Fuelling your Body for Swim Meets

It is important to plan what food you will eat, and when, to ensure you have the energy required to perform your best at a swim meet.

Meets may last for 2 to 7 days, with races anywhere from 20 seconds to 20 minutes depending on the stroke and distance being raced. In some competitions, swimmers may compete multiple times per day, and have as little as 20 minutes to recover between races, while in other situations there may be several hours between races.

What to eat before swimming

Have a high carbohydrate meal 2-4 hours before the first race of a competition. Fluids (mainly water) should be sipped regularly in the lead up to the first race. To avoid stomach discomfort foods should be relatively low in fibre and fat. The pre-competition meal should be planned and practice during training (don’t try new foods or fluids on competition day). Suitable pre-competition meals include:

  • Wholegrain breakfast cereal with milk + fruit (e.g. Weet-bix)
  • Fruit salad with yoghurt and nuts
  • English muffin with jam or cheese
  • Sandwich/roll with salad + lean meat/cheese
  • Porridge with banana and cinnamon

A small snack can also be eaten in the 1-2 hours before a race to top up energy levels. For example:

  • Muesli or sports bars
  • Fresh fruit
  • Rice cakes with nut butter
  • Dried fruit & nut mix

If solids don’t sit well before swimming, or swimmers are very nervous, a liquid source of protein and carbohydrate such as a fruit smoothie may be a good option.

What to eat and drink during swim meets

Swimmers need to make sure that they take advantage of opportunities to eat and drink between events. An eating plan should be developed that fits in with the individual competition schedule and includes familiar foods. Competition eating should be practised during training sessions or intra-club lead up competitions before major events to help identify food choices that will suit best.

If less than 60 minutes between races – keep options light and easy to digest. Carbohydrate-rich liquids may be preferred as they are rapidly digested from the gut.

  • Juice
  • Flavoured milk tetra packs
  • Yoghurt pouches
  • Dried fruit (e.g. banana chips)
  • Small pieces of fresh fruit (e.g. grapes/banana)

If more than 1 – 2 hours between races – a more substantial meal can be eaten to top up energy needs and avoid getting hungry.

  • Pasta/noodle-based dishes
  • Sandwiches with simple fillings
  • Sushi or rice paper rolls

Competition and training venues do not always have suitable food and fluid options available so swimmers must arrive at venues with food and fluids prepared. A cooler bag with drinks and food options should be packed and kept easily accessible for topping up with fuel and fluids throughout the day.

Post-race recovery

Recovery nutrition is especially important during competitions that are held over several days.

Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate (fuel), some protein (for muscle repair and development) and plenty of fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses.

A recovery meal or snack should be consumed soon after the final event of the day, particularly when the next race is the following day. Fluids (mainly water) should also be consumed, based on estimated losses.

Some recovery food suggestions include:

  • Ham, cheese and salad roll or wrap
  • Dairy-based fruit smoothie
  • Omelettes or poached eggs on toast
  • Homemade pizzas with chicken, cheese + veggies

Hydration needs

To stay hydrated, swimmers should drink fluids before, during and after events. 

It can be difficult to identify sweat loss because of the water-based environment, and pool areas (especially indoors) are often warm and humid which increases fluid losses. Water bottles should be taken to competitions and placed in an easily accessible location to ensure fluids are consumed regularly.

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