Each month, USA Swimming posts an article on nutrition to encourage swimmers to eat well to move well. Let’s take an end of year review of top tips over the past months as you prepare for 2019.
- Protein is an important nutrient for athletes of all ages, but more isn’t better. Instead of heaping amounts of protein at dinner, try to eat protein at every meal and snack for a more even distribution to feed your muscles all day long. Vegetarian athletes don’t need more protein than meat-eaters, but quality is important, and soy protein is a vegetarian’s best bet for quality.
- Sandwiches are an easy, tasty vehicle for carbohydrates, proteins and healthy fats. Load up the veggies (peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes), pick a lean protein (chicken, turkey, roast beef, ham), and eat it on the bread of your choice. Remember, only half your grains need to be whole, so nothing wrong with wheat, white, or rye bread. Slather on healthy fats by adding avocado, hummus, or splash of olive oil.
- Make your snacks pull double-duty; an ideal snack is one that satisfies hunger and adds to the overall nutritional value of your diet. Good choices include walnuts, almonds, peanuts, kefir, Greek yogurt, low-fat chocolate milk, and fresh or dried fruit.
- Make a hydration plan for long workouts and all-day swim meets. Most athletes cannot rely on thirst to stay hydrated and dehydration is always bad: for physical health, for performance, and for motivation and clear thinking.
- Eat before competition, but never to the point of feeling stuffed or uncomfortable. A heavy meal takes longer to digest, and blood gets shunted to the gut for digestion instead of carrying needed oxygen and nutrients to your arms and legs.
- Swimmers need to be strong, yet teens have the lowest diet quality of any other group, so focus on dietary patterns, not individual foods, to promote strength. Don’t think of any one food as a superfood, but try to make food choices into a super diet by eating every 3 to 4 hours, packing snacks for pre-and post-workouts, especially if you have an early lunch period at school, and choose foods from all food groups throughout the day. Don’t limit carbohydrates, protein, or fat.
- Eat in the morning before practice. Even a small amount of food will help break the overnight fast and you help you get through your workout. Try liquids (smoothies, yogurt drinks, or milk) if you can’t eat solid food.
While these tips cap off 2018, they are all useful to build a solid base for 2019. Happy holidays!
Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, is a registered dietitian nutritionist who has provided nutrition information to coaches and athletes for over 30 years. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents, and coaches at email@example.com.