This post is brought to you by Mike Molloy from M2 Performance Nutrition! Mike will also be co-hosting a FREE webinar with RITTER Sports Performance on March 27th at 1pm EST. If you’d like to watch the webinar replay, [CLICK HERE]!
In the quest to constantly better ourselves as athletes, details matter. Having worked with elite level athletes from multiple sports, I always ask if they wish they had paid more attention or worked “smarter” in some sort of way. Inevitably, they almost all say—they should have done a better job with their nutrition. Unlike all other sports, having great nutrition while participating in competitive swimming is VERY IMPORTANT—due to its’ unique training stimulus. In this post, we plan on divulging 5 KEY ways to help you start MAXIMIZING your nutrition today!
Within swimming, there are thousands of types of workouts: short sprints, long endurance work, intermediate intervals, low strenuous recovery work. However, these stimuli are of not unique to just purely swimming, as similar approaches are taken with running, rowing, etc. In reality, the portion of these stimuli that differs between rowing, running ,and swimming is the fact a swimmer is surrounded by water. With water being about 800x more dense than air, there’s two extra factors associated with swimming that are not associated with other sports. These factors are drag and temperature regulation.
With water being much more dense than air, it create resistance. This resistance actually hinders a swimmer’s speed in the pool and make it harder for them to swim fast. This associated drag component in swimming requires more work from a swimmer, which therefore, means more calories burned during a workout.
Of course, lakes and oceans are at the mercy of the seasons/location, but even pools have a large variety in temperatures. Regardless of the situation, the human body has to work extra hard to try and maintain 98.6∞F body temperature, when its surrounded by water. This constant battle to stay in homeostasis takes added energy and burns a significant amount of extra calories.
Below we’ve outlined 5 KEY ways to help you MAXIMIZE your nutrition, taking into account the drag and temperature regulation components:
It’s extremely difficult to provide specific hydration recommendations at a group level, but with aggressive workouts in the pool, especially with warm water, you’re losing a significant amount of fluids to sweat. Pay attention to urine color with a goal of “not quite clear” if you catch my drift. On average though, at LEAST 100 ounces per day for someone who is in the pool for approximately 2 hours is a good starting point—recognizing that in warmer pools and with longer workouts, significantly more hydration could be necessary. Also, do not forget to include some electrolytes throughout the day to replace what is lost with sweat.
We’ll talk about the types of foods in a second, but we need to make sure people are eating enough to begin with. With swimming, we generally take the person’s body weight and multiply it by a “Work Factor” to determine how many calories they need to eat to support their performance. 1 hour of training would be a factor of ~13-14, 2 hours would be closer to 15-16, 3-4 would be a 16-17 and 4-5 hours would be 18+. As you can see, the more time in the pool, the more calories you need to eat. A 140 lb woman doing 1 hour might be around 1820 calories… but if she’s doing more like 3-4 hours, the total calories would be closer to 2400. It’s important to not be dogmatic about these numbers as everyone’s metabolism is unique, but this basic formula is a great place to start.
3) Don’t fear the carbs:
Most swimming workouts will rely on the glycolytic pathway to provide energy. For this reason, we want to make sure that our diet includes a significant amount of carbohydrates as a part of the total calorie recommendations. For ~ 1 hour training sessions, maybe 40-45% should come from carbs, but if you’re doing more like 2-4 hours—then you’d easily want 50-55% of your calories coming from carbohydrates. You definitely should be eating nutrient dense foods such as fruits, veggies and sweet potatoes. With that being said, for someone with a large calorie requirement, denser carb sources such as rice, oatmeal and whole grains will be equally as necessary.
Whether your workout is in a pool or in a weight room, as soon as the session is over, we want to have protein and carbs, as quickly as possible. For most training sessions, around 25 grams of protein and 50 grams of carbs will help get our bodies OUT of the stress response and into recovery mode. Protein shakes with added carbs can be a perfect option in this situation. However, we would also advise that you have a real, nutrient dense meal, about 60-90 minutes after having that shake as well. This meal should be one of the more nutrient dense meals of the day, with lean proteins, veggies and fruits, sweet potato and/or rice and of course some fats as well with avocado, olive oils, etc.
While sleep may not seem like its connected to nutrition, nothing could be further from the truth. A bad night of sleep is a major stress on the body. Over time, consistent poor sleep habits will cause the body to store the energy you eat as body fat, when we really want to use it to fuel our performance in the pool. Instead the body will choose to break down muscle mass (thanks to elevated production of a hormone called cortisol) to provide energy for your training. Less muscle mass and more body fat is not a great recipe for success.
If you are serious about your success as a swimmer, or in any sport for that matter, you HAVE to make time for nutrition and sleep in your daily routine.