Science of Performance: Swimming Nutritional Program

By Swimming World correspondent G. John Mullen of Swimming Science and Center of Optimal Restoration , Creator of Swimmer's Shoulder System, Swimming Science Research Review

SANTA CLARA, California, November 27. BREAKFAST and peri-workout nutrition has been discussed during the past month, but these two elements only play a fraction in sports nutrition. Swimmers are all busy, yet many sports nutritional programs require detailed note keeping and tracking. Unfortunately, many swimmers are too exhausted to perform the requested tracking.

Tracking calories is also inefficient for many reasons.

First, people lie about the calories they consume. These errors in estimations may or may not be purposeful, nonetheless they occur. Lichtman 1992 found 224 obese subjects underestimated calories by half and found energy expenditure estimates were slightly lower than actuality. However, those seeking weight loss aren't the only culprits of underestimating calories.

Backstrand 2007 determined registered dietitians underestimated by 200-600 calories in common foods (lasagna, hamburger with onion rings, etc.). If registered dietitians are not able to estimate calories, how can the regular person or a teenage athlete?

For this reason, counting calories is unlikely beneficial. Moreover, most swimmers (except those seeking weight loss or weight gain) should not worry and expend mental energy on calorie counting. Instead, a system of massive health food consumption will maximize energy, health, and force production.

Many swimmers use practice to build their swimming capacity. To build swimming capacity, many swimmers use intense training programs to break down and build-up muscles. As Dr. Berardi, recognized sports nutritionist, “You want to destroy what your body is today so you can make it better tomorrow.” Unfortunately, an inadequate diet impairs swimming capacity and a swimmer's ability to perform. This is mainly from swimmers being simultaneously overfed and undernourished.

How to eat
Carbohydrates are the main sugars which provide the body energy during difficult workouts. Swimmers are typically lean creatures and capable of handling carbohydrates. Moreover, the body's ability to handle carbohydrates dramatically increases after workout.

For this reason, it was suggested to consume carbohydrates during and after exercise (see Peri-workout nutrition). However, the ability to handle carbohydrates continues for a few hours after working out. A few hours after workout I recommend eating a well-balanced diet of 30g protein, 40g carbs, 30g fat. This provides a balanced diet, make sure you obtain sufficient good fats.

Then, for the rest of the day, you would just eat protein, fruits and vegetables, and good fats. Unfortunately, this diet restricts the typical simple carbohydrates over consumed by swimmers, except for the short window around workouts.

Nutrition and sports is necessary, but the overall goal is to improve health and sport. This alteration in nutritional intake helps do essentially four things: (1) improve athletic performance; (2) improve health; (3) improve body composition, and (4) develop lasting habits.

Other nutritional programs may impair health and recovery. The best nutrition program is one which covers all four of the aforementioned items, for the short-term sports improvement, and long-term life enhancement.

Now, this is all fine and dandy, but how can busy parents or time-deprived college swimmers implement these suggestions? Here are a few quick suggestions for improving your swimming nutrition program.

This meal was discussed in detail in a previous post (Is not eating before practice slowing you down?). Simply put, eat protein, veggies, and fruit for breakfast.

Dinner Meals
Most dinners are typically complete with protein and veggies (which are unfortunately absent the rest of the day). However, many deals are incomplete as they lack whole grains, fiber, healthy fats, and healthy desserts!

A well-rounded diet should include
-Whole grain: bread, pasta, wild rice, oats, quinoa, etc.
-High fiber legumes (beans and lentils)
-Lean protein: chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, turkey, tofu
-Tons of veggies
-Good fats: avocado, olive oil, coconut oil
-Healthy dessert: fruit, smoothie

Now lunch is a different story, as many consume lunch in a cafeteria or restaurant, which provide meals unfit for high performance athletes. However, lunch should not vary much from dinner. In fact, having the same meal for lunch for dinner is a simple, effective strategy (simply cook twice as much food). If this is not an option, try to find a high-protein stir-fry with a ton of veggies and whole grain rice and fruit. Simply put, a low protein, meat sandwich on white bread doesn't do a body good!

Most snacks include high sugar and processed carbohydrates. This combination impairs energy levels and recovery for workout. Instead, try consuming a better snack like a shake consisting of fruits, veggies, protein powder, and healthy fats.

Another option is Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with frozen fruit, mixed nuts, and protein powder.

One last idea, veggies and hummus dip (see below for homemade recipe), with a few hard-boiled eggs on the side.

These options provide complete, healthy snacks for a healthy swimming nutrition program.

Homemade Hummus Dip
4 — 8oz cans of cooked chickpeas
6-8 garlic cloves
2 tbsp tahini paste
salt to taste
cayenne to taste
lemon juice of 1 lg lemon
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup warm to hot water

Drain chickpeas. Puree chickpeas with garlic, tahini paste and olive oil. If mixture seems tight or too thick, add small amount of hot water to bring about a smoother consistency. Adjust flavor with salt, cayenne and lemon juice. Serve with veggies or whole-grain bread.

More Veggies
Veggies are the injury prevention of nutrition, as everyone comprehends the importance, but neglects it. This is because many view veggies as a boring iceberg salad sprinkled in a tub of ranch dressing.

Instead, try a spinach salad with fruit, mixed nuts, olive oil, avocado, and whatever else you wish! These salads can provide a lot of flavor to the commonly consider bland salad.

Also, if you are not eating steamed veggies, you are missing the boat! Steam your veggies with a simple spicy marinara sauce for a simple, delicious veggie option.

Now this program may be a complete overhaul to your current nutritional plan, but simple adjustments can result in massive improvements. Just remember, to make one adjustment at a time and keep in mind the benefits associated with these adjustments.

Also, based on the volume of training (singles, doubles, triples) carbohydrate intake should fluctuate. For example, the more you are training, the more starchy (bread, rice, etc.) one should consume. So, make adjustments accordingly and enhance your swimming through nutrition today!

G. John Mullen is the owner of of the Center of Optimal Restoration and creator of Swimming Science. He received his doctorate in Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California. G. John has been featured in Swimming World Magazine, Swimmer Magazine, the International Society of Swim Coaches Journal, STACK Magazine, and is the creator of Swimming Science.