If you’re a burgeoning competitive swimmer, you may often end up wondering: what should I eat before a swim meet? In her article featured on the USA Swimming website, Jill Castle (a registered dietitian nutritionist) gives 10 eating habits that good swimmers should establish and practice before the big race. Here’s a summary of those suggestions:
1. Don’t Skip Breakfast—Give yourself a chance on race day by eating a good meal first thing in the morning. Make sure it includes carbs to give your muscles and metabolism the energy they’ll need later.
2. Take Food to the Meet—Regardless of whether you’re nervous or not hungry, going for a long time without food (especially carbs) is a bad idea. You won’t give yourself the edge you need if you don’t have food readily available.
3. Structure Your Eating Habits—Don’t skip meals. Don’t eat at all hours of the day or night. Try to have set times of the day when you’re tying one on—this will help you avoiding having blood sugar that takes crazy dives. Even when you’re at the pool, make sure you give yourself time for meals, keeping your pre-load/recovering eating cycle consistent. Your body will perform better when properly fueled.
4. Avoid Experimenting with Food—Stick with your tried and true foods that you know your body digests and responds well to. The last thing you want is for your body to react poorly to a pre-race meal. This involves being aware of what you’re eating before races and remembering what worked well for you.
5. Focus on Carbs—Carbohydrates are the body’s first resource for energy. Make sure you consciously eat slow digesting carbs like oats, whole grain baked goods, or starchy veggies. If you’re eating pasta, go easy on sauces that add unnecessary fats like Alfredo (Boo! My favorite!). Opt for marinara or another low-fat option.
6. Skip the Fatty Foods—Eat your fatty foods after your races are over, not before or in between competition. They’ll leave you feeling full and will slow you down in the water.
7. Be Prepared—Bring even more food than you think you’ll need. Hunger can hit at unexpected times and you’ll have to eat more during competition because you’ll burn through your calories quicker. Don’t depend on concession stands to have anything a) nutritious or b) inexpensive.
8. Make Smart Choices—Races and meets are not the time for fast food, salty snacks or sugary candy. Keep real food handy so you’re not even tempted—fruit, whole grain breads and bagels, crackers and peanut butter, etc.
9. Stay Hydrated—You need lots and lots of water when you’re swimming competitively. If you get dehydrated, your muscles will cramp which can ruin your swimming performance. Don’t worry about fancy sports drinks or other sugary drinks. Those are okay for post-competition recovery but not necessary before. Plain ol’ H2O will do the trick.
10. Shut Eye—Not necessarily nutrition based, but extremely important in the scheme of a good race. Sleep is very closely related to your body’s ability to function properly in coordination with a proper diet. It's what gives you energy and the precious hours of rest so your body can do its job of repairing muscles. It uses your food that you consumed during the day to heal, build, and strengthen itself. If you have the pre-race jitters, try to unwind and stick to a good routine. Take a warm bath. Read a book. Do some yoga. Anything to help quiet your brain and relax your body.
The most important aspect of getting ready for a race is preparing your body so that you can perform well. A huge aspect of that is making sure you eat well before, during and after the race. What are your favorite pre-race meals?
Jill Castle MS RDN is a childhood nutrition expert and co-author of “Fearless Feeding: Hot to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.”