you fill your body with bad food. It's like reversing all the good you just did! Bad food choices would include most processed foods. (TIP: Read the label and buy only foods that have fewer than 5 ingredients.) Avoid or limit fast foods, chemicals, food colorings, foods with added sugars and white flours and foods with bad saturated fats, and alcohol. (Sorry, friends!)
- CHOOSE THE GOOD - Whenever possible, choose whole foods. These would include lots of vegetables and fruits, some meats, limited cheeses and dairy and whole grains and nuts. Aim for eating good food choices 80% of the time.
Of course, there are plenty of swimmers out there who are just swimming for the health of it and that's fine. But, if you're looking to improve or compete, or are not as effective in your workout as you want to be, take a look at your current nutrition and see if there's room for improvement. Unless you're putting in some heavy yardage or hours in the pool, you may not need extra calories, so be careful about over-fueling. Don't forget to take a look at the timing of your meals, which could be an opportunity to balance your fuel intake and utilization. Finally, pay attention to your own special needs if you have diabetes or low blood sugar or hypertension, and adjust according to your doctor's recommendations. Happy laps!
Kathy Kent is a nationally acclaimed speaker on women's health and fitness issues. Her company, 365fitt, provides consulting and training services to corporations, communities and individuals seeking a healthier lifestyle. Her book, Living 365fitt, A 12-Week Program to Lifestyle Wellness, and accompanying webinars, provide sound information on physical, nutritional and emotional lifestyle changes for better fitness.
Contact Kathy for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.