How many nutrition myths do you know? When it comes to feeding hungry young swimmers, I’ve heard a few! “Don’t swim after eating!” Does that sound familiar? Read on to bust this myth and more, and swim faster for it!

Alongside getting enough sleep, eating well is the most important thing a young swimmer can do outside of the pool to get faster in the pool. Remember that training presses a “get fitter faster stronger” button in your body, but it’s actually sleep and nutrition that allow the body to respond to this signal. All of that adaption happens at night and in the kitchen! Eating well as a swimmer is actually pretty easy, but it gets messed up easily too, by misinformation and myths. Perhaps the most common myth for swimming is…

Myth 1. Don’t eat before you swim

I get it, it’s hard to eat early in the morning sometimes, and laying flat in a pool makes digestion hard for many people. Swimming is like any endurance activity, it burns carbohydrates and fat for energy, and protein too if you don’t fuel properly. I see many athletes turn up to morning practice empty and tired, and sure they survive training. But to be fast it’s not about surviving, it’s about thriving! Like a car, the swimming body needs fuel for a 90-120 min practice. Fuelling before practice allows the brain to push the body, and allows the body to respond to the push! The set is higher in quality, which means a stronger adaptive signal. The athlete can push harder, with more power and speed. The immune system stays strong, and muscles are more likely to build up, not break down. 


The Elite Habit: Hydrate when you wake up and sip on water on the way to the pool. Juice works well too. A banana is often well tolerated and better than nothing. I’ve seen swimmers eat bread and eggs before practice quite easily. Liquid options before training work really well too. Options like smoothies hydrate, provide carbohydrates and protein, digest easily and are tasty. If you have a blender try this recipe tomorrow morning:) 


Morning Energizer Smoothie Recipe. 300ml milk or juice, 1 banana, 1/4 C oats, 1 handful of frozen blueberries, 2-3 Tbsp Greek yoghurt, a squeeze of honey. Blend until smooth, with ice if you wish. 

Myth 2. You don’t sweat in the water

Sweating is a response to exercise on land or in water. As we do physical work, our body temperature rises and sweat helps us cool down. It’s true we don’t sweat as much in water as we do on land, but we do sweat. If the water is warm, such as an outdoor pool in a sunny Mediterranean or equatorial climate, we will get hotter and sweat more. Our bodies also adapt to frequent exercise by “learning” to sweat more, so when a swimmer does anything physical they will sweat more than a non-athlete. 


The Elite Habit: Drink water when you wake up.  Sip on fluids on the way to the pool. Keep two drinking bottles at the end of your lane, one bottle of water and one bottle of electrolyte sport drink. Sip from each when you are on the wall. If it’s hot and you are thirsty, ask coach and go refill it. After practice remember you keep sweating and you are also hydrating for the next session so keep a bottle on you all day. You can use your urine colour as an easy hydration guide too. Aim for pee the colour of lemonade. If it’s darker…drink more!

Myth 3. I have to carbo load before a meet

If you are tapering for a meet, your coach wants your nervous system to be fresh. A taper allows your body to rest more before racing. So you spend less time in the pool, less time in the gym, and hopefully more time sleeping! A nice rule is to keep your training diet consistent during your taper. You are effectively eating the same but training less, which creates a surplus in your fuel tank. Sticking to your normal training diet doesn’t stress your stomach, you are not introducing unusual foods or larger amounts of food (especially enormous amounts of carbohydrates which can leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable). You can stick with your usual pre swim breakfast / fuel (see myth 1) and your routine is in check. Elite athletes have a well practiced routine. 


The Elite Habit: Maintain your usual training diet during your taper. Eat before and after practice. Don’t skip meals. Snack when you are hungry. Have something small to eat before bed. You will be training less so naturally you have less “pre and post” exercise and recovery snacks and your calorie intake adjusts naturally

Myth 4. Don’t eat before bed

Young swimmers require alot of energy to fuel and recover and grow too! The secret to getting enough food is not eating huge amounts in meals but rather eating more frequently. Before bed snacks offer an opportunity to top up before sleep and allow night time growth and repair adaptations to protein and training stimuli to take place! A night time feed should include protein and sit easily in the stomach. Studies show that after hard afternoon or evening training (especially weight training) a protein snack before bed is particularly effective for muscle protein synthesis and recovery. 


The Elite Habit: On double training days, after late afternoon / evening swim or weight training or to just feed a hungry teenager, have a protein rich snack before bed. Breakfast foods work really well! Think smoothies, high protein Greek yoghurt and fruit, or eggs on toast. 

Myth 5. You have to take protein supplements to grow and recover

Supplements look cool and the marketing behind them is convincing, but if you look at any high performance Institute or club you will find a strong “food first” culture. An emphasis on real food for health and performance. Indeed many foods are being realised now for their performance and recovery benefits; Think beetroot and spinach for nitrates and endurance, tart cherries for sleep and muscle soreness, watermelon for muscle recovery and milk for muscle protein synthesis. Chocolate milk has been examined in multiple university studies and helps repair athletes just as well as, if not better than, expensive and potentially high doping risk supplements. I routinely prescribed chocolate milk for my athletes, it’s 90% water and very hydrating, it contains carbohydrates for refueling, and very potent proteins for growth. Furthermore it’s cheap, easily available, tastes great and has no doping risk. Consuming 500ml chocolate (or flavoured milk) after a hard practice has been shown to recover athletes quickly and improve performance in the long term (better recovery allows more quality training which over time makes a faster athlete). 


The Elite Habit: As a swimmer training long hours and multiple sessions in a day, recovery is everything. Pack a recovery snack for after each practice, a chocolate milk and a fruit is a great start. Remember big things (like a PB time or a meet win) are made up of many small things done regularly, including your recovery habits. 


Dr Ricco Swinbourne has been a sport nutritionist and sleep scientist for multiple world champion and Olympic athletes. He is available to help Swim Camp athletes with their nutrition and sport performance and recovery. Please contact us for more details.