Race day nutrition basics

by James Nock — in


Over the years I've seen all sorts of foods brought onto poolside that swimmers (or their parents) thought would be excellent. My favourite face-palm came from finding that one of my sixteen year old swimmers had brought 24 Cornish Pasties onto poolside to keep them fueled for the day. I've known parents of youngsters forget to pack food and resort to grabbing a McDonalds for them to eat on poolside. A lot of crazy stuff does go on which is why I thought it a good idea to make this post. I've tried to keep it as simple as possible:

Firstly, exclude anything that contains:

  • Chocolate
  • High levels of sugar

So that's bye bye to Jaffa Cakes and Jelly Babies. Why? Loading the swimmer's body up with sugar will cause the blood sugar level to spike before a dose of reactive insulin puts the swimmer's body into a slump shortly afterwards. You can't perform at your best if you're in a slump. Plus, chocolate melts so it's a double 'no' to that.

Ideally, the swimmer will have eaten well before in the lead up to the competition and consumed lots of carbohydrates 48 hours before. In a dream world, the swimmer will always eat well and keep junk food out of their diet, but well, this is the real world that we live in.

On the morning of race day it's good to start off well with a dish such as porridge or toast and a banana.

At the competition it's best to eat little and often rather than heavily and occasionally. For this reason, rice/pasta based dishes are often favourites with other accompanying snacks to eat in between. Sandwiches are also right 'up there' with swimmer favourites - normally by those who don't like rice or pasta based dishes.

Examples of dishes that work well:

  • Chicken pasta
  • Tuna pasta
  • Chicken and rice
  • Chicken sandwich
  • Tuna sandwich
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Cheese sandwich

Examples of snacks that work well:

  • Cereal bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Banana
  • Yoghurt

Try to refrain from nut-based things as you never know who might be allergic to them on poolside... it's staggering how many people are.

The golden rule with race day nutrition is: don't eat anything on race day that you've not eaten before... only take food that you know will not upset you and that your body is used to.

Sometimes, when swimmers are nervous they struggle to eat actual food. Milk, smoothies and/or juices can help to get some nutrition in but I always think it's best to work to eating actual food in the long-run.

After the competition make sure you eat plenty of protein and carbohydrates, especially if you're racing again on the following day. This should be the biggest meal eaten that day. If the swimmer is racing again the next day then make sure fast/junk food is swerved on that evening - avoid it like the plague!

Hydration is always important - before race day, during race day and after race day. Poolside is hot and a lot of water can be lost. A loss "equal to 2% of body weight causes a noticeable decrease of physical and mental performance. Losses of 5% or more of body weight during physical activities may decrease the capacity for work by roughly 30%". (Quoted from Sports Cardiology BC)

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