What to Eat After Swimming to Promote Recovery

What to Eat After Swimming to Promote Recovery

It is important for athletes to know what to eat after swimming to promote optimal recovery. Let’s explore the goals of recovery nutrition for athletes. Then we will look at ideas for meals and snacks athletes can enjoy after swimming.

Recovery Nutrition for Swimmers

Having a plan in place for what to eat after swimming can help support swimmers with meeting their recovery nutrition needs. Recovery nutrition is particularly important for swimmers when they are doing multiple workouts within the same day, repeated days of hard training, or participating in a multi-day swim meet.

Following a swim, the goals of recovery nutrition include:

  • Rehydrate: Replace the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat
  • Refuel: Replace energy stores (carbohydrates) used during the activity
  • Repair: Consume protein to build and repair lean muscle mass

Thus, when planning recovery nutrition meals and snacks, swimmers should keep these goals in mind.

Recovery Nutrition for Swimmers

What to Eat After Swimming: Hydration Needs

After swimming it is important for swimmers to rehydrate and to replace the fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat.

Even though swimmers are in the water, the body still sweats to dissipate heat. Since swimmers are less likely to notice sweat losses than athletes competing on land, having a plan in place for rehydration is important.

Weighing before and after activity can help swimmers determine how much fluid was lost in sweat.  For each pound of weight lost during the activity, athletes should aim to drink 20-24 oz of fluid (1). 

When athletes do not replace the fluid lost during activity, they will start the next workout or competition in a dehydrated state (2), This cumulative dehydration over several days can have a negative impact on both health and sports performance (3).

What About Replacing Electrolytes Lost in Sweat?

Swimmers also need to be mindful about replacing the electrolytes lost in sweat following a swim practice or competition. The main electrolyte lost in sweat is sodium. Thus, swimmers should focus on consuming food and beverages containing sodium with their post-swim meals and snacks.

Consuming sodium following a swim also helps the body to retain the fluid consumed. In addition, salty foods stimulate thirst, thus encouraging athletes to hydrate post-swim (2).

Note: Swimmers who have been advised to limit their fluid or sodium intake should visit with their doctor or a sports dietitian nutritionist about meeting their hydration needs following activity.

Rehydrate After Swimming

What to Eat After Swimming: Snack Ideas

If it will be several hours prior to the next meal, swimmers should consume a post-workout snack following their swim. 

This is especially important for swimmers who have morning workouts and are heading straight to class from the pool. Swimmers should take time to meal prep post-workout snacks on the weekend that they can grab and take with them on busy weekday mornings. 

Quick, healthy snack ideas swimmers can enjoy after a workout include:

  • Low-fat chocolate milk and granola bars
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with low-fat milk
  • Protein overnight oats (meal prep in advance)
  • Instant oatmeal with nut butter (stir in for added protein and flavor)
  • Greek yogurt, berries, and granola
  • Turkey and cheese wrap
  • Pita chips with hummus
  • Bagel with nut butter, honey, and banana slices
  • Cottage cheese and pineapple with 100% fruit juice
  • Trail mix with pretzels, dried fruit, nuts, and dry cereal with sports drink
  • Sports bar with sports drink

Why is Chocolate Milk Recommended as a Post-Workout Drink?

Chocolate milk is often recommended as an easy post-workout drink option to help athletes with meeting their recovery nutrition needs. 

A 1-cup serving of chocolate milk provides 8 grams of complete protein and 26 grams of carbohydrates (4). Chocolate milk is also 90% water, which can help athletes rehydrate following activity. Thus, chocolate milk checks all three boxes (fluid, carbohydrates, protein) when it comes to recovery nutrition. 

In addition to protein, chocolate milk contains 13 essential nutrients that are important for an athlete’s health. Milk provides calcium and Vitamin D for strong bones, along with B Vitamins, Vitamin A, potassium, and phosphorus, making it a nutrient-rich choice for swimmers to enjoy following a workout.

Post-Swim Smoothie to Promote Recovery

A smoothie can be a quick and easy recovery nutrition snack for swimmers. In the post-workout smoothie, athletes should make sure to include a variety of frozen fruits and sliced banana for carbohydrates.

Swimmers can add protein to the smoothie with ingredients such as Greek yogurt, high-protein milk, silken tofu, cottage cheese, and nut butter. If using a protein powder in the smoothie, swimmers need to ensure they select a product that is third-party tested.

Finally, swimmers should include ingredients in the smoothie that can help reduce inflammation in the body. Ideas for anti-inflammatory smoothie ingredients include: berries, cherries, leafy greens, avocados, chia seeds or ground flaxseeds, and spices (cinnamon, ginger, turmeric).

Note: For additional information on evaluating protein powder and other supplements, check out my blog on supplements for teenage athletes.

Smoothie to Promote Recovery After Swimming

What to Eat After Swimming: Meal Ideas

Swimmers can further support their recovery nutrition needs by following-up their post-swim snack with a well-balanced meal within the next couple of hours.

Ideas for post-swim meals include:

  • Scrambled eggs, pancakes, fresh berries, low-fat milk
  • Turkey sub sandwich, pretzels, fresh fruit cup, low-fat milk
  • Grilled salmon, sweet potato, steamed broccoli, dinner rolls, and 100% fruit juice
  • Pasta with lean meat sauce, salad, breadsticks, low-fat milk
  • Grilled chicken breast, brown rice, green beans, fresh sliced fruit, tart cherry juice

Healthy Meal Options at Restaurants

If swimmers need to grab a quick meal from a restaurant following a swim practice or competition, it is important they have ideas for healthy fast-food choices.

Here are a few restaurant options athletes can enjoy to help support their recovery nutrition needs.

  • Panera: Avocado, egg white, spinach, and cheese breakfast sandwich, Greek yogurt and mixed berries parfait, low-fat milk.
  • Chipotle: Burrito bowl with chicken or steak, brown rice, black beans, corn, fajita veggies, lettuce, pico de gallo, salsa, and guacamole.
  • Subway: Sweet onion chicken teriyaki wrap, baked chips, low-fat milk.
  • CAVA: Greens and grains bowl with chicken, brown rice, black lentils, a variety of greens, hummus, and fresh vegetable toppings.
  • Jason’s Deli: Wild Salmon-Wich, fresh sliced fruit cup, 100% orange juice
  • Chick-fil-A: Grilled chicken sandwich, Greek yogurt parfait, kale crunch salad

What to Eat After Swimming to Promote Recovery

You are now set with ideas for what to eat after swimming to promote optimal recovery. Remember, recovery nutrition is essential when swimmers have limited time between workouts or competitions. Having a plan in place for how to refuel and rehydrate following swimming can help ensure athletes are set-up for success.

For additional sports nutrition tips for swimmers, check out my blog: What to Eat Before Swim Practice.

Click HERE to join the Nutrition By Mandy e-mail list. When you join you will receive a free athlete’s grocery list to print and take with you to the store.

About the Author

Mandy is a Sports Dietitian Nutritionist in the San Antonio, TX area. She is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, a Licensed Athletic Trainer, and is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine. Mandy has experience working with athletes at the high school, collegiate, and professional levels. She believes the key to reaching one’s full potential, both in everyday life and in sports performance, relies on a healthy nutritional foundation. Learn more about the work Mandy does here.

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