Nutrition Guide

Nutrition for Peak PerformanceWhat Should I Eat?Night Before CompetitionPre-competition MealSnacks for Competition and After TrainingEating Between RacesAfter CompetitionFluidFatCarbohydrateProteinVitaminsMineralsOther Things to Remember

Nutrition for Peak Performance

Nutrition is a vital part of any sport-specific planned program. You, as an athlete, prepare physically and mentally over periods of months. Not to consider your individual dietary needs within that planned program could result in disappointment. To prepare for a better performance in competition, follow these simple nutritional guidelines:

  • Always maximise glycogen stores by ingesting 50 - 60% carbohydrates in your daily diet.
  • In training, practice the effects of changing your diet, see what works for you. What you eat and drink influences the quality of your performance.
  • Plan your food intake for the day before your competition, and for the day of the meet.
  • Time your eating around your events to allow the digestive system to rest sufficiently long enough to work for you not against you.

What Should I Eat?

The ability to train to the levels which could ensure success in top competition may be considerably affected by the swimmer’s diet. A healthy diet is one that provides for the energy you need in training requirements.
Energy is made up from three basic nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are broken down and stored as glycogen; most is stored in the muscle, although some is stored in the liver. Fat is stored in the adipose tissue and muscle cells. Swimmers who eat sensibly should get all the vitamins, proteins and minerals they need from any food intake. At ‘steady state’ training, both fat and carbohydrate will provide energy requirements.
As exercise becomes more intense, the swimmer will rely more on carbohydrates and less fat is used. When exercising is high, the energy in fat cannot be released quickly enough. The body cannot store vast amounts of carbohydrates; the muscles store it in the form of glycogen and these amounts are small. So small, that between 60 to 90 minutes of intensive training can use up most of it - and depletion leads to fatigue. If the swimmer has the wrong intake of foods levels, he or she will reach a stage of being unable to cope, or of ‘falling adaptation’.

A swimmer should eat foods rich in carbohydrates. These should be starchy, unrefined, complex carbohydrates such as whole grain cereals and cereal products (i.e., whole meal bread, muesli, rice, pasta, potato, etc.), beans, peas, and lentils. These foods also contain protein, vitamins and minerals, and have a nigh content of fibre.
You should not, as an athlete, rely heavily on simple carbohydrates such as confectionery, preserves, junk food, and sugar to provide the carbohydrates in your diet.
It is difficult to say how much carbohydrates you should eat. 500g of carbohydrate provides 2000 kcal. A diet containing 4000 kcal per day could be made up of 50% total energy intake in the form of carbohydrates. Some female athletes have relative low energy intakes (1500 - 2000 kcal in total). Women do tend to be smaller, therefore carbohydrate requirements to refuel smaller muscles should be less. Instead of a prescribed set amount of carbohydrates, the best approach is to concentrate on foods high in carbohydrates at most meals. Ideally, they should provide at least half of the total energy in your diet.

Night Before Competition

High carbohydrate, low fat meal with plenty of liquids (fruit juice, water). Do not try to “stock up” and over eat to the point of discomfort. Stick to what are normal size meals for you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Noodles
  • Rice or pasta (use low fat sauce)
  • Deep pan pizza (vegetarian or ham, stay away from fatty meats)
  • Beans on toast
  • Cereal and toast
  • Potato in any form, but stay away from CHIPS

Pre-competition Meal

The timing and nature of this meal depends on when the competition starts. You should aim to eat a meal 2 - 4 hours before the competition starts. Satisfy hunger with carbohydrates and fluid, but not to the level of discomfort due to eating too much, too close to the start of the race. The chosen meal should be high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein, as these nutrients will slow down the absorption of carbohydrates, which you need to turn into energy. 

Never go without food or drink. Fluids to ingest are water/fruit juice/sport drinks. Mashed bananas, rice pudding, yoghurt, jelly cubes, savoury popcorn, teacakes are all ideal, and can be an attractive alternative.

Drink, small amounts and often, up to the start of a race. Carry your drink bottle at all times, and drink! Here are some suggestions:

  • Rice / pasta / potato dish
  • Toast with marmalade / honey / jam
  • Breakfast cereals or pop tarts
  • Muffins / crumpets
  • Current buns / scones / raisin bread
  • Pancakes with a banana
  • Banana sandwiches
  • Beans on toast
  • Toasted sandwiches 

Snacks for Competition and After Training

  • Sandwiches (try banana/jam/honey)
  • Rolls / Pita bread
  • Muesli bars and dried fruit bars
  • Popcorn
  • Fresh / dried / canned fruit
  • Rusks or dried cereal
  • Current buns / Tea cakes / Malt loaf / Raisin bread
  • Sesame snack / sticks
  • Fruit cake
  • Plain type biscuits
  • Pop tarts
  • Jelly cubes
  • Scones / Muffins / Crumpets
  • Bowl of cereal
  • Toast
  • Low fat rice pudding
  • Low fat fruit yoghurts
  • Crisp breads / Rice Cakes / Crackers
  • Slice of pizza (thick base)
  • Bread pudding / Cheese buns / Pancakes
  • Drinks - Juices / Squash / Commercial carbohydrate drinks

Eating Between Races

The time you have between races and your individual performances will determine your food choices. With one hour before your race, your carbohydrates will have to be refuelled. This can be achieved by sports drinks, juices or squash.
With longer than one hour between races, a high carbohydrate meal or snack may be ingested. These will be the types of food suggested in the previous lists. More snacks are eaten on the day of the competition, but regular meals should be resumed after competition. Make sure your snacks are high in carbohydrates rather than fatty, sugary snacks. For example, do not eat chocolate bars as a snack on the day of competition.

After Competition

We all know what it is like after you have finished, you want to head straight for the nearest fish and chip shop or burger bar - try to avoid the temptation. However, if all your events have finished, then by all means go ahead and treat yourself, you probably deserve it.

If, however, you are swimming the next day, it is vital to refuel and re-hydrate your body. Start drinking straight after the competition. Have a high carbohydrate snack as soon as possible, followed by a low fat meal later. This also applies after hard training.
Some suggestions for post-competition meals include:-

  • Chinese meals with lots of noodles
  • Pizza or pasta dishes with tomato-based sauce
  • Chicken kebab with pita bread and salad
  • Jacket potato and salad fillings
  • Indian food with rice and breads

Fluid

Dehydration affects physical performance and, as a result, will prevent you from performing at your best. Thirst is not a reliable indication of the need for water and it is important to drink before you are thirsty.

Make it a habit to drink before training and more importantly, immediately afterwards. If possible, drink between sets while training. The volume of fluid in the stomach should be kept as high as is comfortable in order to maximise the rate of fluid emptying the stomach. In practice, this will mean drinking small amounts of fluid frequently.

As well as the reduction of the body’s carbohydrate stores, the loss of fluid is one of the major causes of fatigue in prolonged exercise. Evidence clearly indicates that soft drinks or sports drinks which contain an energy form with carbohydrate together with electrolyte are more effective than plain water in improving performance. 

Fat

Too much fat is associated with many pathological diseases (heart disease, obesity and cancer). It is easy to take in more energy, in the form of fat, than needed because fat is a concentrated source of energy. However, fat is required to provide essential fatty acids. These cannot be manufactured by the body and must be supplied in the diet. They are needed in small amounts and are used in the formation of cells membranes and substances known as prostaglandin’s, which are similar to hormones, and control a wide range of processes in the body. These essential fatty acids belong to the group of unsaturated fats.

The other function of fat is to provide energy. Very active people, like competitive swimmers, rely on this for some of their energy needs.

However, a healthy diet is one that provides most of its daily energy requirements in the form of carbohydrates rather than fat. It is advisable to replace saturated fat (fat in foods from animals), by unsaturated fats (foods generally found from vegetable sources).

Carbohydrate

Please see the section entitled "What Should I Eat?" for more details on carbohydrates.

Protein

Protein is an important nutrient for children and teenagers who are still growing. Exercising causes an increase in protein turnover. As most foods contain protein of some sort, most people eat more than enough to cover for the extra need. Eating a large amount of protein can be wasteful, as the surplus is broken down and metabolised or converted into fat and stored.

Protein is made up of small units called amino acids. In all ,there are 23 different amino acids which are all required by the body. The majority are made by the body while eight are contained from food. Extra good sources of amino acids are peanut butter, spinach, corn tacos, kidney beans, baked beans and pasta with cheese.

Vitamins

These do not provide energy, but are important as they have specific functions in the body. They are not manufactured in the body, so must therefore be provided in the diet in small amounts. Many foods are fortified with extra vitamins. An excess of vitamins will not improve performance.

NameVitanimFunctionSources
Retinal A Good vision, growth of bones, teeth and healthy skin. Protects against colds and infections. Fish, eggs, liver, milk, orange, green & yellow vegetables and fruit.
Thiamine B1 Important for fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism. Repairs and maintain the nervous system. Cereals, eggs, milk, beef, poultry, potatoes, nuts, beans and peas.
Riboflavin B2 Ads fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism. Milk, eggs, cheese, cereals, grains, meat and green leafy vegetables.
Niacin   Needed for digestion and in the aerobic metabolism, particularly the metabolism of fats. Milk, lean meat, fish, eggs, liver, potatoes, peas, green & yellow beans and peanuts.
Pyridoxine B6 Aids protein and fat metabolism, and in the formation of antibodies and red blood cells, nervous system. Meat, fish, whole grain peas, oats, rice, corn, milk, lettuce, tomatoes, spinach and green beans.
Calciferol D Helps the absorption of calcium and phosphorus for the formation of bone and teeth. Dairy food, liver, fish, action of sunlight on skin.
Panothenic   Important for fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism and the formation of haemoglobin. Liver, eggs, fish, lean beef, broccoli, skimmed milk, potatoes, cauliflower and tomatoes.
Cobalamin B12 Important for digestion, bone growth and repair of nerve tissue. Involved in the formation of red blood cells and in fat, carbohydrate and protein metabolism. Liver, meat, fish, milk, poultry and dairy products.
Choline   Involved in fat metabolism, and in muscular contraction. Eggs, lean meat, beans and peas.
Ascorbic Acid C Important for the metabolism of muscle tissue and for bone growth. Believed to aid in the utilisation of oxygen and the production of red blood cells. Improves recovery time and prevents fatigue. Citrus fruits, melon, tomatoes, cabbage, leafy vegetables and potatoes.
Biotin   Involved in fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Liver, chicken, fish, spinach, corn and peas.
Tocopherol E Believed to aid production of red blood cells. Enhances activity of vitamins A and C. Wheat germ oil, corn, lettuce, whole grain cereals, eggs, rice, green leafy vegetables. Vegetable oils, milk and dairy products.
  K Involved with the process of wound repair and blood clotting. Green leafy vegetables and egg yolk.

 

The B group of vitamins are the most likely to have a significant effect on performance because their role is involved in the control and regulation in the release of energy from food. Vitamins are not a source of energy in themselves; they are key agents in unlocking energy from carbohydrate, fat and protein. Thiamine and riboflavin are linked to energy expenditure. T he harder you train the more you will need from your diet. Eating the food that supplies carbohydrate will also provide the B vitamins as well. 

Vitamin C has a variety of roles, the most well known being that of aiding in the structure of connective tissue that binds cells together and helping to fight infection. Its other, less well known, function is involved in the release of energy from fats and helping in the absorption of iron to prevent anaemia.

Minerals

Studies have suggested that there is a relationship between certain minerals and performance. Some minerals, like some vitamins, help control and regulate metabolism. Other minerals form part of enzymes and hormones. Meat is the richest and most easily absorbed source of iron (not effected by fibre or tannin from tea).

The absorption of iron from foods such as bread, fortified breakfast cereals, eggs, dried apricots, green vegetables and lentils can vary depending on the other foods that are eaten at the same time. Meals are normally a combination of foods and other substances. For example, dietary fibre from bran and cereals and tannin from tea, can interfere with iron absorption. Vitamin C improves absorption from iron containing foods.

When performers have healthy diets, there is little need for supplementation. It should be noted that excessive mineral supplementation without regard to an individual’s specific deficiencies and dietary reference values can be detrimental or even harmful. Keep to a well-balanced diet and the body will regulate and adjust to compensate.

MineralFunctionSources
Iron Important for the formation of haemoglobin and myoglobin and for the transport of oxygen. Liver. Lean meat, fish, fruit, poultry, green leafy vegetables, dried beans, peas, breads, cereals and eggs.
Calcium Important for bone and teeth formation. Essential for nerve impulse transmission and muscular contraction. Milk, dairy products and green leafy vegetables.
Potassium Important for the maintenance of normal water balance and acid-base balance. Important for muscular contraction. Fruits, milk, meat, cereals and green leafy vegetables.
Sodium Important for the maintenance of normal water balance and acid base balance. Important for muscular contraction. Table salt, seafood, meat, milk and eggs.
Chloride Aids regulation of acid-base balance and enzyme function. Table salt, seafood, meat, milk and eggs.
Phosphorous Important for bone and teeth formation. Needed for the formation of cell membranes. Important to metabolism. Some B complex vitamins can only function in combination with phosphorus. Meat, poultry, fish, milk, Eggs, nuts, beans and peas.
Magnesium Activates enzymes involved in glucose and protein metabolism. Nuts, peas, beans, cereals and green leafy vegetables.
Sulphur Important for carbohydrate metabolism. Needed in muscle tissues, tendons and cartilage and for the maintenance of skin and hair. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, cheese, peas and beans.
Chromium Involved in glucose and fat metabolism. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, cheese, peas and beans.
Fluoride Needed for growth and maintenance of bones and teeth. Water, rice, soybeans and green leafy vegetables.
Zinc Needed for normal growth and repair of muscle tissue. Participates with insulin in glucose metabolism. Activates many enzymes involved with muscular contraction. Milk, liver, wheat bran, meat and shellfish.
Copper Important for red blood cell formation. Constituent of enzymes involved with iron metabolism. Involved in the maintenance of the myelin sheaths of the nerve fibres. Liver, shellfish, whole grains, peas, beans, nuts, meat, fish, poultry and dried fruits.

Other Things to Remember

  • Milk is an excellent food because it is a good source of vitamins, minerals and protein. Try to drink a pint or more a day. Drink milk, have it as a milkshake or on cereals. You could also have milk as part of a pudding (e.g., rice pudding, custard of milk) or in drinks such as hot chocolate.
  • If you do not drink milk, then try to eat cheese and plenty of yoghurts to make up the nutrients.
  • Do not forget to eat lots of fruits and vegetables!! If you get bored of fresh fruit, try tinned or dried fruit. Frozen of tinned vegetables (including baked beans) are an alternative to fresh vegetables.
  • Many people eat too much fat and not enough carbohydrates. At your age, it is not necessary to drastically reduce the fat in your diet. But, keep an eye on your fat intake by:
  • Not putting too much butter / margarine on your bread etc.
  • Not eating chips and roast potatoes all of the time!! Try to have baked, boiled, and mashed potatoes sometimes or try oven or microwave chips (they contain less fat).
  • Fill up on carbohydrate rich foods and do not cover your plate with fatty meats and creamy sauces. Make these the smaller part of the meal.
  • Higher fat snacks include crisps and chocolate. These are fine if you eat them (as with everything) in MODERATION (they will also give you a good source of carbohydrates). Try some of the other snacks off the list for a change.
  • VARIETY is the key to a good diet. Try to eat lots of different foods and try new foods whenever you can.
  • ALWAYS CARRY SOME FOOD AND DRINK IN YOUR SWIM BAG TO AVOID GETTING ‘CAUGHT SHORT’.

 

 

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