A few weeks ago, I talked about food as fuel for performance. This afternoon I was able to share some of those tips with a group of male and female swimmers, poolside.
They jumped out of the water, filed onto the bleachers, and gave me their attention as I spoke about the importance of early morning nutrition. My fellow intern Emily spoke about the importance of hydration. We managed not to fall into the pool as we spoke to the team, despite the slippery pool deck 🙂
Since their AM practice begins at 5:30, this group of athletes is up early. I was pleasantly surprised to see by a show of hands that most of them do eat something before they go to practice. There were a handful who didn’t- and most of them just couldn’t stomach the thought of eating something solid that early in the morning. I suggested that they try something like a fruit smoothie, or even a meal replacement drink to get some early AM nutrition.
After a meal, there are typically only 40 calories’ worth of glucose circulating in the bloodstream, and about 1900 calories’ worth of glycogen stored in your liver and muscles. Add to that a night of “fasting” (prior to breakfast), and there’s not much fuel for athletes to pull from for a morning workout. Eating a small snack will place some glucose in the bloodstream, and give the body something to pull from without dipping into muscle glycogen stores, which would be counter-productive (pulling energy from muscles to build muscle). Granted, metabolic pathways are MUCH more complex than that, but that’s a simple explanation that gets the main point across.
The point is that you need to EAT.
It is recommended that athletes consume a pre-workout snack 30 minutes-1 hour before a workout. It doesn’t have to be much- a half a granola bar, a handful of trail mix, a piece of toast with a bit of honey. Anything that is high in carb, moderate in protein, and low in fat and fiber (to avoid gastrointestinal discomfort) will suffice.
After the early morning workout, swimmers should try to eat as soon as possible- some sources suggest 15 minutes post-workout. Thirty minutes post-workout will do. Approximately 75 g of carb for a 150 lb athlete is a pretty good goal, and then they should eat another 75 g carb again 2 hours later.
For the athletes who eat in the dining hall, I suggested that they have a piece of fruit or granola bar (or half of either if their calorie needs are smaller) right after their workout, and then head to the dining hall as soon as they can, where they should fuel up on nutrient dense foods.
The post-workout meal should be high in low to moderate glycemic carbohydrate and lean protein, and low in fiber and fat.
Some recommended breakfast include:
1 1/2 c raisin bran cereal with 1 cup skim milk and 1 cup of berries
2 pancakes, 3 Tbsp syrup, 1/2 c fresh fruit, 1 c skim milk
6 oz yogurt, 1 medium banana, 1/2 c granola
Athletes should continue to eat and hydrate frequently throughout the day- every 2 hours is recommended. That doesn’t mean that they should consume a huge meal every 2 hours- small snacks are excellent and effective in keeping energy levels stable and preventing fatigue.
Keep hydrating. Keep eating. Keep swimming.