Snacks for Swimmers: Timing is Important Outside of the Pool, Too
Snacks get a bad rap since they’re often synonymous with candy and chips. But don’t let this misnomer fool you; snacks are a critical part of a swimmer’s training before, during, and after race day. Knowing what snacks to eat and when to refuel can provide you an edge over your best time and your opponents.
Serious or competitive swimmers require lots of extra snacking—much more than non-athletes or casual, recreational swimmers. Swimmers begin to deplete their energy stores within 90 minutes of training and, when this happens, it's time for a snack. What you eat is just as important as when you eat when it comes to snacking, so let’s take a look at some snacks for swimmers.
Your best bet is to eat a pre-race snack about 60-90 minutes before a race to top off your energy stores, helping you power past opponents in the closing seconds. Approximately 90 minutes before a race or competition, you should be combining low to moderate glycemic carbohydrates with protein, ideally between 250-400 calories. Examples of healthy pre-race snacks are crackers with an orange, an apple with peanut butter, or a turkey sandwich on whole-wheat bread. If you are really serious, a nutrition shake or a bowl of whole wheat pasta with chicken and tomato sauce is also recommended.
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DURING THE COMPETITION
For snacking in between races where you have only short periods of time, say 30 minutes, your focus should be on replenishing fluids, aiming for 4-8 oz. every 15 minutes. Look for snacks that sustain a quick burst of energy with moderate glycemic index such as bananas, grapes, or melon chunks. If your break time in between races is more like 1-2 hours, avoid high sugar and high glycemic carbohydrates, which will lead to high fluctuations in blood sugar. Try to combine carbohydrates with protein and fluid, or a sports drink. Avoid high-fiber or gas-forming foods like beans, or anything that can upset your stomach while your body is in motion. Some recommended snacks are whole wheat pasta with vegetables, baked potatoes topped with chili instead of fatty cheese sauce, or a regular-sized sandwich lower in fat with a side salad and low-fat milk.
It's important to replenish nutrients within the hour of leaving the pool. This helps our body repair and recover from the exercise we just put it through! Naturally, after a swimming workout, lesson, or race the glycogen, or carb storage, will be depleted and needs to be replaced to have energy again. Also, protein, which is full of amino acids, has the building blocks for the growth and repair of muscle, making it one of the best foods to eat after a workout. It can help repair and build muscle, while reducing the soreness in your muscles the next day. Protein also supports the immune system. It is important that the hungry swimmers are eating more protein snacks than carbohydrates. Some good post-workout snacks include a whole wheat pita with hummus dip, a nutrient-rich protein shake, or a tuna salad sandwich on wheat bread.
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And as always, don’t forget to hydrate! Have a water bottle filled with cool water, or a lower sugar sports drink for training and competitions lasting longer than 60 minutes. Athletes should be drinking fluids frequently throughout the day.