Optimum Nutrition for Swimmers

As for all athletes, nutrition for swimmers involves a proper mixture of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in their diets. Protein is essential for muscle development and repair, carbohydrates provide energy for high intensity exercise, and fats provide energy for extended endurance exercises. In the proper combinations, these three provide the energy and muscular needs of swimmers. To that end, experts recommend that 60 percent of a swimmer’s calories should be carbohydrates, 15 percent should be protein, and the remaining 25 percent should be fat.

Low energy is simply not an option for an Endurance Athlete!.Here is a quick look at the top 10 foods every endurance athlete should have on their shopping list.

1. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), also known as a “super food” for its high nutritional profile, is my favorite fast cooking grain. It cooks in just 10-15 minutes. Quinoa is an ancient high-energy grain from South America. The Incas used it to increase the stamina of their warriors and allow them to run long distances at high altitudes. It is an ideal food for endurance. Quinoa is a complete protein; meaning is has all 9 essential amino acids comparable to milk! Therefore. it is perfect for vegetarians concerned with protein intake. It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium and calcium. Because it is gluten free, it is very easy to digest. Quinoa has a slight nutty flavor and crunchytexture. I recommend trying to incorporate this whole grain into a variety of yourmeals. From Breakfast to Dinner it can be very versatile.

2. Almond Butter is a great, healthy alternative to traditional peanut butter. Almond butter is a nutritional powerhouse that contains significant amounts of protein, calcium, fiber, magnesium, folic acid, potassium, and vitamin E. Nutbutters are a great source of protein, and will keep you full. Try them onbananas, bagels, or sprouted grain toast.

3. Leafy greens (spinach, watercress, swiss chard, collard greens) are the number one foodmissing from most of our diets, yet should be the most consumed. They arechock full of nutrients vital for athletic performance – high in calcium, vitamin c, magnesium, zinc, iron and many other nutrients. Including more greens in your daily diet will increase your energy and crowd out other foods that aren’t as nutritious. Plus, greens cook fast! Sauté them with some garlic and olive oil or add your favourite condiments.

4. Salmon is a great source of protein that won’t leave you feeling sluggish plus is one of the best sources of the essential fatty acid omega 3. Essential Fatty Acids help you burn excess fat, restore health to the cardiovascular system, relieve arthritis pain and inflammation, strengthen the immune system, improve oxygen transport and muscle maintenance. Try salmon grilled with some soy or teriyaki sauce.

5. Oatmeal is another great source of complex carbohydrates and one of my personal favourites before any sporting event.. It is easily digested and does not seem to ever cause discomfort. Try adding nuts, fruit, and cinnamon for a warm, tasty breakfast. Rolled oats will cook in about 10 minutes making this a great option before a long workout. You can also bake rolled oats with apples, pears, maple syrup, and cinnamon for a yummy fruit crisp. Look for the gluten free oats made by Bob’s Red Mill.

6. Blueberries: contain vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. In addition, blueberries contain phytochemicals, like anthocyanins and phenolics that can also act as antioxidants.

7. Fruit: Any kind of fruit will do. Use the sweet taste of fruit to satisfy your sugar cravings, without adding to your waistline. Add a variety of colors to your palate to get the most benefits- from vitamin c, to other potent antioxidants. I always have on hand some bananas, and whatever seasonal fruit is available. Frozen fruits are also great to stock up on, just make sure there isn’t any added sugar.

8. Vegetables should be an athlete’s best friend. Add as many as possible to your diet depending on what is in season. In the fall, root veggies like carrots and parsnips are in season – as well as sweet veggies like yams and sweet potatoes. In the spring, green vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, and spinach are in season. If you don’t have a lot of time, making a stir-fry with your favorite
veggies is the best way to get in those 5-9 servings each day.

Your Essential Supplements:

Spirulina: is considered the healthiest food on Earth. It contains the most beneficial combination of powerful nutrients and has amazing healing properties.

Spirulina provides you with:

polysacharides copper vitamin C
chlorophyl blood purifier manganese vitamin D
phycocyanin (blue pigment – inhibits cancer) phosphorus vitamin E
irons (easier absorbed than iron supplements) sodium carotenoids
rare essential fatty acids (GLA, omega-3 EFA, DHA) zinc magnesium
B complex vitamins (the highest source os B12) calcium chromium
beta carotene (10 times more concentrated than in carrots) provitamin A enzymes
vegetable protein selenium sulfolipids
carbohydrates potassium glycolipids


Spirulina can protect cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels. It also contains a number of antioxidant vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and E, beta carotene, manganese, copper, zinc, chromium, iron and selenium. These antioxidants boost immune function and can help prevent some types of cancer.

Spirulina contains a lot of vegetable protein. A single dose of spirulina is made up of more than 60% protein; that makes it higher in protein than chicken, fish or beef. Spirulina’s vegetable protein is easier to digest than animal protein, and since it’s a water soluble protein, it doesn’t contribute to weight gain.Marcus Rohrer Spirulina

Spirulina for Athletes

Athletes often use spirulina supplements to boost their performance. Spirulina can help protect athletes from the symptoms of overtraining by supporting the immune system. Spirulina can also help to improve athletic endurance.

Studies have shown that spirulina boosts the metabolism and helps the body burn fat rather than carbohydrates when exercising. Spirulina supplementation also reduces the amount of oxidative stress sustained during athletic training, and helps increase antioxidant activity within the body in the period immediately following a workout or training session. By boosting the metabolism and protecting against oxidative stress, spirulina supplements can increase athletic endurance.

Spirulina boosts endurance by helping the body to metabolize fat. This reduces the body’s dependence on carbs for energy, which helps to keep energy levels higher throughout the duration of the workout and can contribute to increased athletic endurance. Spirulina’s high levels of antioxidants prevent the accumulation of toxic free radicals in your muscles during exercise; accumulation of toxins in the muscles is one of the primary causes of muscle fatigue during exercise and training.

Calcium & Magnesium
Magnesium is usually paired with calcium in supplements because they are both important in bone health and help prevent chronic fatigue, muscle cramps, heart palpitations, and many PMS symptoms including nausea and irritability. Avoiding these issues are important for athletes because things like fatigue and muscle cramps can severely impact performance and lead to injuries.

Fish Oil
The benefits of fish oil are countless and are important for athletes, and non-athletes, alike. Whether you’re looking to improve concentration, decrease soreness and inflammation, build and repair muscle, improve joint health, or get rid of stubborn body fat, a few fish oil capsules a couple of times a day can make a world of difference.

Whey Protein
Whey protein is a low fat, low carb, quick absorbing option to help people to meet their daily protein needs. Protein is important for athletes because it’s involved in muscle building and repair, hormone and antibody production, nutrient and oxygen transport .

Now I’ll readily acknowledge that eating a diet consisting of a variety of fresh fruits, veggies, lean proteins, quality carbohydrates, and good fats should always be the first step in meeting our body’s nutritional needs. But, as highly active individuals in a non-perfect world, we could all use a little help in meeting these needs. Knowing that, having a better sense of what supplements you could or should be taking, and taking those products on a regular basis can have a major impact on the way you look, feel, and perform.

Basic Nutritional Needs of Swimmers

Nutritional Needs During Training
A swimmer’s nutritional needs are greatly increased during the competitive season when swimmers are in training. According to the American Dietetic Association, while in training nutrition for swimmers should include:

  • A daily food intake of 3,000 to 6,000 calories
  • The majority of these calories should be derived from carbohydrates (2.3 to 3.6 grams of carbohydrates for each pound of body weight per day).
  • Protein intake should approximate 0.55 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight per day. (A quality rice and green pea protein powder is an excellent adjunct to aid in meeting these requirements).
  • Fat intake should comprise a minimum of 0.45 grams per pound of body weight per day. (Ensure that the majority of fat consumption is of the monounsaturated or polyunsaturated variety, as is found in canola oil and nuts).
  • Proper hydration in the form of sports drinks or water – 2 cups 2 hours before practice and 5 to 10 ounces every 15 or 20 minutes during the practice.

In addition, some experts suggest that the diet should be supplemented with a pharmaceutical grade, standardized synergistic multivitamin/mineral complex.

Preparing for a Meet with Carbohydrate Loading
In general, a swimmer’s nutritional needs while preparing for a meet, or competition, would be the aforementioned methodology. But there are additional ways to use the diet to significantly increase athletic performance. One of the most popular of such methods is called “carbohydrate loading.”

Carbohydrate loading is only useful to endurance athletes, such as swimmers, who will be in competition for a minimum of 90 minutes, but it has proven to be remarkably successful.

Carbohydrates (such as vegetables, grains, and beans) are the primary fuel source of the body. The body’s digestive system converts carbohydrates into sugar, which then enters the cells to provide necessary energy. Some of this sugar is stored in the muscles as glycogen. But the muscles only store enough glycogen to sustain normal recreational exercise. If one exercises intensely for more than 90 minutes, glycogen stores will be depleted and athletic performance (and stamina) suffers-but not if one practices carbohydrate loading.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the process of carbohydrate loading is enacted in two steps.

Step One: A week before the planned meet, the swimmer will reduce carbohydrate consumption to about 55 percent of the daily calories, but increase protein and fat consumption to compensate for the reduced amount of carbohydrates. The training level and intensity, however, will remain the same, which will cause a depletion of the swimmer’s carbohydrate stores.

Step Two: Approximately four days before the meet, the swimmer will increase carbohydrate consumption to 70 percent of the daily calories and reduce some of the fat consumption to compensate for this increase. (Some of the training levels will also be reduced so as to conserve glycogen stores). The day before the meet, the swimmer will completely rest and will not perform any physical fitness or exercise activities.

Studies have shown that, for a man, carbohydrate loading can increase the glycogen stores in his muscles by as much as twice the normal amount. Although he will still need to replenish his stores during the meet with a sports drink or a piece of fruit, this additional glycogen storage will increase his endurance levels. (Unfortunately, there are not many studies on the effects of carbohydrate loading on women to enable nutritionists to offer specific advice).

Recovery Nutritional Needs
Nutrition for swimmers, however, extends beyond the training and actual competition period. Indeed, the recovery period (the time immediately after training or competition, when the swimmer replenishes his energy stores and repairs muscle) is an essential part of this process.
And the swimmer has only 45 minutes to enact this part of the process.

The 45-Minute Nutritional Advantage
Studies have shown that athletes who eat and drink within 45 minutes after practice recover more quickly than those who do not. One 2004 study, conducted by Dr. Stager, showed that athletes who drank chocolate milk after their morning practice (during this crucial 45-minute period) were better able to perform athletically during their afternoon practice. It appears, said Stager, that muscles do not easily absorb nutrients after two hours. Although there are many reasons why chocolate milk, in particular, may have been so effective in this study (i.e., its sugar content boosted energy and its liquid content was more rapidly absorbed by the body), there is little doubt that there is, indeed, a recovery benefit for those swimmers who eat and/or drink after practice.

The results of this and other studies have led researchers to propose a recovery diet for swimmers and other athletes. Within 45 minutes after practice, say experts, a mixture of carbohydrates (for energy) and protein (for muscle repair) should be consumed. The carbohydrates should be composed of colourful fruits, vegetables, and breads while the protein may be derived from from peanut butter, nuts, and high quality protein powder.

Though proper nutrition for swimmers can be a complicated subject, scientific research is paving the way for a proper understanding of this process. Science has shown that those swimmers who know what, when, and how much to eat have a decided competitive advantage over their peers. Indeed, these studies have proven that proper nutrition for swimmers may be even more important than technique and practice in improving athletic performance.

Fortunately, such nutritional choices are completely within a swimmer’s realm of control.



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