This post is brought to you by Mike Molloy from M2 Performance Nutrition!
To maximize performance in any sport, we want to focus on the ideal body type for the movements being performed. Football players require significant muscle mass in both the upper and lower body, while a baseball player must limit upper body bulking that would impact his or her ability to throw a baseball as fast as possible. Swimming is of course no different as a long, streamlined body is a desired quality to move efficiently through the water. The question is “how do we train and eat to maximize that physique?” Training for swimming is a topic that has been extensively covered, but eating for the right body type is something that can be a little bit more confusing. Do we want a significant amount of protein? Are carbs good for us in this situation or do we need to avoid them? What about fat intake? We’re here to help provide some direction on the topic.
The first thing we want to do is to line up our total calories we eat with the amount of exercise that we’re putting out. Swimming is a unique training stimulus because of the nature of being in the water. Of course, lakes and oceans are at the mercy of the weather/time of year/location, but even pools have a large variety in temperatures. Some are quite cool while others are heated. Regardless of the situation, the human body has to work extra hard to try and maintain 98.6°F. For this reason alone, we need to treat training in water differently than other sports, as it relates to the impact that it has on our bodies.
Ultimately, we are looking for our calorie intake to match our calorie output. This will allow the swimmer to recover from the workout appropriately, without having so much food that unwanted body mass (in the form of either muscle or fat) is generated. Our basic strategy to figuring out how many calories are needed is as follows:
Total Calories = Body Weight x Activity Multiplier
What is an “Activity Multiplier”? It’s an analysis of how much work output is being done on a day to day basis. The more work you do, the higher the multiplier.
|Total hours in the pool or in the gym||Activity Multiplier|
So as an example, a 145 lb woman training 2 hours a day in the pool would use the following numbers: Total calories = 145 x 16. This comes out to be 2320 calories.
If you’re looking to take your performance to the next level, we want to not just track the calories, but also make sure that the breakdown of those calories, into the the three macronutrients (protein, fat and carbs) is appropriate.
Some basic rules for athletic performance within the sport of swimming would be as follows:
- Intake approximately 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.
- Have approximately 50% of your total calories coming from carbohydrates.
- Have about 25-30% of your calories come from fat.
If we again use the example of the 145 lb woman training for two hours a day, then her calories could easily be broken down as follows.
|Protein (grams)||Fat (grams)||Carbs (grams)|
Luckily, we live in a time where Apps and websites makes tracking your food intake extremely easy. One great option to do this is MyFitnessPal.com. We’ve built out a user guide over at M2 Performance Nutrition to help get you started on this path. If fact, we even offer 1:1 and Team nutrition coaching programs at M2 Performance Nutrition, for more information on these coaching programs–[CLICK HERE]!
If you don’t want to weigh and measure your food, there are other very simple approaches that can be taken to make sure you’re getting in an adequate amount of food to support your swim training. All you have to do is take a look at your hand. Use your fist, palm, cupped hand, and thumb to practice calorie control.
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Here’s how it works:
- Your palm determines your protein portions.
- Your fist determines your veggie portions.
- Your cupped hand determines your carb portions.
- Your thumb determines your fat portions.
- 2 palms of protein dense foods with each meal;
- 2 fists of vegetables with each meal;
- 2 cupped hands of carb dense foods with most meals;
- 2 entire thumbs of fat dense foods with most meals.
- 1.5 palm of protein dense foods with each meal;
- 1 fist of vegetables with each meal;
- 1.5 cupped hand of carb dense foods with most meals;
- 1.5 entire thumb of fat dense foods with most meals.
Of course, just like any other form of nutrition planning, this serves as a starting point. If you are doing MORE training then consider adding in a full cupped hand of carbs at several meals throughout the day. Likewise, if your goal is to lose weight but progress seems to have stalled out, you might eliminate a ½ cup or palm of carbohydrates or a thumb of fats at particular meals.
Ultimately, the strategy that you choose needs to work within the framework of your goals and your life. If you’re trying to maximize performance, then being stricter and more precise with your diet (AKA macro counting) is going to be a good idea. However, if your swimming is more recreational, then taking the more flexible and intuitive approach with your diet may be the appropriate path for long term success.
[CLICK HERE] to read Part II!