Contributor: Luke Corey, BA(H), BScAHN, Registered Dietitian
The butterfly, backstroke, and good nutrition – what do they have in common? All three are crucial for success in the pool; yet, most young swimmers have difficulty executing them properly and on a consistent basis. While these swimming techniques take years of effort and practice to accomplish, good nutrition can actually be achieved relatively quickly and easily.
Here are some basic nutrition tips for the young swimmer that can be incorporated into their daily routines!
- Eat breakfast every day! If this is an issue, start with something simple, like a glass of juice or half a banana. Work your way up to a well-balanced meal, which includes at least 3 of the 4 food groups. A good and quick example would be a whole-grain cereal, with low-fat milk and some fresh berries on top.
- Snack, Snack, Snack! After starting the day off right with a well-balanced meal, your aim is to have something to eat every 2 to 3 hours. Include healthy snacks between breakfast and lunch, lunch and supper, and after supper. Healthy snacks include fruits and vegetables, whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, trail mix, a chicken wrap, and even granola bars (find a low sugar option).
- Hydrate all day! Water is your best option. Most kids need about 1.5-2 litres, or 6 to 8 cups, per day (including swimmers). Juice, pop, sports or energy drinks are not good options due to their high sugar content. If taste is an issue, try adding a lemon or lime slice. A good habit to adopt is to carry a water bottle around with you wherever you go, even at the pool.
- Add some variety to your diet! Try to make every day look a little bit different. Have a different breakfast in the morning. (Click here for some alternative ideas.) Pack a different lunch for school, and include different snacks throughout the day. Challenge yourself by trying a new fruit or vegetable you don’t normally eat every week.
- Prepare, Execute & Recover! Prepare for your swimming by hydrating and having a well-balanced meal a few hours before you hit the pool. Give yourself at least an hour to digest and absorb the nutrients before starting. During your swimming, rehydrate with water every 15 minutes. Once finished, start the recovery process by having a snack within 30 minutes and a well-balanced meal within 2 hours.
- Protein! Every meal should include a healthy source of protein. Protein is a critical component of a young athlete’s diet. It is used for energy, and for maintenance and repair of body tissues and muscles. One of the best sources of protein is lean servings of chicken (Click here for some recipes).
All of these practices can be achieved with some simple planning. Plan out your entire day the night before. Select your breakfast items, pack your school lunch and snacks, and fill up your water bottle. And, if you have swimming on your schedule, plan out how you will prepare and recover from your activity.
The healthy nutrition habits identified above will contribute to a healthier lifestyle, improved training, and a better performance in the pool. These simple practices naturally boost metabolism, increase energy levels, and provide your body with the nutrients it requires for optimal health when achieved on a consistent basis.