Swimmers in training can swim distances of 2 to 12 kilometers, or 1.24 to 7.45 miles, per day with a total workout time of up to six hours. Energy expenditures are both anaerobic and aerobic, depending on the length and speed of the swimming. Swimmers typically require a diet high in carbohydrates to fuel these workouts. The use of nutritional supplements to enhance swimming performance has been investigated, and, while some supplements may enhance sprinting, preworkout supplements do not overall aid a swimmer's training.
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Nutritional Needs of Swimmers
Daily energy requirements for swimmers can be high, especially for athletes who are still growing. Many swimmers train two times per day, so they require energy-dense, carbohydrate-rich foods prior to a workout. A mixture of lean protein and carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grain breads, beans and pasta provides adequate energy and calories to support long training sessions. Eating prior to workouts can be difficult for some athletes because they tend to feel full or experience an upset stomach. In these cases, swimmers may eat supplements such as energy bars or liquid energy drinks high in both carbohydrates and protein.
Common Supplements Used By Swimmers
While research shows that nutritional supplements do little to enhance a swimmer's performance, some swimmers use creatine prior to high-intensity events. Creatine is an amino acid that is stored in the muscles and converted to energy during exercise. This supplement is frequently used to support short bursts of high-intensity activity such as interval training, sprinting or weight lifting, so it may help prepare a swimmer for specific workouts or events. Most swimmers are advised to follow careful nutritional plans with regularly scheduled meals, snacks and sufficient calorie intake rather than taking supplements prior to a workout or event.
Supplementation of fluids is critical to a swimmer's performance, as water temperatures and physical activity can lead to dehydration in as little as 30 minutes. Swimmers should drink a minimum of two 8-ounce glasses of electrolyte-balanced fluid a least two hours prior to a workout or race. It also is important to supplement fluids during a long event or workout by drinking 5 to 10 ounces of fluid for every 20 minutes of activity.
Expert Insight on Supplements
Sharon Rochester, an Australian sports dietitian, notes that swimmers often need individualized nutrition plans. Meals and supplement plans should be designed with consideration for the age and physical condition of the swimmer. In addition, swimmers participate in a wide variety of events including sprinting, middle-distance swims and long-distance events. As a result, the energy requirements for individual swimmers are highly variable. Competitive swimmers who want guidance preparing for workouts should consult a certified dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition.