Training is crucial to achieving your best times in a swimming race, but other factors such as getting plenty of rest and eating right make a big difference also. The best foods to eat the night before a swim meet — or the day of — include favorite foods your body is used to as part of your regular diet.
Forget Carb and Protein Loading
Most swimming races put you in the water to expend maximum effort for just a few minutes. For this reason, the carbohydrate-loading strategies used by distance runners and triathletes, which initially starve the body of carbohydrates before adding them back en masse a few days before a meet, are entirely unnecessary, according to Swim England nutrition scientist Ian Freeman.
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In fact, high carb meals can give you unsatisfactory results. Simple carbs like chocolate cake or candy will spike your blood sugar, which can lead to dramatically reduced athletic performance, especially in those with blood sugar disorders. Former NFL Football Player Brandon Green, who has type 1 diabetes, relates in an article for T1 To Go that his athletic endurance was roughly half of normal when his glucose levels spiked.
Complex carbs aren't necessarily better. They can cause digestive upset that can make you sprint in record time to the bathroom, but leave you with a queasy feeling that won't improve your performance in the pool.
Read more: 7 Tips to Become a Better Swimmer
Build Consistent Dietary Habits
The best advice for pre-meet eats is to stick with foods that your body is already familiar with and select your favorites the night before the meet. But that doesn't mean that you should gorge on whatever you want, whenever you want. Although swimmers can burn up to 5,000 calories per day during intense training, eating just anything won't fuel your body with the nutrition it needs.
Make sure you're getting at least half your calories from complex carbohydrates. The best high-carb meals for swimmers include sweet potatoes, bananas, squash, berries and rolled — not quick — oats. It can be helpful to fill half your plate with complex carb foods at mealtime. Divide the other half of your plate — and diet — so that you're getting 25 percent protein and 25 percent fats, fruits and veggies.
Opt for lean protein choices that include beef, eggs, wild salmon, chicken, raw nuts and seeds. The salmon, nuts and seeds also make healthy options for incorporating the fats your body also needs. Other good fat sources include coconut oil, olive oil and butter sourced from grass-fed cows.
Pay attention to vitamins and minerals as well. Swimmers commonly experience deficiencies in zinc, calcium, iron and vitamin D. It's best to get the nutrition from your food, particularly on race day, to avoid digesting a stomach full of nauseating pills.
Read more: 8 Unconventional Protein Sources
Eat Foods That Hydrate
"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink," reads a famous line in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and that's not far off for swimmers.
When you're immersed in water, it's easy to forget that you're sweating away vast amounts of fluid and electrolytes as you exert energy in the pool. Even a 2 percent reduction in hydration can result in decreased athletic performance significantly, particularly in warm or temperate conditions, according to a 2015 study.
Considering that 78 percent of swimmers are at least that dehydrated by the time they hit the water, making sure you get proper hydration before bedtime can give you a big leg up on the competition.
Gulping down glasses of water isn't the answer. Using that method, you're likely to disturb your sleep by having to use the bathroom several times during the night. Instead, focus on consuming hydrating foods the evening before.
Chicken breast gives you a hydrating choice of protein for the evening meal, with yogurt and blueberries for dessert. Other foods that will help your body stay hydrated through the night include oatmeal; juicy fruits such as grapes, grapefruit and watermelon; and broth.
Slice up some strawberries, blueberries or cucumbers, and toss them in a gallon of water before bed to have a hydrating tonic ready to drink in the morning. Bring the rest along with you in your water bottle to the swimming race. For a relaxing nighttime toddy, brew up some chamomile tea to relax you before bed, and add honey, lemon juice and mint leaves.
Choose Meet Day Foods Wisely
Waking up in the morning, you might be filled with excitement, nerves and perhaps even dread to the point your stomach might not be partial to eating. But make sure to fuel your body anyway, because it will need energy and nutrition to draw on at race time.
Michael Phelps, a 23-time Olympic gold medal winner, consistently started race day with a breakfast of eggs, oatmeal and four energy shakes. However, you can design your own best meal before a swim meet, as long as it's easily digestible and consumed two to four hours before you must be at the pool.
Plan snacks for around 30 minutes before your event. Include easily digested protein such as whey isolate shakes or yogurt, easily digested juicy fruit such as pears or apples, or peanut butter on seed crackers. If you have two or more hours until your next event, go for something a bit more substantial such as sushi, pasta or sandwiches on whole grain bread with organic meat. Don't count on restaurants or snack bars to provide healthy alternatives. Pack a cooler with your favorites, using familiar ingredients that won't throw your body into flux.
Read more: 16 Diet-Friendly Healthful Carbs
Foods to Avoid
Whether you're planning your food intake the night before the meet or between each swimming race, there are some foods to avoid. Wait until after your events are finished for the day to visit the snack bar or local fast food joint. Deep fried foods such as French fries, fatty foods like hamburgers and simple sugars such as sodas are a big no-no.
Saturated fats can upset your stomach and leave you sluggish; sugar will dehydrate and inflame your system. Avoid packing candy bars, potato chips and other "junk food" in your swim meet snack bag also.
- U.S. Masters Swimming: How to Fuel Your Open Water Swim
- Swimming.org: The Dangers of Carbo-Loading for Swimmers
- ThoughtCo: What Should My Swimmers Eat Before Their Next Race?
- Swimming World: 5 Wondrous Ways to Carbo Load
- Outdoor Swimmer: Carb Loading for Swimmers
- IOP Conference Series: The Impact of 200 Meter Breast Stroke Swimming Activity on Blood Glucose Level of The Student
- Type 1 to Go: High Blood Sugars and Athletic Performance
- Poetry Foundation: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
- University of Minnesota, Duluth: Nutritional Needs of Competitive Swimmers