Nutrition & Hydration for Swimmers

Why bother with nutrition? A balanced, varied diet will help you to achieve their swimming potential

Why drink? Your performance can be affected and you may run out of energy before the end of a training session or competition if you do not drink enough

How? All swimmers need to ensure that they:

  • Have the correct amount of energy for normal growth and development
  • Have the right foods to build and maintain strong bones and a healthy weight
  • Are fit and healthy and not ill as much of the time as possible
  • Have enough energy to train and perform well
  • Have drunk enough fluid to maintain hydration to be able to perform well in training and competition
  • Can recover as quickly as possible from training and competition
  • Are able to concentrate on training and school/work

In other words food and fluids will affect swimmers on a daily basis and shouldn’t be left to chance – EAT & DRINK WELL, SWIM WELL!

  • Have variety in your diet Base meal choices around the Eat Well Plate shown on the next page. This shows how much of what you eat during the day should come from each food group, including snacks.
  • Eat suitable snacks around training sessions and at competitions Fruit, honey or jam sandwich, pitta bread, cereal bars, rice cakes, bagels, jaffa cakes, etc.
  • Keep as hydrated as possible Water, weak squash/cordial or an isotonic sports energy drink (particularly useful for long hard training sets). Please note: High stimulant/booster drinks such as Red Bull are not recommended. Make sure you like the flavour and remember to keep on topping up – little and often is the key. The pool environment is hot and dehydrating – DO NOT wait until you feel thirsty. ALWAYS BRING A DRINK TO TRAINING – You will need 1 litre of fluid for every hour you train.
  • Set simple nutrition and hydration goals and self monitor These could include:
  1. Eating a good breakfast every day
  2. Counting up how many portions from each food group you have eaten
  3. Eating more fruit and vegetables
  4. Monitoring your “pee”. If you are hydrated it should be pale in colour and lots of it. If it is bright yellow and a small amount you are probably dehydrated and need to drink more
  5. Planning your snacks and always having the right ones in your bag

Nutrition for competitive swimmers

A healthy diet will help you train harder, perform better, recover faster, reduce your chances of illness and gain a competitive edge.

Nutritionist Anita Bean BSc RNutr has kindly provided some tips to help you plan a healthy training diet:

Anita Bean RNutr is a registered nutritionist and health writer, specializing in sports nutrition. She has written more than 20 books on nutrition, including The Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition and Food For Fitness. Winner of three awards in sports nutrition, she works with many swimmers, writes for Good Housekeeping and broadcasts regularly on TV and radio. Below are xx fact-sheets written by Anita that are a great guide to nutrition for club swimmers.

Nutrition is an important part of your training programme. Eating the right types and amounts of food, as well as drinking enough fluid before, during and after each training session will help you perform better, and recover faster between training sessions. It will also help to keep you healthy and reduce your chances of getting colds and other illnesses.

Here are some nutritional strategies that can be used to improve your training sessions.

What’s a healthy diet for swimmers?

Swimmers need a high carbohydrate diet to fuel their bodies during training, as well as adequate protein for growth and muscle repair, and (mainly unsaturated) fat for fuel and overall health. A general guideline is to have one third of the plate carbs (pasta, bread, rice, potatoes, or cereal), one third protein (fish, chicken, lean meat, eggs, beans, lentils, tofu) and one third vegetables (or salad). You should also include healthy fats (olive oil, oily fish, nuts) and at least 5 portions of fruit and veg a day to ensure you get the omega-3 fats, vitamins, minerals, fibre and other protective nutrients needed to stay healthy and promote recovery.

How much energy (calories) do swimmers need?

Your calorie intake depends on your calorie expenditure, body size, weight, and how much muscle you have. On top of this you need extra calories for growth (60 – 100 calories a day) as well as extra calories to fuel your training sessions (approx 1000 calories/ 2 hours). So a typical 60kg male swimmer would need about 3400 – 3600 calories a day, a 55kg female about 2800 – 3000 calories. If you’re doing circuits, land training or other sports, add an extra 300 – 400 calories/ hour.

How much to drink?

Dehydration slows you down and will make swimming feel much harder. The most important thing is you arrive at your training  session properly hydrated, (you can check for dehydration with the ‘pee test’). Drink plenty during the day, little and often. Have around 250 – 300 ml 2 hours before the session. During training, have 3 – 4 gulps every 15 minutes (or at convenient intervals), rather than a large volume in one go. Generally, the rule is to drink about 125ml of fluid for every kilometre swum. Drink plenty after training to aid recovery.

How to avoid fatigue during training?

Early fatigue during training can be caused by:

  1. Dehydration – avoid this by making sure you drink enough before and during the session
  2. Low blood sugar levels – avoid this by choosing diluted squash, 1 part squash, 6 parts water (e.g. Robinsons Select) or any ready-made drink containing around 5g sugar/ 100ml
  3. Depleted reserves of carbohydrate in your muscles (glycogen) – avoid this by eating a balanced meal containing carbs and protein (and some fat) about 2 – 3 hours before training; eat consistently during the day; do not skip meals .

Is sugar good or bad for young swimmers’ performance?

I frequently see swimmers eating sweets and drinking sugary drinks before training sessions in the belief that sugar will aid their performance. In fact, the opposite has been shown to hold true – consuming sugar before exercise does NOT improve performance or stamina. Eating lots of sugar triggers high levels of insulin in the bloodstream, which takes sugar out of the blood stream rapidly, resulting in a sharp drop in blood sugar. This rebound effect can make you feel tired, weak and lightheaded. Instead, eat a healthy pre-training meal that includes wholegrain carbs and protein. If you need a pre-training energy boost, it’s safer to choose foods, such as bananas, dried fruit, and oat (granola) bars that won’t play havoc with blood sugar levels.

For more information on sports nutrition:
‘Food For Fitness’ or ‘Sports Nutrition for Young Athletes’  by Anita Bean, available from Amazon or on

Pages Below

2. Nutrition Before Training
3. Nutrition During Training
4. Nutrition After Training
5. Sample Menus
6. Competition Nutrition
7. How to Gain Weight
8. Hydration