Dietary Info

Diet and Nutrition for Swimmers

Below is a nutritional guideline for how to prepare yourself before training and competitions.

Don’t let a poor diet ruin your hard work and training. Instead, maximise your performance by feeding your body with all the nutrients and energy-giving food it needs.

Your body is like a car engine, if you don’t put enough fuel in the car it won’t get you to where you want to go, the harder you press the accelerator and the faster you go, the more fuel the car uses.

The human body is similar but instead of petrol, the fuel we need is food and fluids.  If you consider that the human body is 60 to 70% water you can see why it is so important to keep on top of your hydration, most importantly…Water.

Swimming pools are very hot and humid places and sitting around at swimming meets can very quickly leave you in a dehydrated state. The body only allows a tiny window of fluctuation of variability before it starts taking control and deciding how our body performs. No matter how determined you are towards your race, if your nutrition and /or hydration is neglected, you will NOT perform to the best of your ability.

Haribos etc are not good sources of energy…the odd sugary sweet on poolside is acceptable, but emphasis must be on a few. If you consume these in large amounts you will experience a rapid rise in blood sugar, and a spike before a plummet in your insulin levels. The most common outcome from this is once you start to race or exercise with you will either feel or be sick.

Hydration is critical as an athlete, and you must make sure you continually sip drinks (not FIZZY) throughout the session or day. Water is perfect, Isotonic or Sports drinks also, but beware of consuming too much, too close to your race.

So Remember:

  • No Fizzy drinks
  • No sweets in large amounts
  • Plenty of drinks especially Carbohydrate drinks
  • Do have snacks that are easily digestible, rice cakes, energy bars, meal replacement drinks/bars, dried fruit, bananas, small amounts of smoothies
  • But at all times DRINK, DRINK, DRINK

Healthy meals and snacks for swimmers

If you’re a competitive swimmer you’ll already be aware of the importance your diet plays on your performance in the pool. Here are a few healthy meals and snacks for athletes.

Breakfast 2 hours before swimming

Breakfast cereal or porridge with low fat milk and fresh fruit (berries, prunes, apricots, banana)

Toast, Bread, bagels, with jams, honey, syrups

English Muffins with honey/Jams

Meal replacement shake

Exercise Meals 2- 4 hours before swimming

If you’re planning to go swimming or training later in the day try to eat an exercise-friendly meal two to four hours before you go. This means keeping your carbohydrate and protein levels high on roughly a 60:40 ratio and not pigging out on sluggish unsaturated fats. Here are some good examples:

Baked potatoes – fill them with beans, sweet corn or chilli, not too much cheese, and remember to eat the skin, it’s the healthiest bit!

Pasta meals or bakes – again go light on the cheese, throw in plenty of vegetables. Tuna is also a great energy source.

Beans on toast – they may be the signature of a student’s staple diet but low-sugar baked beans are actually really good for you. Bags of protein in the beans and wholemeal toast has your complex carbohydrates. And if beans aren’t your thing, eggs will do a similar job.

Chilli con carne – beans, lean mince, and brown rice all should set you up perfectly for exercise in a few hours. Fatty, greasy mince, white rice and salty tortilla chips will not.

Sandwiches or Rolls – Wholemeal with tuna, cottage cheese or chicken, fresh fruit

Pre-training Snacks

Unless you’re trying to lose body fat don’t train on an empty stomach, you’ll be running on empty and your performance will be impaired. Eat a small meal or snack between one and two hours before you start your training.


Great snacking foods are:

fruits (fresh is best but dried are still okay)

energy foods (cereal bars, energy drinks, protein shakes)

yogurt (low fat if possible)

whole grain foods (whole wheat cereal or wholemeal toast).

Rice pudding

Snacking During the Day

Elite athletes keep their blood sugar level as constant as possible by snacking regularly (and healthily) during the day. Only do this if you’re training enough not to add body weight from the increased food/calorie intake.

Target the same snacks you would as a pre-training boost – complex carbohydrates, fruits or protein shakes.

Snacks between races:

Bananas, Rice Cakes, Energy Bars, Energy Gels, Jaffa Cakes (a few), Carbohydrate sports drinks.


If you’re putting in the metres in the pool, your body will need a boost when you finish your training.

Always try to refuel within 30 minutes of finishing and preferably within 15 minutes – your body immediately needs nutrients to repair muscles and replace energy. A sandwich is a good choice.


Making the perfect recovery sandwich

Eating after exercise is vital –  it is recommended you refuel between 15 to 30 minutes after training – and nothing is quicker and more versatile than a recovery sandwich.

Recovery food means carbohydrates to replace lost glycogen and provide the energy to synthesise protein which delivers amino acids to repair muscles and boost the immune system.

But it’s not an excuse to overeat – don’t refuel like an athlete unless you’ve trained like one. So, without further ado, here are the ins and outs for your perfect swimming recovery sarnie!

Choosing bread

Two slices will suffice – remember this is a recovery sandwich.

DO eat whole wheat or whole grain bread in your sandwich

DON’T eat white bread in your sandwich.

It’s a simple case of carbohydrate differences. Whole wheat and whole grain bread contain your dose of starchy, complex carbs which longer for your body to synthesise than the simple carbs in white bread.

Choosing a spread

DO opt for sparingly applied natural butter if you’re using spread.

DON’T use your typical supermarket branded margarine or salted butter.

A small amount of flavoured spread like mayonnaise or mustard on your recovery sandwich is fine but make sure it’s low fat and again use sparingly.

Many marketed spreads and margarine brands are created from vegetable oil which usually means they will be high in trans fats or partially hydrogenated fats which create massive blood vessel inflammation and inhibit your recovery.

Instead opt for your natural butter which contains essential fatty acids which actually HELP the body burn fats as well as stimulating muscle recovery and metabolism.

Choosing the main fillings

DO go for a main filling which is high in lean protein. These include chicken breast, beef, tuna, organic peanut butter, free range eggs or Quorn.

DO NOT use cheap, processed meats like packaged ham or processed cheese.

It’s all about the lean protein with your main filling and the above foods are full of it. Processed meat contains e-numbers and chemicals so the best type of meat is a quality cut – preferably by your own hand!

Organic peanut butter is a fantastic filling because it doubles up with protein and essential fatty acids. Finally, buy free range eggs which have a hugely improved biological value.

Choosing secondary fillings

DO throw any type of salad or vegetables in your sandwich.

DO use cheese – but as a secondary filling.

DO use a sprinkle of black pepper.

Lots of dos and not so many don’ts for secondary fillings. Raw salad and vegetables are full of nutrients, anti-oxidants and fibrous carbs so take your pick.

Cheese is fine (not the processed packaged ‘fake’ cheese you see on American cheeseburgers) but try and make it low fat and not the primary filling.

Finally, a sprinkle of black pepper will raise your internal body temperature and speed up the fat burning process.