Nutrition is an important part of any swimmer’s training and should play an integral part in the planning of a training programme.

Carbohydrate is an important energy source for the swimmer. It is stored in the muscles and liver as a substance known as glycogen and is carried to the blood as glucose. When you start to exercise glycogen is broken down to release energy; this released energy is used to power the swimmer’s muscles whilst swimming.

Carbohydrates are found in the following foods:


Breakfast cereals









Dried fruit




Tinned fruit

Low fat fruit yoghurts

It is important that your diet contains a wide variety of carbohydrate containing foods. This will ensure that you obtain all the vitamins and minerals you need plus the fibre that comes from wholemeal bread, pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit. It is vital to start replacing muscle and liver glycogen immediately after exercise: perhaps consume smaller amounts of carbs like bananas or cereal bars. One of the building blocks of quality training is good nutrition. Every swimmer and parent need to be aware of the following two points:

1. Food does NOT make a fast swimmer.
2. Quality training DOES make a fast swimmer. A vital part of quality training is good nutrition.

Nutritional Balance

All athletes will agree nutrition is essential to proper training and successful performance. There are three primary sources of energy for all people: proteinscarbohydrates and fat.  In addition, everyone requires vitamins and minerals.

Proteins – these build and replace muscle tissue when you train to help make you stronger.  Proteins are found mainly in dairy, fish, poultry and meat products.  Nuts are a good source of protein, however there are an increasing number of individuals in the UK who have potentially life-threatening reactions to even tiny quantities.  If you use these, please do not bring them poolside and save them for home use.

Carbohydrates – these convert easily into energy to give you the fuel to train and compete (see list above).  However, be careful: if you consume too many carbohydrates, they will turn into fat.

Fat – fat has an important role to play in our diet – providing a longer-term energy store, insulation, and a way to absorb vitamins (many are fat soluble meaning they need fat to be absorbed). However most western diets are too high in fats, particularly saturated fats which are commonly regarded as ‘bad’ fats (broadly this is fat which is solid or nearly solid at room temperature, such as butter, cream and the fat on meat).  These fats found in snacks such as biscuits, cakes and crisps: if you eat a lot of these it is likely that your diet will contain too much fat.

A good way to avoid eating too much fat is to make sure you refuel immediately after swimming with high protein and carbohydrate foods (see below for suggestions), and to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in your daily diet. 

In short explosive high-intensity swimming sets, the body does not get a chance to break down the fat to provide energy.  In long distance training and cold-water open water swimming body fat stores can/may be utilised.  There’s a high likelihood that your optimum body composition will be the composition that accompanies your best performance times!

Vitamins & Minerals – these play a vital role in the way the body uses proteins, carbohydrates and fats and they also help maintain the body’s chemistry.  If you eat a varied diet, you will naturally obtain enough vitamins and minerals.

What to eat and when

The important things for a swimmer to consider for the optimal diet are:

Overall intake – affected by how much training you do. The more hours you train the more important your diet will become.

Pre swim – it’s important to eat before swimming, particularly if you are swimming early in the morning. Food is fuel. You wouldn’t expect your car to run on empty. The more time you have before training, the more protein you can include in your snack. Some good pre-training meals and snacks include: 

  • If 2 hours before training: Toast and boiled eggs, or a sandwich with ham or chicken, a baked potato with cheese and beans, or a rice bowl with lean meat and veggies.
  • If 1 hour before training: whole-grain cereal and milk, or granola and low-fat yogurt, or toast with a small amount of peanut butter or a homemade smoothie made with fruit and yogurt.
  • If 30 mins before training: as you don’t have much time to digest your food, choose a light carbohydrate snack such as a banana, granola bar, bagel or raisin bread.
  • Always include a drink with your pre-training snack so that you start practice hydrated.

A good pre-training snack will not only increase your energy levels but will increase your concentration and desire to work hard, which will please your coach!

During swim – the only thing that swimmers need to be consuming during training is water. Hydration is very important. Try to drink most of your bottle during a session.

Post swim – eat as soon as possible after training (within 30 minutes – don’t wait until you get home, by the time you shower, change and make it home 30 mins will have passed).  This is the key to starting your body’s recovery process – to repair and refuel your muscles. This snack should contain a combination of carbohydrate with some protein. It should be low in fat.  Importantly you should rehydrate as well.

Some ideas for good post swim snacks are:

  • Granola Bar and cup of low fat greek yogurt
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Ham/chorizo/chicken wrap
  • Honey sandwich and 2 boiled eggs.
  • Low fat cheese and crackers plus fruit

Bags of crisps or chocolate bars are not good post swim snacks. Try to avoid these; be prepared by expecting to feel hungry and coming equipped with a better option.

Workouts are hard, they’re supposed to be. They are designed to tell the body “this is hard work for me; you need to adapt to enable me to do it again later”. The body actually responds by becoming more efficient aerobically and anaerobically. During its time off from the water the body will adapt, but only if given the PROPER FUELS.  If not, all that hard work will have been wasted.