A proper eating program is just as important to an elite athlete’s success as their training program. Think of your body as a car. The food and drink you consume are fuel. High-level athletes are like finely tuned cars that require high quality fuel to achieve optimal performance. Putting low quality fuel into your body can lead to poor health and sub-par performance.

Related: Athlete Eating Guidelines

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Stay hydrated. Your body is more than 60% water and your muscles depend on water to function properly. A dehydrated body cannot train or compete at its peak. Drink enough so that your urine looks like pale lemonade or apple juice and so that you are urinating frequently throughout the day.

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Fuel up before training. Focus on eating lean proteins, fruits and vegetables and whole grains to ensure that your body is prepared for training. Try not to go into a training session with an empty fuel tank. Eat a meal 3-4 hours or a snack 1-2 hours before exercise.

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Boost your immune system.Choose foods that are high in antioxidants such as fruits and vegetables to help keep your immune system healthy and reduce the amount of free radicals that your body builds up during high intensity training. Choose more colorful fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, strawberries, kiwis, oranges, broccoli, carrots and sweet potatoes.

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Limit fats. Saturated and trans fats can cause inflammation which is the exact opposite of what elite athletes need. Stay away from foods that are processed or fried, and higher fat meats like chicken wings, bologna and pastrami. Choose non-inflammatory unsaturated fats such as olives, avocados, nuts, seeds, and salmon.

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Eat to recover. Choose carbohydrate rich foods with some protein within 30-60 minutes of finishing a training session to help your body recover faster. Good choices after workouts include: peanut butter sandwich (half or whole), carton of chocolate milk, or a bowl of cereal with milk or yogurt.

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Sports bars, gels and drinks do have their place in an elite athlete’s eating program. Be sure to not over-use these types of products, however, as they can deter body weight goals and can replace more beneficial calories from whole foods. Use sports products before, during or immediately after practice depending on your sport needs and goals.

This material was created by professional sports nutritionists at the United States Olympic Committee. For more information and additional sport performance resources, visit: www.teamusa.org/resources/usoc-sport-performance

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