Nutrition for peak performance
The ability to train to the levels which could ensure success in competition may be considerably affected by the swimmer’s diet. A healthy diet is one that provides for the energy we 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 for energy requirements.
As exercise becomes more intense, the swimmer will rely more on carbohydrate 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 carbohydrate so the muscles store it in the form of glycogen and these amounts are small, with the result that between sixty to ninety 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’.
So, what should I eat?
A swimmer should eat foods rich in carbohydrate. These should be starchy, unrefined, complex carbohydrates such as whole grain cereals and cereal products (i.e. wholemeal 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 carbohydrate in your diet. It is difficult to say how much carbohydrate 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 carbohydrate. 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 carbohydrate the best approach is to concentrate on foods high in carbohydrate at most meals. Ideally, they should provide at least half of the total energy in your diet.
How should I prepare on the night before competition?
A 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:
- 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.
- Chunky Vegetable soup and sandwiches.
- Jacket Potato with low fat filling.
– remember not to eat all the above together, you’ll sink!
What about breakfast on the day of competition
The timing and nature of this meal depends on when the competition actually starts. You should aim to eat a meal 2 – 4 hours before the competition starts. Satisfy hunger with carbohydrate 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 carbohydrate and low in fat and protein, as these nutrients will slow down the absorption of carbohydrate which you need to turn into energy. Never go without food or drink. Fluids to ingest are water/fruit juice/cordial/a sport drink. Mashed bananas, rice pudding, yoghurt, jelly cubes, savoury pop-corn & tea cakes are all ideal and can be an attractive alternative. Drink small amounts and often, up to the start of a race. Carry your drinks bottle at all times and drink! Use training to work out what works for you and stick to it, do not be influenced by what other swimmers are doing, here are some breakfast suggestions:
- Toast with marmalade / honey / jam
- Breakfast cereals or pop tarts
- Muffins / crumpets
- Current buns / scones / raisin bread
- Scotch pancakes with a banana
- Banana sandwiches
- Beans on toast
- Toasted sandwiches
- Porridge with syrup and raisins.
Can I eat 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 carbohydrate rather than fatty, sugary snacks. E.g. do not eat chocolate bars as a snack on the day of competition.
- Soft drinks (well diluted fruit juice/ cordial)
- Banana & raisins
- Energy bars
- Jelly cubes /babies/ beans
- Plain biscuits.
And after my races have finished?
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 have probably earned it.
If, however, you are swimming the next day it is vital to refuel your body. Start drinking straight after the competition. Have a high carbohydrate snack as soon as your last race is over, followed by a low fat meal later. This also applies after hard training.
- Pizza – deep pan/low fat topping
- Pasta dishes – tomato based sauces
- Jacket Potato – low fat filling
- Chinese meals – rice & noodles
- Indian Food – rice
How does my fluid intake affect my performance?
You should aim to drink little and often,
- Prior to a workout = 250ml to 500ml of fluid
- During the workout = drink regularly
- After the session = continue
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 realize that you are thirsty. Make it a habit to drink before training and more importantly, immediately afterwards. If possible, drink between sets whilst training. The volume of fluid in the stomach should be kept as high as is comfortable in order to maximize 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 electrolytes are more effective than plain water in improving performance.
So which drink is best – to avoid confusion;
These are designed to quickly replace the fluids which are lost by sweating. They also provide a boost of carbohydrate & allow rapid replacement of fluid AND energy! Isotonic fluids are the most common drinks for athletes. They are particularly popular for middle and long distance runners.
Useful: To help re-hydrate you more effectively than plain water
Most common Isotonic: Lucozade sport, Gatorade
Others: Supermarket home brands
Make your own: 50-70g sugar, pinch salt, 1Lt warm water, 200ml sugar free squash – mix & cool
These are used to supplement your daily carbohydrate intake. They contain even higher levels of carbs than isotonic and hypotonic drinks & allow rapid replacement of energy, BUT not fluid!
The best time to drink them is after exercise as they help your body to top up on muscle glycogen stores. These are your valuable energy stores.
Useful: When require non solid form of Carbohydrates
Most common Hypertonic: Ultra fuel, Top form, Lucozade high energy
Others: Purdeys original
Make your own: 400ml of squash, 1 Lt warm water, pinch of salt – mix & cool
These are designed to quickly replace fluids lost through sweating. Unlike isotonic and hypertonic drinks they are low in carbohydrates & allow rapid replacement of fluid, BUT not energy!
They are very popular with athletes who need fluid without the boost of carbohydrate.
Useful: When rapid replacement of fluid required but not Carbohydrates.
Most Common Hypotonic: Water.
Others: Low cal drinks.
Make your own: 100ml squash, 1 Lt warm water, pinch of salt – mix & cool
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 or milk 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 or tinned vegetables (including baked beans) are an alternative to fresh vegetables.
Many people eat too much fat and not enough carbohydrate. 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 or mashed potatoes sometimes & if you must eat chips 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 carbohydrate). Try some of the other snacks off the list for a change.
ALWAYS CARRY SOME FOOD AND DRINK IN YOUR KIT BAG TO AVOID GETTING ‘CAUGHT SHORT’