Healthy diets for olympic swimmers

Written by joe faulkner-edwards
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Healthy diets for olympic swimmers
During training, swimmers require 3,000 to 6,000 calories per day (swimmer image by Snezana Skundric from Fotolia.com)

An Olympic swimmer's diet will vary depending on the athlete's training phase and specific events, but the principles are always the same. Selecting the right foods at the right time is essential for a swimmer to build strength and endurance, maintain his target body composition, achieve optimal nerve-muscle response and reduce recovery time.

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Carbohydrates

Olympic swimmers often spend up to five or six hours in the pool every day. Carbohydrates are needed to provide the body with glycogen, which can be turned into glucose and used as energy. It is recommended that during training and the competitive season, swimmers consume between 2.3 and 3.6 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. Complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, oats and whole grains should be chosen as they provide a slow-releasing and sustained source of energy. Refined or "simple" carbohydrates found in confectionery, processed foods and sugars should be avoided.

Protein

Protein is essential to maintain and repair connective tissue and muscle. Swimmers should consume between 0.55 and 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. If a swimmer is trying to achieve hypertrophy (increased muscle mass), he should consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight each day to ensure the muscles are adequately fuelled.

Olympic swimmers opt for high-quality proteins such as eggs, poultry, lean red meat and fish as they have a full amino acid profile (the building blocks of proteins) and are lower in saturated/trans fats.

Fat

Although swimmers aim to maintain a healthy body composition, fat is still an important part of their diet. Fat is also a source of energy, and for endurance swimmers, the stored fat in their bodies will be broken down to be used as energy during the latter stages of competition. Essential fatty acids, or "good fats" found in oily fish, nuts and seeds help repair nerve fibres and assist the digestion of fats.

It is recommended Olympic swimmers consume 0.45 grams of fat per pound of body weight each day.

Water

Dehydration leads to significantly reduced athletic performance. Being surrounded by water makes it hard to recognise the levels of fluids lost during training and competition. It is recommended to drink 147 to 295ml of water per 15 minutes of training at regular intervals to stay fully hydrated. Weighing yourself before and after sessions will highlight the levels of fluid lost. Three cups of water are required to replenish each pound of body weight lost.

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