What to eat during swimming competitions

Swimmers need to ensure that they eat enough food and take advantage of opportunities to eat and drink during events. Swimmers should develop an eating plan that fits in with their competition schedule and that includes foods that are familiar to them and that will not affect their performance. Practising competition eating during training sessions will help to identify food choices that will suit them best.


The Day Before

Eat meals and snacks high in complex carbohydrates. You need to keep glycogen stores topped up.

  • Drink fluids little and often to stay properly hydrated

  • Eat little and often - every two to four hours to keep blood sugar levels steady and fuel your muscles in preparation

  • Avoid big meals or over-eating in the evening

  • Stick to familiar foods


Morning of the Event

Don't swim on empty. Even if you feel nervous have breakfast. Stick to easily digested foods:

  • cereal with milk

  • porridge

  • banana with yogurt

  • fruit

  • wholemeal toast with jam

If you're struggling, try liquid meals such as milkshakes, yoghurt drinks or a smoothie.


Snacks between Heats

Try to eat as soon as possible after your swim, to give yourself as long as possible to recover if you have to swim again.

If you can't stomach anything solid, try flavoured milk or diluted juice that will help replenish your energy supplies and assist the recovery of aching muscles.

The list below offers food options to be snacking on:

  • Water, diluted fruit juice with a pinch of salt

  • Pasta salad

  • Plain sandwiches eg chicken, tuna, cheese with salad, banana, peanut butter

  • Bananas, grapes, apples, plums, pears

  • Dried fruit eg raisins, apricots, mango

  • Smoothies

  • Crackers and rice cakes 

  • Malt loaf

  • Cereal bars, fruit bars

  • Yogurt and yogurt drinks

  • Small bags of unsalted nuts e.g peanuts, cashews, almonds


Examples below:

If less than 30 minutes between races:

Fluids, sports drinks, juices and fruit are the best options


If 30-60 minutes between races:

Sandwiches with honey/jam/banana, sports bars, cereal bars or low fat muesli bars


If 1-2 hours between races:

Pasta, rice or noodle-based dishes with low fat sauce/toppings or sandwiches


If more than 2 hours between races:

A more substantial meal or meal replacement can be eaten with plenty of fluids

Whether it is on the way to training or in between heats, swimmers need to go to swimming venues with snacks prepared. Do not rely on the venues to provide appropriate food to fuel swimmers.


Exercise Meals

If you are planning to go training later in the day, try to eat an exercise friendly meal two to three hours before you go. This means keeping your carbohydrate and protein levels high on a roughly 60:40 ratio. Some examples:

  • Baked potatoes - filled with beans or chilli

  • Pasta meals or bakes - include plenty of vegetables. Tuna is also good energy source

  • Beans on toast - beans are full of protein and wholemeal toast has your complex carbohydrate



Most swimmers are dehydrated. During training it is important to stay hydrated and in order to do this, it is recommended to drink 1-2 litres of fluid per hour. Caffeinated drinks eg coke should be avoided as caffeine is a diuretic and it is important to watch the sugar intake.

Ideal drinks include squash, fruit juice, water or sports drinks. Sports drinks are good to use when training but they should be avoided when inactive.

It is advisable to fill a 2 litre bottle with fluid at the beginning of the day to drink throughout the day, every 30mins is ideal. This is in addition to drinks for training.


Training Type

Nutrition Guidelines

Examples of Nutrition

Moderate Training 


  • Single session with training next day 

  • Maintenance of fitness/strength

Refuel within 30-60 minutes after training session.

Balanced snack with carbs, protein and fluids Eat next meal within 2 hours

Regular fueling and hydration in the day

8-16oz chocolate milk

6oz non-fat Greek yogurt plus water

8oz fruit, yogurt smoothie and water

Light Training

  • One session in the day, followed by a rest day 

  • Recovery day

Timing is less critical but be sure to refuel within 1-2 hours following exercise

Top up glycogen storage with a small high carb snack or having your next core meal

Water followed with your core meal

Fresh fruit and water

Dried fruit plus water

4oz fruit juice plus water

4-8oz chocolate milk plus water

plain non-fat greek yogurt plus water