When it comes to swimming, deciding what to eat before a rigorous training session or a big meet is a common dilemma.
Dive right into the pool without eating or drinking beforehand and you may not have enough fuel in the tank to perform your best. On the other hand, eating too much, or the wrong types of foods, could lead to stomach cramping, indigestion–or worse.
The good news is, it’s possible to be properly fueled for a morning workout without the unpleasant side effects. It’s all about what you eat, and when you eat it.
Before Your Swim
Eat a balanced meal 3-4 hours before. If your swim is later in the day, try to time your meal so you have adequate time to digest before getting wet. Including some protein will keep you satiated and may help reduce post-exercise soreness.
Have a carbohydrate-rich snack 30-60 minutes before go-time. Doing so will top off muscle glycogen stores which provide you with that quick energy needed during exercise. A few good options include a piece of fruit, a jam sandwich, or low-fiber granola bar.
Eat something, even if it’s early. Over the course of the night your carbohydrate stores, which your muscles rely on for energy during exercise, have been used to maintain your blood sugar and provide energy to your brain. Not eating beforehand could cause you to bonk midway through your swim. Sneak in a carbohydrate-rich snack when you wake up and follow up with a more substantial breakfast after.
If eating early in the morning doesn’t agree with you, have a small glass of 100% fruit juice. Just stay away from the more acidic juices like orange or grapefruit since they can irritate your stomach.
Wash those carbs down with water. Drink a tall glass of water to help digest your snack and hydrate before your workout.
Avoid foods high in fiber and fat. Fiber and fat take more time and effort for you body to digest and can cause an upset stomach, so it’s best to hold off on these foods until after your swim.
After Your Swim
Eat within 1 hour. As soon as you get out of the pool, there’s a brief 15-60 minute window of opportunity to get a jump on refueling and rebuilding muscle tissue. During this time, your muscles are primed to take up nutrients, primarily carbohydrate and protein that stimulate muscle repair, growth and strength.
To take advantage of this, have a healthy meal or substantial snack that contains both complex carbohydrates and protein within 1 hour.
Here are a few great post-swim ideas that are great for refueling:
• A yogurt parfait with granola, fruit, and a sprinkle of nuts or seeds
• A smoothie made with yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit, and some avocado, peanut butter, flax, or chia seeds for a dose of healthy fats
• Oatmeal made with milk for added protein, topped with dried or fresh fruit, nuts, or nut butter
• Eggs with sautéed veggies, a slice or two of whole grain toast and a cup of reduced-fat (not fat-free!) milk. Grab a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts if you’re still hungry afterwards.
Don’t sabotage your swim before you suit up. Eating the right foods before and after will keep you fueled for the big event and help your body recover afterwards!
Elle Penner is a registered dietitian and blogger, earning her Masters in Public Health at the University of North Carolina.