What Should Swimmers Eat?

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Swimming is a demanding cardiovascular activity that burns a high number of calories. Half an hour of vigorous lap swimming burns between 300 and 444 calories, while crawl and butterfly can burn close on 500 calories in the same amount of time. Replacing these calories by eating the right types of food is vital when it comes to optimizing performance and improving your recovery in time for your next practice session or competition.

Calories

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Calories are your body's main source of energy. Male athletes need at least 20 calories per pound of body weight each day to maintain their weights, while female athletes need 17 calories per pound each day, according to the Health Center at North Carolina State University. This will vary depending on your training schedule, the events you compete in and your race distances. The key with calorie intake is to ensure that you're eating enough to sustain performance and maintain muscle mass, without gaining excess body fat. Keep an eye on your performance and body composition and adjust your calorie intake up or down as needed.

Macronutrients

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Carbohydrates should form the foundation of your diet, notes dietitian Alison Green on the SASO Swimming website. Good sources of carbs include rice, cereals, pasta, potatoes, beans, peas and lentils. Carbohydrates should make up half of every meal. The other half of your meal should include protein, healthy fats and vegetables. Good protein sources include lean meats, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy. Healthy fats include olive oil, nuts, avocados, seeds and coconut, while you can consume any green or brightly-colored fibrous vegetables.

Pre-Race Foods

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Eating the right foods before a race or a tough training session can give your performance a huge boost. Pack plenty of food when you're going to be in the pool for a long time, advises dietitian Jill Castle for the USA Swimming website. Fill a cooler with fruits, vegetables, grain-based foods and protein foods. Cereal and energy bars, low-fat cheese sticks, sliced meat, as well as nuts are all good choices. Nibble on foods and sip water, fruit juice or sports drinks when you're close to your next event, saving larger meals for when you have longer gaps. Experiment with your race day nutrition before the big day to ensure you know how your body reacts to certain foods.

Meal Planning and Considerations

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Eat regularly throughout the day so you have a constant supply of energy, with a slightly larger meal after training, to aid with recovery. Adjust serving sizes to meet your calorie needs. Stick with your own plan and don't be swayed by trying to follow others as this can lead to disaster. For instance, Olympian swimmer Michael Phelps consumed 12,000 calories per day during high-intensity training phases, with these calories coming from a mix of fried egg sandwiches, chocolate chip pancakes, pizza, pasta and energy drinks, according to an August 2008 FoxNews.com article. While Phelps was extremely successful, trying to emulate his diet will more than likely lead to excessive fat gain and have a negative impact on your performance in the pool.

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