“Having prepared well and trained hard, the common misconception is that’s where the story ends.”
“Sports drink,” says Renee, “just to keep their levels topped up.”
Getting nutrition before you train is crucial, but making sure you keep your body well looked after while you’re in the pool is just as important. ” If you’re going to be in the pool for an hour or under, working at quite a low intensity, then just keeping a bottle of water on the side of the pool that you can sip every five lengths is quite useful,” says Renee.
Hydration is something that gets overlooked all too often in the swimming pool, as the water keeps your body temperature lower and any sweating that occurs goes undetected. When doing almost any other type of training it would be unthinkable to go for an hour without taking on some form of fluids, and swimming should be no different.
“If you’re going to be in the pool for over an hour and you haven’t had anything to eat then you may well benefit from some sort of sport’s drink,” says Renee. “Whether that’s homemade or a bought one, or some sort of electrolyte solution.” Having prepared well and trained hard, the common misconception is that’s where the story ends, but from a nutrition perspective the most important stage is recovery. It’s easy to see why this particular stage gets overlooked but repairing tired uscles is key. What you put in within 15 to 45 minutes of finishing your training session is so important to how you will perform in your next session. “I talk to a lot of my elite athletes and usually they’re really good at eating before they train, but really bad at eating afterwards. So they really do need to focus on getting a minimum of 10 grams of protein, as well a 1 to 1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight,” says Renee.
“A problem that seems to affect swimmers more than athletes is hunger”
It’s common misconception among swimmers who are looking to lose weight that avoiding food around an exercise routine will help with slimming, but this isn’t the case. The post-swim meal or snack is really important, and if you’re heading straight to the office then there are ways of getting the protein hit you need. “One of the first things I would always suggest, depending on how long you’ve been training, is probably somewhere between 300-500ml of either skimmed or flavoured milk,” says Renee. A problem that seems to affect swimmers more than other athletes is hunger. The reduced core temperature that comes with being in the water for long periods seems to increase swimmers’ appetites, much like the way cold temperatures during winter make you more partial to a roast dinner than a skimpy salad. “What we’ve started to do is encourage our athletes to have a hot drink when they come out of the pool,” says Renee. “So if their recovery was chocolate milk, they would have a hot chocolate instead to try bring their core temperature up.” Although you might not think that the waters of your local pool would have such a cooling effect on the body, the same cannot be said for the open water especially in this country.
Crumpets with Honey – Crumpets are an ideal pre-swim snack because they’re easily digestible. Top them with honey to get a mix of both fast and medium release carbs to boost your glycogen stores.
Fruit Smoothy – Fruit that has been put through the blender takes less time to be broken down inside your body, meaning you get an energy boost quicker than you would eating it from the tree.
Weetabix – This wholegrain wheat breakfast cereal digests quickly and has a fairly high glycemic index – contrary to the ads that claimed it’s packed with slow release energy – so it’s quickly absorbed into the blood stream.
As well as the cold in open water swimming you’ve got the possibility of strong currents to deal with and the distances covered are normally much longer than in the pool. These factors all contribute to your body burning more calories and requiring more fuel, before, during and after the event. For long swims or triathlons Renee recommends that athletes load up on carbohydrates the night before, just as they would if they were running a marathon. Eating carbs that are low on the glycemic index, such as wholewheat pasta and vegetables, will help release glucose more steadily, enabling your body to perform for longer. As well as ensuring your body is getting the necessary energy it needs to protect itself against other ailments and illnesses. Although chlorine takes care of most water borne diseases and infections in the pool, the open water can carry its fair share of nasties. Upping your intake of vitamin D has been linked to reducing the chance of infection, so getting out in the sun and eating oily fish can help with that, while probiotics have also been proven to fight off illness. “If you have yoghurt drinks, products such as Yakult and Actimel, twice a day leading up to a major event that can help prevent infection,” says Renee. “Hydration is also really important because your saliva is your first line of defence. So if you’re dehydrated you tend to be at more risk of infection because you’re not producing enough saliva, which has IgA [an antibody found in body secretions] in it to protect you.” Having prepared well Renee still recommends taking on extra fuel during the event, so try to ensure there’s something available from a support boat. High-glycemic index carbs, such as sports drinks and gels, are ideal for giving you a quick energy boost and they won’t distract your body from the job at hand. “I usually suggest something every 45 minutes to keep your energy levels up,” says Renee.
Skimmed Milk – Depending on the amount of exercise you’ve been doing, between 300 and 500ml of skimmed milk will give you a quick protein boost if you can’t get something solid.
Beans/poached Egg On Toast – Eggs and beans both contain a good amount of protein to help aid recovery, with the latter also containing some low-glycemic index carbohydrates to keep you going.
Porridge With Nuts And Fruit – A great stomach filler, porridge with nuts and fruit gives you a really good combination of complex carbs and protein to help with the post-swim repair and recovery process.
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