By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN | Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Getting emails for swimmers, coaches and parents is one of my favorite things about writing on food and nutrition for athletes. I’ve gotten questions from one coach, Coach Allan Kopel, throughout the years and I asked him what tips he has for working with youth swimmers.
Coach Allan has been coaching for almost 40 years and has a great appreciation for the role of nutrition in performance. He has seen good, and not so good practices, on food and fueling for swimmers. He wants to make it clear he is not a nutritionist and is aware of not overreaching scope of practice in all aspects of working with athletes – from nutrition to physical therapy or psychology. He knows when to refer to specialists. But, as a lay person who is a coach, a fitness advocate, and life-long athlete, he reads about all aspects of swimming and taps into experts to get questions answered.
“I like to keep things basic when it comes to nutrition,” he says, and he offers these tips:
- Never skip meals. “I do not believe something we consume makes us fast, fast being the operative word in a stop-watch sport like swimming. If it would make us fast, I am not sure it would be safe or within the guidelines of fair play. But, I believe what we consume and when we consume it can impact our general health, our ability to stay healthy, and recover from multiple training and repeated swims within and over days of a multi-day swim meet. What and when we eat impacts our performance, health, and sustainability as an athlete. I encourage swimmers to eat about every 3 to 5 hours.”
- Eat healthy foods but don’t fret over exact ratios of nutrients. “I do not believe one has to be pure or perfect in terms of eating. But I suggest consuming foods in the grocery store that come largely from the exterior aisles of the store. There is nothing wrong with some processed foods (like yogurt, milk, or frozen fruit or vegetables) or using some food packaged for convenience, but try to limit the ultra-processed foods. For athletes, it is okay to use energy bars as a snack or at a meet when you can’t leave the venue, but they should not replace real food or be consumed in place of a meal.”
- Eat what is comfortable for your body to handle and eat the right amount; never feel stuffed or hungry right before a meet. “Swimmers challenge their body with training, so they need to eat to fuel and support the body’s needs and demands of training. I believe in eating in the morning when we first wake up, although this can be a hard adjustment for some. After a night of sleeping, we have been fasting, so we need to eat something, even if it is a small pre-dawn morsel, to get the body ready for practice or school.USA Swimming posts lots of tips on good meal and snack choices that contain carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and is a good resource for swimmers.”
- Learn to manage foods and fluids and balance with rest room breaks. Using the bathroom can be a challenge while wearing a tight tech suit! “Promoting hydration is critical for health and performance, but neither dehydration or overhydration is good. I use the tool of urine color to guide swimmers, reminding them that dark yellow color could indicate dehydration, but clear urine can mean one is drinking too much water.” And, don’t forget fruits and veggies have a high water content and can also contribute to our hydration needs.
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, is a nutrition professor emerita at Georgia State University. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents, and coaches at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at https://chrisrosenbloom.com/.