For swimmers, or any student-athlete, having a healthy diet can be an important and beneficial way to stay in shape during the season. Following a good diet can provide the energy a swimmer needs to finish a race. If an athlete does not eat enough nutritional materials, then they are more likely to be tired and perform poorly.
One of the most important things an athlete can do is drink a lot of water over the course of the day. Athletes should be drinking 0.5-1 oz. of water per pound of body weight. In fact, drinking water is so important that dehydration is one of the top reasons for poor athletic performance. Student athletes should try to carry a water bottle around with them all day in order to ensure they stay hydrated.
“Student athletes are burning more calories through exercises in practice and competitions than the average student, so they do require more energy in the form of calories eaten. However, the type of calories consumed is important and can positively or negatively affect performance,” Nutritionist Michelle Campion states. Campion works at the Cameron Wellness Center in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Campion also reminds student athletes that a high consumption of sugary foods and drinks, along with high amounts of fried foods, can negatively affect performances. These foods can be a part of the plate, but they should also be balanced with foods that can positively affect the body. Foods such as fruit, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats, and a whole grain carbohydrate will provide long-term, sustained energy.
It is important for student athletes, specifically swimmers, to learn how to manage what they are eating every day. The calorie needs of individuals vary depending on age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. For instance, anyone who maintains an active lifestyle will require a greater number of calories than someone who doesn’t. Some Olympic swimmers have been noted to eat four times the amount of food of an average person their age. And that’s okay! College level athletes likely do not eat that much, unless they are training for the Olympics themselves, but they will still need to eat three balanced meals with healthy snacks every day in order to perform their best. Swimmers should also eat when they feel hungry, but they should also keep in mind what they are eating and attempt to keep a balanced diet.
The many different colors of fruits and vegetables mean that different vitamins can be found in each, so a student athlete should be sure to pick a good variety in order to gain key nutrients.
For protein – if a swimmer is eating a meat product – how lean those proteins are can depend on what type of animal the meat used to belong to. Animals with fewer legs are likely to have leaner protein. For example, chicken meat will be leaner than cow or pig products. Some of the leanest protein sources are fish or plant based sources – as long as the protein is not breaded or fried and does not have too much of an unhealthy dipping sauce to go with it.
When considering a healthy fat source it is important to note that plant based fats are typically healthier than animal based fats. Healthy plant based fats can include foods such as avocado, nuts, nut butters, and olive oil, while animal based fats include foods such as butter, cream, or cream cheese.
For a carbohydrate source, a swimmer should try and choose high fiber foods like whole wheat bread, quinoa, wild rice, baked potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Ideally, the majority of foods consumed by swimmers should include the nutrient sources listed above. It is also important to note the amount of sugar or saturated fat contained within any meal and the list of these not-so beneficial nutrients should be short and recognizable.
Three of the biggest lifestyle factors that can benefit overall health and wellness are eating healthy, engaging in regular physical activity, and getting adequate sleep – about eight hours per night for adults. It isn’t always easy to prioritize these factors, but making an effort can improve mood, test scores, and overall health.
Campion explains the importance of a balanced diet: “Healthy eating is all about the balance! It’s important to eat enough to have the energy needed to succeed in sports (and life!), so don’t be afraid of food! However, the types of food and the amount that we eat are also very important. Eating too much of the less healthy options can lead to poor performance in the pool, in class and in life in general.”