Please click on the attachments at the bottom of the page for more information on nutrition and hydration.

Competition/Training Nutrition Plan

Since Swim Meets can last ALL day (Cumbria Age Groups), or All week (ASA Nationals), swimmers need to be aware of what they are eating and drinking either before, during or after they race.

Timing of the Pre-event Meal.

The type of food swimmers eat may influence how they perform in the water.

Fatty foods take a long time to digest. The following foods are good examples:

  • Crisps,
  • Chips,
  • Doughnuts,
  • Danish Pastries.

Protein foods that also contain fat take the longest time to digest. For example:

  • Peanut Butter,
  • Chicken,
  • Pork,
  • Beef,
  • Fish.

If the swimmer consumes these types of foods just before they compete, the blood rushes to the stomach to try to digest the food, unfortunately the muscles required for swimming competitively also require the maximum blood supply.

Something has to give, the body cannot do both at the same time, and it may result in a poor performance and probably a stomach ache.


Your body needs glucose for energy. The main source of glucose is the carbohydrate – sugars and starches – in your diet. If you do not have sufficient carbohydrates in your diet you will not be able to train as hard or as long and Fatigue (tiredness) will set in.

Any foods consisting of Carbohydrates can be digested quicker than the foods mentioned above. Here are some examples:

  • Pasta,
  • Cereals,
  • Bagels,
  • Wholemeal breads,
  • Fruit,
  • Vegetables,
  • Rice,
  • Breakfast bars,
  • Baked Potato

These foods can be out of the stomach in approximately 2 hours. Therefore, the pre-event meal should be composed of primarily carbohydrates. It also appears that carbohydrates digested up to 3 hours before exercise may improve performance.

As you can see from the above list there is quite a selection. So, which carbohydrate is best, well it depends on how quickly the body converts the carbohydrate to glucose. Here is a table of some carbohydrates and whether they are high, medium or low speed in being changed into glucose:




White Rice

Brown Rice





Baked Potato

Boiled Potato

Baked Beans

Sports drink




Muesli Bar

Sponge Cake



Fruit Cake

Jelly Beans



Try to eat High-speed foods just before, during and immediately after exercise. Remember, eat at least 2 hours before exercise then about 30 minutes before exercise have a 50g snack, steer away from bulky snacks as these could cause stomach pains. Experiment with different snacks from the ‘High’ list.

If you train for longer than an hour, you will need to consume carbohydrates to avoid fatigue. Use an ‘Isotonic’ Sports drink, as this will give you the carbohydrates as well as the fluid, (see fluids).

The best time to refuel and restock those depleted glucose stores ready for the next work out is immediately after exercise.

Eating at All Day Competitions

The same principle used to time pre-event meals also applies to all day competitions.

If a swimmer races at 10:00 am and again 2 hours later, a meal high in fat and protein will more than likely be in the swimmers stomach when they get ready to race. This will lead to a possible reduced level of performance and a stomach ache.


  1. If it is an Hour or Less between heats/events swimmers should stick with carbohydrate foods and juices, e.g. orange juice, bananas, crackers, plain toast or a diluted carbohydrate sports drink. Swimmers should limit the amount of food taken.
  2. If it is 2 to 4 Hours between heats/events, swimmers should add more carbohydrate foods and juices, e.g. bagels, hot cereals and muffins along with some type of pure fruit juice.
  3. If it is 4 Hours or more between heats/events, swimmers can add more protein with carbohydrate foods, e.g. a light spread of peanut butter on a muffin or bagel or a chicken sandwich on 2 slices of bread with a pure fruit juice.
  4. It is also vitally important that swimmers should drink fluids, (from their OWN BOTTLE and NOT FIZZY DRINKS), as they can quickly become dehydrated on the hot poolside. Waiting until the swimmer is thirsty is TOO LATE.

Replacing Fluids

During exercise our muscles use energy. However, the muscles only use 25% of the energy the other 75% is released as heat – which is why exercise makes us HOT!

We need to get rid of this excess heat otherwise we would overheat – so, the main way to keep our bodies cool is sweating. Heat from working muscles is transferred to the blood. Blood flow to the skin is increased, and the heat is lost via evaporation – sweating.

Sweat comes from the water in your blood so you have to replace the lost water. Otherwise, you will become dehydrated and suffer.

How Much?

The more you sweat, the more fluid you lose and therefore, the more you need to drink.

Approximately 1 litre of fluid is lost for each hour of exercise. The easiest method of finding out how much fluid you lose is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. Each kg of body weight lost is equal to 1 litre of fluid loss. Another way is to check the colour of your urine – if it’s pale and plentiful you’re well hydrated, but if it’s dark and in short supply you’d better start drinking.

Another consideration is that for every 1% drop in body weight there is a 5% drop in performance, the difference between coming first or last!

When to drink?

As always, prevention is better than cure – start exercise well hydrated. Try to drink between 300-500ml (good-sized glass of water) in the 15 minutes before you start exercising.

Drink during exercise, but do it in-between swimming sets, when your coach is talking.

It’s extremely unlikely that you will drink too much water, but if you are doing excessive amounts of exercise in extreme temperatures you may need an ‘Isotonic’ Sports drink, 5 – 8% carbohydrate in solution, with sodium (salts) similar to the concentration of blood, this is quickly absorbed by the body. It is worth remembering the following:

  • Less than an hour, ordinary water will do,
  • More than an hour and in extremes of temperature, use an ‘Isotonic’ Sports drink

REMEMBER – don’t wait until you are thirsty, that’s too late, you’re already dehydrated!

Neil Kerr,
29 Oct 2011, 09:35
Neil Kerr,
29 Oct 2011, 09:36
Neil Kerr,
15 Jan 2012, 12:41
Neil Kerr,
15 Jan 2012, 12:41
Neil Kerr,
15 Jan 2012, 12:41
Neil Kerr,
15 Jan 2012, 12:41
Neil Kerr,
15 Jan 2012, 12:42
Neil Kerr,
29 Oct 2011, 09:38