An oft-asked question by swimmers evaluating their nutrition is whether or not certain foods will help them perform better in the water and/or recover faster. Nutrition is an important part of any athlete’s routine, but it’s important to know that it’s more about diet than just loading up on supplements. According to Chris Rosenbloom PhD, RDN & CSSD, it’s important to look at the benefits of antioxidants for swimmers and incorporate anti-oxidant rich food into your diet wisely.
Rosenbloom, who is a professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University serves as a sports nutrition consultant to athletes of all ages. She said one of the questions she is asked frequently is about adding antioxidants into the diet. Here’s how Rosenbloom explains the process of oxidation in the body.
When an athlete exercises, they take in more oxygen because they are breathing deep, delivering that oxygen to their blood so that their muscles can perform. As muscles function, they generate power in the water, but they also generate molecules called free radicals. These molecules are known for being unstable (hence, the name) and they can oxidize, which leads to exhaustion and muscle fatigue.
Oxygen in nature manifests itself on browning apple slices and rusting cars. To prevent this process, an antioxidant is often introduced to the process, like bathing cut apples in lemon juice. Likewise, the body generates antioxidants to repair oxidation damage in our muscles.
The nutrients in play in the body’s natural antioxidant system are vitamin C and vitamin E. Just given this information, one might think that loading on up vitamin E and C supplements would be the answer to all their sore muscle woes.
However, some research reveals that high doses in supplement form may, in fact, impair muscle function or delay the training adaptation of muscle. Though free radicals are unstable, they can be an important part of muscle development. Rosenbloom’s advice is to avoid supplements and instead eat a diet full of antioxidant-rich fruits, veggies, along with nuts and seeds. It’s always better to get nutrients through your diet than try to fill the gaps with powders and pills.
Here is a list provided by Chris Rosenbloom full of antioxidant-rich foods to help with your swim training and recover process:
- All berries
- Grapefruit/grapefruit juice
- Oranges/orange juice
- Baked potato
- Brussels Sprouts
- Peppers (all kinds)
NUTS & SEEDS
- Almonds/almond butter
- Peanuts/peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
If you don’t already have a rich supply of these foods in your pantry, take a trip to the grocery store or your local farmer’s market with antioxidant-rich foods in mind. If you have it ready and available, you’ll be more likely to make a conscious decision to incorporate it into your diet.