Competitive swimmers require athletes be in peak physical condition. A swimmer can build a body that is optimized to perform at a high level with the right macro and micro nutrients. The key is eating simple, healthy snacks and meals while being mindful of nutrients that may be lacking in their diet. This is especially important for teenage athletes whose bodies are still growing. Active 14- to 18-year-old girls require around 2,400 calories, while their male counterparts require 2,800 to 3,200 calories per day. For swimmers, who often practice twice a day, their bodies require an additional 1,200 calories in their diet. It may sound daunting, having to eat so much food in a day, however an athlete’s body will crave the complex carbohydrates, protein and fat it needs. In addition to this, it is essential that the competitive swimmer also takes care to maintain necessary levels of vitamins and hydration on a daily basis.
Recommended sources of carbohydrate: squash, bananas, berries, rolled oats, sweet potatoes
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that 45 to 65 percent of a person’s daily food intake be in the form of carbs. Carbs provide much needed energy for the body that are depleted in workouts and daily activities. It is recommended that carbs be consumed 1-2 hours before swim practice. Luckily, most of the foods we eat contain carbohydrates, however it’s important to be mindful of when to eat them. For example, fruits are a great source of carbs for quick energy boosts because it comes from its natural sugar content and should be eaten before or during a swim practice/meet. In contrast, vegetables should be your primary source of energy replenishment due to the fact that these carbs come in the form of starch and fiber.
Recommended sources of lean protein: eggs, chicken, beef (hormone free), salmon, nuts, seeds
Protein contains amino acids that are essential to building and repairing muscle tissue. Swimmers have an especially difficult time meeting their daily protein intake requirements (which is usually 10 to 30 percent of daily recommended caloric intake) because of the high amount of cardio involved. Swimmers should look to supplement their protein intake with protein powders, but must be mindful that no additives such as sugar and fillers are added.
Recommended sources of fat: butter (avoid margarine), salmon, coconut oil, nuts, olive oil, avocado
Fat is often demonized and avoided, but HEALTHY fats are key to a swimmer’s performance in the pool. Healthy fats consist of omega 3’s and 6’s, while damaged fats are what’s typically found in fast food and highly processed foods, like chips and cookies. Healthy fats are essential to maintaining mental awareness, and no swimmer wants to lose focus on meet day. However, even healthy fats should be consumed in moderation.
Recommended sources of vitamin D: tuna, milk, sunlight (20-25 min), Portobello mushrooms
The sun seems like the most logical source for vitamin D, but cloud cover can limit its effectiveness. It also doesn’t help that few foods are rich sources of this vitamin. Swimmers who practice indoors are especially susceptible to a deficiency. Therefore, it’s important swimmers intake lots of milk, fish and mushrooms to meet the requirements of this key nutrient that is essential to maintaining bone health and athletic performance.
Recommended sources of iron: spinach, black beans, beef, oatmeal, enriched breads
Iron is key to maintaining healthy oxygen-carrying red blood cells. Iron deficiency is especially an issue for women and vegetarians, which can lead to anemia. In fact, almost 10% in the U.S. are iron deficient according to the CDC. A lack of iron in a diet will cause exhaustion and fatigue by doing normal activities such as simply walking up the stairs.
Recommended sources of calcium: milk, yogurt, broccoli, kale, tofu, cheese
Young athletes need calcium the most in order to develop and strengthen bones, especially if they don’t have sufficient dairy in their diet. In fact, peak bone formation is not completed until they are in their early 20s.