Swimming is a popular water-based sport that many engage in. Swimming is a very technical sport, where the form needs to be optimized to decrease water resistance and fatigue and to increase power and strength.1 Swimmers spend long hours training, and therefore, need a good understanding of their nutritional requirements to train well and swim successfully.
Our bodies have three main ways of generating energy2:
- The aerobic energy pathway, where our body makes energy from glucose in the presence of oxygen. This usually gives us the most energy, in the form of ATP. This is often called mitochondrial respiration, as it takes place in the mitochondria. The mitochondria are small energy factories inside our cells.
- The anaerobic energy pathway, where the body makes energy from glucose without oxygen. This is usually called glycolysis.
- The phosphagen system, which is the quickest way our body remakes ATP. This system uses phosphocreatine, a compound in our muscles that replenishes ATP.
Depending on the swimming distance, the body relies on all these systems in different amounts. Shorter swims will favor the anaerobic pathway, while for longer swims, the body will prefer aerobic pathways3.
To ensure great performance, swimmers need to maintain their glycogen stores. They need to be conscious that during long swims, there may be an increase in protein break down in the body, which affects performance. They also need to optimize their phosphagen system to perform well4. In this blog post, we will break down the basics of a swimmer’s nutritional needs.
The carbohydrates and the fats – providing energy
As swimming is an energy intensive sport, and where periods of high-intensity training can result in a swimmer needing 2400 calories a day.5 Ensuring to take in sufficient energy in the form of fats and carbohydrates is therefore essential, as long periods of inadequate intake decrease performance.6
The recommendations for carbohydrate intake are therefore:
- 6-8 grams per kg of body weight on days when you train little at high intensity, or a lot at low intensity.
- 10-12 grams per kg of body weight when you train a lot at high intensity.
- For those that do open-water swimming, or very long distance events, get 10-12 g per kg for two days before a competition and before high-intensity training.
Obtaining 20-25% of your daily calories from fats ensures that adequate intake of essential fatty acids, like omega-3s and fat-soluble vitamins.9 During periods of low-intensity training, increase your fat intake to around 35% of your calories. This improves your body’s ability to get energy from fatty acids efficiently.10
Staying strong – protein
Swimming requires a lot of strength; therefore, aim to get plenty of protein. The recommendation is to get 1.2-2g of protein per kg of body weight each day.11 This increases muscle growth boosts your endurance.12 Split your protein intake into 4-5 portions evenly spaced throughout the day.13
You can use animal foods to get your protein, such as lean meats and fish, or a plant-based source, like tofu or legumes. However, should you want something lighter, or if you’re looking for a post-training snack, consider a protein supplement.
Maxler Ultra Whey is a premium protein supplement that provides 22-24 grams of protein with each serving. You get a large amount of amino acids such as leucine, which promotes muscle growth14 and at the same time enjoy a fantastic taste.
Staying healthy – necessary micronutrients
Like any athlete, swimmers must pay attention to the micronutrients they take in, to keep their body healthy and performing optimally. Aim to have a diverse and balanced diet to achieve this. You can benefit from monitoring your levels of the following nutrients: vitamin D, omega-3s, iron, calcium.
All swimmers need to get plenty of vitamin D, as many swimmers train indoors and may not have enough exposure to sunshine.15 For a great vitamin D supplement, check out the Maxler vitamin D range. Maxler Vitamin D3 600 IU delivers 15 micrograms of this micronutrient in a single softgel capsule.
Swimmers must also get enough omega-3s, as omega-3s not only support overall health, but are also important for muscle recovery and reducing illness16. Maxler Omega-3 Gold provides 300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in each softgel.
Staying hydrated – your water intake
While swimming, the water helps your body cool down and lose less water. However, you will still need to take in plenty of fluids to help your performance. You’ll need to increase your water intake with higher water temperatures17.
Before a swim, you need to be taking in around 5-7 ml of water per kg of weight from four hours before training or competition. You can increase this amount starting with two hours before training should you need to18. Try to have a cold drink, as that can help you regulate your body temperature better19.
If you sweat a lot, or if you have less than 8 hours between training sessions, try to take in around 150% of water lost during the training20.
Before swimming – what to eat?
Before a swim, you should focus on hydrating yourself and replenishing your glycogen. For carbohydrates, aim to get around 1-2 grams per kg of body weight around four or three hours before your swim21. Pay attention to not having simple carbohydrates 45 minutes before the swim, as it will decrease blood sugar levels22.
During the swim
To keep your energy levels up as you swim, consider adding some carbohydrates to your water. Aim to take in around 90g of carbohydrate for every hour of swimming. Use a mix of carbohydrates for this – a 2:1 ratio of glucose and fructose is the optimal proportion.23
After the swim
It is important to boost protein synthesis and replenish glycogen after a competition or a high-intensity training session. However, depending on what your goals are, you have multiple ways to go about your post-training snack.
As an overall guide, aim to get around 0.3g per kg of body weight of protein straight after an intense swim.24 If you’re trying to improve how efficiently your body uses fat and carbohydrate, stick to only having protein after the training session.25
If, on the other hand, you need to restore your glycogen or boost musclebuilding, add some carbohydrates to your post-workout meal. Aim to get around 20-25g of protein alongside 1 g of carbohydrate per kg of your weight.26
Improving performance – supplements to help you achieve your goals
Whether you’re a professional athlete, or just trying to achieve your personal best, you might want to support your training routine with beneficial supplements. With a wide variety of supplements available, you might want to know which will suit swimmers.
Swimmers can benefit most from three supplements: creatine, caffeine, and L-citrulline.
Creatine supplements increase the amount of phosphocreatine in the body, which plays a role in replenishing muscle energy in the form of ATP.27 More phosphocreatine allows you to train harder, which helps when you’re training at high intensity. Therefore, taking 3 grams of creatine each day while you train can be beneficial.28 Remember though, to start off with a loading phase of five days, where you take on 20-30 g of creatine each day, before continuing with taking 3 grams daily.
Caffeine, found in foods like coffee and chocolate, can benefit athletes as it helps to decrease tiredness and improves your ability to contract muscles.29 Swimmers can benefit from having around 3mg of caffeine per kg of body weight an hour before a competition.30
Those that swim long distances, whether in pools or open water, can benefit from a nitrate supplement. This is because nitrates can increase the amount of nitric oxide in your body, which boosts blood flow and helps with increasing time to exhaustion.31 You can get nitrates from drinking beetroot juice about 3 hours before a training session. However, you can also increase nitric oxide levels through taking citrulline malate.32