Performance Nutrition for Competitive Swimmers: Fuel the Movement

Swimmers have exhaustive schedules. Many of these dedicated athletes practice multiple times each day in order to improve their speed, endurance, and swimming technique. Given the large energy demand of their sport, competitive swimmers must learn how to properly fuel their movement in order to take their swimming to the next level. So how do top swimmers stay energized throughout a hectic day? The key is to maintain level blood sugar – which can be done by following these simple fueling guidelines:


1. Eat frequently throughout the day:

On average, boys should eat every 3 hours, and girls should eat every 4 hours. However, everyone’s metabolic rate is different. Focus on simple eating strategies, such as listening to your body’s hunger cues – but be mindful not to go too long without eating. As a swimmer, you must eat frequently in order to provide energy for activity and promote recovery following activity. Here, Tavis Piattoly of My Sports Dietitian, addresses eating frequency and provides tips on how to schedule meals and snacks for optimal fueling.

2. Pay attention to the quality of your food:

Swimmers need to consume a variety of foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals (and low in added-sugars and unhealthy fats) to promote performance, recovery, and overall health. In addition to vitamins and minerals, each macronutrient plays an important role in your diet and fuels your body for optimal sports performance.

  • Carbohydrates are an athlete’s primary source of fuel.
    • Choose high-quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low fat or fat free milk or yogurt.
  • Protein helps build and repair an athlete’s muscles.
    • Great lean protein options include turkey or chicken breast (without the skin), fish, nuts, seeds, and eggs.
  • Fat is necessary in our diet for digestion, metabolism, nutrient absorption, and as an energy substrate for exercise.
    • Choose heart healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, fish, nuts and nut butters, and seeds.

3. Increase your fiber intake:

Fiber helps to slow down your body’s digestion and absorption rate, which will help you avoid a spike (followed by a crash) in energy. To increase the amount of fiber in your diet, add fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products into all of your snacks and meals. Remember: It’s important to increase fluid intake when adding fiber into your diet. Click here for more information on how to increase the amount of fiber you’re eating, as well as a list of fiber-rich foods.

4. Focus on the quantity of food you are consuming:

Try to eat approximately the same amount of food at each meal and snack. This will ensure that a consistent amount of energy is available to your body throughout the day. For many of us, this means making our meals a bit smaller and our snacks a bit larger.

Plan, Pack, and Be Prepared:

Given swimmers’ hectic schedules, the best method for ensuring consistent energy levels is to plan, pack, and be prepared. Each night before you go to sleep, think about your schedule for the following day. Determine what food resources are needed and what is available. Then, plan your meals and snacks, and pack healthy foods and drinks accordingly. When traveling or preparing for a long day, fill an insulated bag or small cooler with healthy, high-energy foods. Here are some easy snack ideas to keep you adequately fueled:

  • Fresh fruit and low fat string cheese
  • Whole grain waffle and nut butter
  • Grilled chicken and spinach wrap
  • Whole wheat pita with hummus
  • Dried fruit and nuts
  • Low fat cottage cheese and dried fruit

For more tips about the best foods to pack and eat on the go, click here.

Warning: Poor planning may force you to resort to eating convenience foods, such as chips, candy bars, and fast food – but these high-fat, highly-processed foods cannot properly fuel your body. Planning ahead allows you to give your body what it needs for optimal athletic performance.

To dive deeper into the topic of nutrition for swimmers, go to Here, you will find My Sports Dietitian’s eBook for swimmers, which provides information on the unique, science-based nutritional requirements of swimmers, sample eating plans, athlete-tested recipes, information on how to properly fuel for swim meets, and much more. By using this knowledge, along with real life tactics and techniques, you will be able to take your swimming to the next level!

Contributing Authors:

Collier Perno, MS
Linked In

Laura Maydak, BS Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition
Twitter: @lmaydak
Linked In

Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles MS RD CSSD
Sports Dietitian
Active Nutrition LLC
Twitter: @jenngilesrd

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