Science of Performance: The Benefits of Peri-Workout Nutrition

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

SANTA CLARA, California, November 16. A few weeks ago, I discussed the importance of breakfast. From my experience, breakfast is the most commonly abused meal for many swimmers, unfortunately this isn't the only important or abused meal for swimmers. In fact, of all the athletes I work with, swimmers take the crown for the worst diet! This may be hard to believe as many people feel swimmers have well-defined bodies, often tricking many coaches and parents. This allows many swimmers to feel excess empty calories are the key for a proper diet, neglecting all other macro- and micronutrients.

Feeding is not the only factor for sports nutrition!

In fact, simply consuming excess calories might be contributing to fatigue, sickness, limited lean body mass (muscle), delayed motor learning. The goal of any nutritional program for athletes is to enhance strength, energy during workouts/competition, speed recovery, and prevent illness. The more muscle, the higher capacity for force production. The more energy, the more the athlete can work. The faster the athlete recovers, the sooner they are fresh for their workout/competition. The less an athlete is sick, the harder and more frequently they can train. The quicker they learn a movement, the faster they are able to improve technique and horizontal velocity.

Peri-Workout (around workout) nutrition is essential to improve these facets, since the time before and after a workout can either enhance or reduce the rewards of hard work performed in the pool.

Follow these guidelines for optimal peri-workout nutrition. But, before we discuss an ideal peri-workout meal, lets consider the typical peri-workout nutrition for an afternoon workout.

Typical Peri-Workout Nutrition

Rush out of class and head to practice, stop at a fast food restaurant and chow down a few burgers or perhaps you are healthy and grab a sub. Hop in the pool and sip on a Gatorade throughout a gruelling two hour workout. Hop out of the pool, exhausted, but find an apple or piece of small fruit to snack on in between swim practice and dry-land. Finish up dry-land, exhausted, fatigued, and starving. Drive home and eat a typical dinner, spaghetti, butter and toast, with a side salad.

Now, this peri-workout nutrition looks adequate from a distance, but simply put, it lacks many requirements for swimming optimization. In fact, slamming a meal a few minutes prior to practice and neglecting protein requirements after practice are likely inhibiting success! Peri-workout nutrition starts a few hours prior to practice, as even the fastest acting nutrients take time to process. takes time to digest. For this, it is essential to look at nutrition into five facets: pre-workout 1, pre-workout 2, workout, post-workout 1, and post-workout 2.

Pre-workout 1

2-3 Hours Prior to Exercise

30 – 40 grams of a slow digesting carbohydrate (low on the glycemic index) like whole-wheat bread, yams, wild rice, beans, red potatoes and/or fruits to provide long lasting energy for the competition.

30 – 50 grams of a lean protein like chicken breast or fish. Basically, a protein that's low in saturated fats.

20 – 30 grams of a fibrous carbohydrate source like a salad to increase blood flow and oxygen to the muscles.

Pre-Workout 2

30 Minutes Prior to Exercise

30 – 40 grams of a fast digesting protein like whey isolate supplement. Take this meal as a liquid and not an actual whole food meal because a whole food meal won't get digested and utilized fast enough.

20 – 40 grams of a slow digesting carbohydrate like an Apple (low to medium Glycemic Index (GI)).

2 – 5 grams Branched Chained Amino Acids (BCAA's) (recommended for post-pubescent athletes). This will likely enhance lean body mass (muscle) after training.

5 grams of pure Creatine Monohydrate (recommended for post-pubescent athletes). This supplement may enhance power production and likely improves bone mineral density.

2 – 5 grams of Beta Alanine (BA) to likely boost intensity of workout (recommended for post-pubescent athletes).


High carbohydrate (moderate to high GI) for exercise longer than one hour snack low in fat is beneficial like a gel pack.

Post-Workout 1

Immediately after Exercise

1 g/kg of body weight of moderate to high glycemic index carbohydrate, like a fast acting recovery aide. This includes a banana, orange, or recovery drink.

20 grams of protein like a whey isolate supplement.

Post-workout 2

60 Minutes after Exercise

30 – 50 grams of moderate to high glycemic index carbohydrate, not in supplement form.

20 grams of lean protein like chicken breast or fish. Basically, a protein that's low in saturated fats.

This program may seem labor intensive, but the noted benefits are worth the extra time. Plus, any routine seems impossible from a distance, but simply perform this routine for a month and you be enjoying the benefits.

For implementation, consider adding a couple of these items to your current peri-workout nutrition program. Remember, your training will never result in maximal benefits if you are not giving yourself the fuel necessary for success! Start making the necessary changes for success, don't skimp on the gas to fuel your body.

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, and the International Society of Swim Coaches Journal.