Not sure what you should eat before swim practice? You’re not alone!
Most swimmers, especially new swimmers, don’t know where to start when it comes to nutrition. And while it’s tempting to skip eating before practice altogether, you’ll actually make practice that much harder for you.
We’ve broken down why and when you should eat before swim practice. And offer suggestions of small snacks and larger meal options to eat.
Disclaimer: We are not nutritionists, dietitians, or physicians. These are only our suggestions and opinions. Please consult a licensed professional if you’re seeking medical and/or nutritional advice. Please see our disclaimer for more information.
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- Why Should I Eat Before Swim Practice?
- What is the Best Time to Eat Before Practice?
- Best Food to Eat Before Swimming
- Larger Food Options and Meals
- BONUS: What Not to Eat Before Swim Practice
- In Closing
- Bonus Content
- Want to Improve at the Pool?
Why Should I Eat Before Swim Practice?
Eating before you swim can help give your body the energy it needs to train. Much like a car needs gas to drive, your body needs food to perform at peak levels.
Skipping a meal or snack before you swim can make it difficult to make it through practice. You’ll find that you might feel fatigued halfway through practice. And it’ll be a challenge to complete your sets.
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Not having enough energy to practice can also leave you feeling lightheaded and sometimes sick.
What is the Best Time to Eat Before Practice?
Honestly, it depends.
We’ve all been told that you should wait at least 30 minutes after eating before you swim. And this is true, but like with most things in life, there are exceptions and considerations.
And we’ll default this answer with a disclaimer. Every swimmer is different on when they need to eat before practice and how much they can eat.
The amount you eat and the type of food that you eat can greatly impact when you should eat before swim practice. If you eat a large, heavy meal, you’ll probably need to wait at least an hour or more before swimming.
Some individuals may find that they need longer than an hour to digest larger meals.
It’s difficult to practice on an overly full stomach. And you’ll probably develop cramps or feel sick.
If you eat something smaller, such as a piece of fruit, granola bar, or a bowl of pasta, you may not need to wait as long. And 30 minutes may be enough.
Again, for some people, 30 minutes might not be enough and they may need to adjust what/when they eat.
Best Food to Eat Before Swimming
Small Food Options and Meals
We know it’s not easy for everyone to eat before swim practice. Especially morning practice.
And while I could gut through morning workouts, I would struggle at swim meets in the morning.
It took me a year into college swimming before I settled on what would work best for me. And training my body to accept food before a morning workout.
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The best advice I have for those who struggle with eating before a morning workout is to start small. And be patient with yourself. You won’t find what works for you right away and it takes time.
Here are some suggestions for small meals/snacks that can help you adjust to eating before a morning workout.
Fruit, such as bananas, strawberries, or blueberries, is a good way to start getting your body used to eating before practice. They’re small and easy enough to eat that you might not feel sick trying to eat them in the morning.
They’re also filled with natural sugars that break down easily. Giving you the energy you need to power through practice.
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On their own, they might not be enough for longer practices. But the simple sugars and minerals in them, such as potassium in bananas, can help aid your body in practice.
Fruits are also easy to eat in the car on the way to practice!
We will caution that too much fruit can upset your stomach. And certain fruit, such as apples, may give you gas.
Our go-to food in the morning and during swim meets is peanut butter. Or you can go with your choice of nut butter.
Nut butter has an ideal blend of protein and healthy fat to keep you going through a long practice. But without weighing you down as a larger meal would.
It works best when you pair it with some carbs. This will give you the most benefit, as it combines the three food groups that you need. Protein, carbs, and healthy fat.
Put it on a piece of bread, toast, or even a tortilla to eat on the way to practice.
If you want to add a bit more flavor, drizzle some honey onto it, too. Honey is a great source of natural sugar to help balance out your snack.
You can also top with jelly/jam, or even some fruit, such as bananas.
BONUS: Use your favorite nut butter and eat it with some dark chocolate chips as a healthy snack between meals 🙂
Eggs are healthy and incredibly versatile in how they’re prepared. They’re also quick to make and can pair well with other foods to make a larger meal.
Scramble them or make an omelet, adding in your favorite vegetables. Add some cheese too, if you’d like.
For eggs on the go, you can top your toast with scrambled eggs. Or wrap them up in a tortilla and make your own breakfast taco. You can also make a breakfast sandwich, with your choice of protein, bread, and eggs.
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Lastly, hardboiled eggs are simple to make and eat on the go. You can boil a dozen at the start of the week and have one before each practice.
Eggs alone might not be enough for some swimmers, so ensure that you adjust your meals accordingly. If you’re not sure if they’ll be enough, eat one before a shorter practice and gauge how you feel.
As a final note, we will state that eggs can leave a lingering aftertaste. And you might want to brush your teeth before practice. Or follow them with something to wash out the taste.
Other Snack Options
Sometimes you can trick yourself into eating if your mind (and stomach) view the food as a snack. A reward instead of something you need to eat.
If you can’t eat any of the above options try some of these snacks. Just be sure to check nutrition labels and stay away from highly salty and sugary snacks.
- Nuts, lightly salted or non-salted
- A pudding or jello cup, just watch the added sugar 🙂
- Granola bars, again watch the sugar
- Pretzels, non-salted
Larger Food Options and Meals
For afternoon practices or those practices that run longer, you’ll want to eat a large meal. Again, be careful as to when and what you eat.
Some meals might be filling but they can leave you feeling gross if the food is too greasy. Instead, consider some healthier options that will leave you feeling content but not overly full.
Swimmers need protein to help build and maintain muscles. Protein comes in many different forms, from animal to plant-based.
If you’re getting your protein from an animal, stick with lean protein. Such as chicken or fish.
Lightly cook it in some olive oil and add it to some pasta or rice for a full meal. Toss in some vegetables to add a bit of color and balance out the meal.
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Eggs are also a great source of protein that can be eaten any time of the day.
For plant-based protein, tofu, beans, nuts, and other legumes can help add protein to your diet. You can also use plant-based substitutes that are now available to meet your protein intake.
Add tofu or other plant-based substitutes to vegetarian (or vegan) chili or stir-fry.
Carbs get a bad name in the media today. And while some carbs are awful for you, such as white bread and pastries, other carbs can be good sources of energy for you.
Athletes need carbs to help their bodies perform at an optimum level. Good carbs, like those in whole-grain pasta, bread, and rice, break down slowly to give you longer-lasting energy.
When looking at your various carb options, be sure to look at the sugar content too. Make sure that it’s not overloaded with sugar or hidden sugars.
Other healthy carbohydrates are:
- Vegetables: Fresh if can get them. If they’re canned, rinse them to reduce any added sugars or sodium
- Potatoes: To get the most out of potatoes, eat them with their skins and don’t load them up with butter, sour cream, or cheese.
- Barley, quinoa, beans, and legumes: Add these into dishes you already make to help add protein and healthy carbs to your next meal
BONUS: What Not to Eat Before Swim Practice
Greasy and Fatty, Fast Food
You should avoid greasy and fatty fast food meals, such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries before practice. The greasy in these meals can upset your stomach and make you sick at practice.
Additionally, while you can get protein, carbs, and fat from these meals, they’re not the healthy kind that your body needs.
Fast food can be okay for your diet but in moderation. Remember that just because you’re a swimmer doesn’t mean you can eat anything you want and still perform well.
If you want a burger or fries, grill your own using lean protein and make your own fries without the grease.
Some sugars are good for you. Like those found in fruit and honey. These can help give you a burst of energy through practice
Processed sugar though won’t do much but weigh you down during swim practice.
These are foods such as cookies, cake, brownies, and candy. It’s tempting to reach for them. Something sweet before practice is always tempting. But they won’t do anything for you. Instead, they’ll leave you feeling sluggish.
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You should also avoid drinking sodas and fruit juice before swim practice. These are loaded with empty sugars that do nothing for you. Sodas also have caffeine in them, which can make you dehydrated, too.
If you want something sweet, consider whole fruit. You can also opt for dark chocolate.
Eating the right food before you swim can help give you the energy to make it through practice. It may take a while to find the right food and amount that works best for you. Stay patient and start small for the best success.
As always, happy swimming!
Swim Practice Etiquette: Every swim team has practice etiquette that they follow. If you’re new to a swim team, we’ve compiled some swim practice etiquette to help get you started.
What do Swimmers do at Swim Practice?: Swim practice is more than just swimming laps for swimmers. It’s long hours training at the pool. Here are some things that swimmers do at swim practice.
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Chevron is a current competitive swimmer with almost 20 years of experience in the pool. And although she fell into the sport by accident in her high school years, she still trains daily and competes throughout the year. She’s committed to providing guidance to all levels of swimmers and believes that everyone should know how to swim.