Fast Swimming = Premium Fuel & Taming Fun Foods


Fun foods -- medium for web.By Jill Castle, Registered Dietitian and Child Nutrition Expert

Watching the U.S. Olympic Team Trials was an exciting kick-off to the summer. Training requires time, motivation, dedication and perseverance. As a parent of a swimmer myself, I can appreciate not only the time and effort of the swimmer, but that of the parent, too.

One of my favorite moments was Ryan Lochte’s interview about how he prepared for this year’s Trials.

He acknowledged several things like weight training and more time in the pool, but what struck me most was his comment about nutrition.

“The best thing I did was change my eating… no more fast food.”

Ryan figured out that fast food doesn’t make you fast.

Many swimmers are looking for that magical solution to faster times. But they fail to consider their fuel source.

And it may be as simple as that.

The key to fast swimming is ‘premium fuel’—complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, as well as enough fluids to stay hydrated. Macronutrients prime the muscles for work and help them recover. If these primary nutrients are thoughtfully chosen, they carry the added benefit of micronutrients that support overall health.

Simple – not easy.

Especially for the growing swimmer, who is naturally drawn to sweets and convenient items, making him more prone to eating them. Food preferences, taste, peer pressure and other developmental milestones make the young swimmer more susceptible to eating ‘regular fuel,’ which includes Fun Foods (foods high in fat, sugar and calories, and low in nutrients).

Fun Foods showcase fast food, soda, desserts, French fries, candy, chips and other similar foods. Fun Foods contribute ~40% of daily calorie intake in children and teens’ diets. Translated: ‘premium fuel’ and its important nutrients are being crowded out by Fun Foods.

While these foods should be scaled back in the young swimmer’s diet, they don’t need to be eliminated. In fact, for active children and teens, Fun Foods can be a part of daily intake.

Take a look at the Fun Foods your swimmer eats routinely, and target an average of 1-2 Fun Foods per day.

Offer normal serving sizes (12 oz. soda, regular candy bar, small fries, etc.) rather than the distorted portions that promise cups of sugar, spoonfuls of fat and excess calories. These items can be spotted advertising words like Biggie, Super and Value size.

Last, remember to be flexible with Fun Foods. You don’t want to overly control them (this makes kids want them more), nor do you want to allow them in an unlimited fashion. The reality is, on some days the swimmer may eat more (think parties), and other days they may have none. The goal is to strike a healthy balance so that Fun Foods don’t rule the swimmer’s diet, and ‘premium fuel’ is makes up most of what your young swimmer eats.

Jill Castle, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and child nutrition expert. She is the co-author of the upcoming book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (2013), and creator of Just The Right Byte, a child and family nutrition blog. She lives with her husband and four children (one swimmer!) in New Canaan, CT. 

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