Nutrition For Swimming

Advice and Guidance

Newbury District Swimming Club

The most beneficial diet for Competitive Swimmers will contain 60-70% Carbohydrate, 12% Protein, with the rest coming from Fat.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates (wholegrain breads and pasta, green veg, beans and sweet potatoes, for example) and protein will provide the energy you need to perform at your best.  Aim for carbohydrates to make up half of your meal and ensure that you include protein (to aid muscle repair after a swim) at every sitting, along with vegetables and good fats such as avocado, cashew nuts, pumpkin seeds and coconut flesh.  A range, albeit large, of 8 to 10 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of body weight is recommended.  New research has also shown that a small dose of protein can prime your muscles for recovery even before you start your swim.  In fact, The ISSN (International Society for Sports Nutrition) recommends consuming 0.15-0.25 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight an hour or two before a swim.

Every swimmer is different, but you should find that although Protein requirements are higher in Swimmers in training than in inactive people, most swimmers will consume sufficient protein as a consequence of their increased energy intake.

Swimming competitively demands high-energy exertion, so eating smaller, nutritionally rich meals is important – this should satisfy the appetite, keep blood sugar balanced and energy levels high and free from dips.  Opt for this approach rather than three larger meals a day, which may leave you feeling lethargic in training and when competing.

Nutrition during Training

2-3 hours before training: Eat carbohydrate and protein-rich foods such as eggs, wholemeal bread, pasta, beans and chicken.  A small, easily digestible meal is best.  Salad is good for you, but fills you up and does not give you enough energy for swimming.  Choose instead vegetables with a higher carbohydrate content such as sweet potato, sweetcorn, carrots, beetroot, parsnips, turnips, peas and beans.

After training: Pre- and post-training session snacks and meals are important to help keep blood sugar levels balanced, particularly immediately after a swim.  Aim to refuel your body within 20-30 minutes of training with a mix of muscle-repairing protein and glycogen-restoring carbohydrates.

Avoid fatty foods which put extra demands on your digestive system and cut all nutritionally empty food from your diet.  Instead, opt for healthy, light snacks such as fresh fruit, smoothies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, protein shakes and cereal bars.  After an evening training session a good snack would be Weetabix or toast with banana and or juice or a smoothie.

Dehydration can affect your energy levels and performance, so take a water bottle with you to the poolside and drink plenty before, during and after your training.

Nutrition at Competitions

In the week leading up to a competition you should maintain a high carbohydrate diet, but avoid over eating the day before a competition (the benefit of carb loading is a myth! – keep eating what you normally would do.)

As I said, although salad should have a place in your diet, the time is not on a competition day.  Equally, this is not the time to try new foods you have never eaten before, or to eat spicy, hard to digest foods.

The Pre competition meal should be eaten 3-4 hours before the event, should contain high carbohydrate foods, low in fat, protein and fibre and should not upset your stomach! E.g Beans or scrambled egg on Toast, Jacket potato, sandwiches, cereal, light pasta or rice meal.

Then the snacks come in.  If they can be eaten 15-20 mins before the warm up or race then they will be most effective.  If there is more than one race and sufficient time between then keep having 1 small snack between each race, but this will depend on how the swimmer feels and if their stomach can cope with it.  If they don’t have sufficient time to snack or don’t feel they can, then at the very least have water and or a  still energy drink.

The snacks should include:

White/wholemeal bread sandwich with filling e.g Jam/Peanut butter/Marmite/ Honey

Pasta – Thick, large pasta shapes with little or no sauce.

Bagels, Fruit loaf, Malt loaf, Teacakes, hot cross buns, scotch pancakes (with or without a small amount of low fat spread)

Rice cakes, cereal bars, whole-wheat cereal such as cornflakes, muesli, shredded wheat or Weetabix. (Not All bran, Bran flakes or anything too high fibre)

Bananas (remember a riper banana will be digested more quickly)

Raisins, melon, pineapple

Pretzels, plain biscuits like digestives, crispbreads, and popcorn

Now is the time to have a still Lucozade Sport type drink as long as it is drunk alongside water.  A sip of each waters it down and keeps you hydrated without rotting teeth or overloading the stomach.  Fizzy is not a good idea as it takes up valuable space in the stomach!

Some other snacks which are not quite as quick in giving instant energy but are good things to snack on if anything on the first list is unavailable or if you are not competing immediately:

Pasta such as spaghetti/macaroni, Noodles, Porridge

Plain biscuits, sponge cake

Sweet potato, plain low salt crisps.

Grapes (both black and green) Oranges

Other snacks have lower glycaemic index (less easily converted energy) and are therefore best left for after competitions or at other times. E.g Apples, Cherries, peaches, plums, ice cream, yogurts.

Ensure that you keep drinking before and up to competition, water, diluted squashes or juices.  Do not become dehydrated. 

Ideas for competition/training meals:

Pasta/Rice and sauce e.g Spaghetti Bolognese, Chilli con carne, Chicken and tomato, Macaroni, Cannelloni (prepare with low fat milk and cheese)

Pasta bake (Go easy on the cheese (low fat) and choose a tomato based sauce not a creamy one)

Deep pan pizza (again with low fat or less cheese)

Jacket potatoes and low fat filling

Toasted Sandwiches, filled rolls and sandwiches

Salads based on beans, rice or pasta with pitta bread or roll

Soups with veg like potatoes, lentils, beans, peas, pearl barley or bread

Shepherds/Cottage pie

Hot pot/casserole/stew with veg, potatoes, pulses, rice or pasta

Chicken breast with new potatoes/Jacket potatoes/Pasta/Rice


Fruit Crumble

Bread and Butter pudding

Summer pudding

Fruit salad (Try to choose fruits with a higher carbohydrate content)

Tinned fruit

If adding custard make with skimmed or semi skimmed milk

Bowl of cereal

Banana sandwich

Cereal bars

Chocolate bars (once or twice a week only!)



Scones/Fruit cake/Fruit loaf/Fruit buns/Malt loaf

You will notice that at no point here have I mentioned sweets or Jelly cubes!!  Although these can be consumed as part of a balanced competition diet, there is no scientific proof that they will enhance performance, in fact, an overload of sugar during competition can produce highs and lows in blood sugar which at the wrong time can be detrimental to performance.  So probably best to stick to the competition snacks mentioned before.

If you have any questions please contact Vicki Wade.