What to Eat Before Swim Practice to Fuel Your Performance
It is important for swimmers to go into their practices properly fueled to ensure they have the energy needed to train at their best. Let’s take a look at ideas for what to eat before swim practice to optimally fuel a swimmer’s workout.
What to Eat Before Morning Swim Practice
It is common for high school and collegiate level swimmers to have practice first thing in the morning. With early morning practice, many athletes will roll out of bed and head straight to the pool.
When there is limited time before the morning swim practice, it is best for athletes to focus on consuming a pre-workout snack that is high in carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate-Rich, Pre-Workout Snacks
Similar to gas in a car, carbohydrates provide the body with the fuel needed to perform at its best. Just like you would not drive a car with an empty gas tank, it is important to put fuel into your body before a morning swim.
Easy carbohydrate-rich snacks you can enjoy prior to a morning swim practice include:
- Banana, small piece of fresh fruit
- Applesauce squeeze, dried fruit
- Fruit smoothie
- Breakfast bar, fig bar, low-fat granola bar
- Instant oatmeal, cream of wheat
- Bagel, English muffin, toast with jelly
- Microwave pancakes, toaster waffle, low-fat muffin
- Dry breakfast cereal, graham crackers, animal crackers
- Pretzels, pita chips, snack crackers
With your pre-workout snack, it is important to hydrate as well. Aim to drink at least 8 oz of water or a sports drink as you head to the pool for practice.
What to Eat Before Afternoon Swim Practice
When swimmers have afternoon workouts, they should plan to eat a well-balanced lunch that will provide them with the energy needed for the upcoming practice.
When possible, swimmers should aim to eat their lunch 3-4 hours prior to the workout. This allows time for the body to digest the meal and to go to the bathroom if needed before the start of swim practice.
Lunch Ideas Before an Afternoon Swim Practice
The lunch should include items that provide a good source of carbohydrates as well as a moderate amount of lean protein.
Examples lunches swimmers can enjoy before an afternoon swim practice include:
- Turkey and cheese wrap, apple slices, pretzels, granola bar
- Burrito bowl with chicken, rice, black beans, corn, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa
- Grilled chicken sandwich, grapes, baked chips
- Pasta with lean meat sauce, green beans, fresh sliced fruit cup
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, Greek yogurt and fruit parfait, banana
For additional lunch ideas, check out my blog on easy grab-and-go lunch ideas for athletes.
Hydrate for Your Afternoon Swim Practice
With lunch, swimmers should focus on hydrating as well. Dehydration can negatively impact an athlete’s health and sports performance. Even in the pool, swimmers still lose fluid and electrolytes in sweat, thus going into a workout optimally hydrated is important.
Hydration needs vary greatly amongst athletes. However, in general, swimmers should aim to drink ~2 cups of fluid (5-7 mL/kg of body weight) with their lunch prior to an afternoon practice (1).
Healthy beverage options that swimmers can drink with their lunch include:
- Low-fat milk
- 100% fruit or vegetable juice
- Sparkling water
- Infused water*
*Recipe from Kathryn Piper, Registered Dietitian
Snack Ideas Before an Afternoon Swim Practice
In the hour or two leading up to the practice, it can be helpful for swimmers to eat a high-carbohydrate snack that will provide them with additional energy for the afternoon workout. This can be especially helpful for swimmers participating in afterschool sports who ate lunch early in the day.
Before leaving home in the morning, swimmers should make sure to pack healthy snacks to take with them to fuel their afternoon workouts. It can be helpful for swimmers to meal prep snacks on the weekend so they have healthy options to grab and take with them throughout the week.
What Not to Eat Before Swim Practice
In addition to knowing what to eat before swim practice, it can be helpful to know what not to eat. Swimmers should limit foods that are high in protein, fat, or fiber in the hour or two leading up to practice.
Consuming foods high in these nutrients too close to the start of your workout may lead to GI distress during the practice (2).
This includes foods such as:
- Heavy cream, cheese, or buttery sauces
- Fried or greasy foods
- High-fat meats
- Dessert foods (ice cream, brownies, fudge)
- Beans and legumes
- High-fiber vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage)
- Whole grains (high-fiber)
Practice Your Competition Fueling Strategy
Each athlete I work with is unique in terms of food preferences, as well as what foods and beverages they tolerate best before swimming. Swimmers should use practice as an opportunity to try out different pre-workout meals and snacks to determine what works best for their individual needs.
What to Eat Before Swim Practice to Fuel Your Performance
You are now set with ideas for what to eat before swim practice to fuel optimal performance. Remember, when time is limited before the start of practice, focus on carbohydrate-rich snacks for energy. Also make it a priority to practice your pre-workout nutrition plan so you are confident during competitions that you are fueled to perform at your best.
For additional nutrition tips for swimmers, check out my blog on the best swim meet snacks to pack for competition.
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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.