Is Whey Powder Good for Swimmers?

If you think whey protein powder only benefits bodybuilders and weight lifters, think again. Athletes who participate in endurance sports, including swimmers, tend to focus on carbohydrates and pay little attention to protein. However, it is essential that hard-training swimmers consume an adequate amount of protein. Failure to do so can hinder your performance during swimming events or training sessions.

Man swimming laps (Image: Randolph Jay Braun/iStock/Getty Images)

For Recovery

Recovery time is important to a swimmer's success. The faster you can recover from a training session, the quicker you can train again. When you consume insufficient protein, your recovery time lengthens, muscle weakness can occur, and you can become susceptible to illness. If you consistently consume inadequate protein, the effects worsen. You can become prone to exhaustion or sports anemia -- low iron stores. According to "Iron and Performance," sports anemia is common among competitive female swimmers.

For Muscle Growth

The two major proteins found in milk are casein and whey. Casein is a slow-digesting protein, whereas whey is a fast-digesting protein. This makes whey protein powder an excellent choice following resistance exercise or swimming practice. According to "Fueling Swimmers," by the American Dietetic Association, when swimmers are strengthening the muscles through resistance exercise before the season, more protein is necessary to support muscle protein synthesis -- muscle growth. Aim for 0.55 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.

How Much

Consuming whey protein powder following a workout is beneficial, but how much? In the case of consuming whey protein powder, more is not always better. In a study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition," researchers designed an experiment in order to find what amount of whey protein is optimal following resistance exercise. They found that 20 grams of whey protein powder was sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This is equivalent to a single scoop of whey protein powder.

How to Balance

Whey protein powders are a convenient tool for swimmers. Balancing daily responsibilities and long training sessions can make it difficult to consume enough protein from the diet alone. This makes whey protein powders ideal for meal replacements. However, whey protein powders cannot make up for a poor diet. Include other sources of protein such as lean meats, low-fat dairy, and nuts in combination with a whey protein powder to meet your daily protein needs.

Supplement Dangers

Swimmers may turn to supplement store personnel for advice on choosing a whey protein powder. However, doing so could leave you with a failed performance-enhancing drug test and a spot on the bench. Whey protein is not considered a performance enhancer by athletic authorities -- but some whey protein powders may be laced with banned substances. Thus, consult with a registered dietitian before taking a whey protein powder -- or other dietary supplement -- to ensure ingredient safety.

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