Fuel Your Swim Performance: What to Eat Before a Swim Meet

Training & Technique
Written by: Harrison Howarth at 15 November '21 0
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It is common knowledge that eating nutritious food is good for your health, energy levels, and athletic performance. While you might know the basics of healthy eating, we wanted to share some advice on what to eat before a swim meet. Eating the correct types of food at the right time can help boost your athletic performance and aid in muscle recovery.

First, we will cover what you should eat in general to fuel your body as an athlete and give you some examples of foods to avoid and foods to eat. Next, we will go over some suggestions on how to eat the night before a swim meet. After that, we’re going to dive into what you should eat on the day of your swim meet. Wrapping up, we will cover protein-rich options for after your event, so your muscles can recover properly.

What Is the Best Fuel for Your Body?

As a swimmer, especially if you are still growing, your body needs calories to develop physically while staying healthy. According to The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, male athletes may require between 2,400 and 3,000 calories per day, while female athletes could require between 2,200 and 2,700 calories per day.

That’s a large caloric intake, and not all calories are created equal, so you’ll have to watch what you eat. As a competitive swimmer, you’ll want to avoid junk food high in simple carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Instead, focus on eating foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein.

Before we go on, we’d like to mention that dietary needs vary from individual to individual. Just because a diet plan works for another athlete doesn’t mean it will work for you. We recommend working with a nutritionist or sports dietitian to find what works best for your body. Otherwise, you can experiment with some of the foods mentioned below throughout your training to see what nutrition plan agrees with you.

Swimming is seriously good for your health, especially when paired with a nutritious diet. So, let’s get into the best types of food for your body as a swimmer.

Carbs Are the Fuel You Need to Perform Your Best

Carbohydrates will give you the energy required for you to reach your athletic potential as a swimmer. A study published in Nutrition Reviews explains how your body turns carbohydrates into glycogen that is stored in your muscles. When you perform high-intensity activities, like swimming, your body relies on those glycogen energy stores to provide you with the strength and stamina needed to get through race day.

However, carbs are not all created equally. So, you should avoid simple carbohydrates and focus on developing a diet consisting of various complex carbohydrates instead. 

Simple Carbs to Avoid:

  • Foods high in simple sugar and glucose
  • Foods made with corn syrup
  • Soda
  • Fruit juice from concentrate
  • Cookies, cakes, brownies, and other baked goods
  • Bread with white flower
  • Candy
  • Cereal

Complex Carbs to Eat:

  • Whole grains
  • ​Nuts
  • Beans
  • Brown rice
  • Fresh fruit and dried fruit
  • Veggies

Healthy Fats Give You Energy

What to eat before a swim meet: swimmer stretching his legs

Harvard Medical School suggests a good rule of thumb is to limit your consumption of saturated fats and replace them with unsaturated fats. A balanced diet includes healthy fats that keep your energy levels up.

Limit Your Consumption of These Saturated Fats:

  • Whole milk products (e.g., butter, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
  • Ice cream
  • Red meat with high fat content
  • Coconut oil

Foods to Eat With Unsaturated Fats:

  • Almonds and almond butter
  • Peanuts, peanut butter, and peanut oil
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Avocados and avocado oil
  • Sunflower seeds and sunflower seed oil
  • Other nuts and nut butter
  • Other seeds
  • Vegetable oils
  • Fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, or trout)

Protein Gives Your Muscles the Power to Recover

Protein has several benefits for swimmers and other athletes. A protein-rich diet will aid in muscle recovery, preventing soreness and allowing you to be ready to train and compete day after day. What’s more, high-protein diets have been linked to increased muscle growth and strength, which will help your overall athletic performance.

While we commonly think of protein in the form of dairy and meat products, there are plenty of protein options for vegan swimmers as well: vegetables, beans, oats, and plant-based protein supplements

Foods to Avoid:

  • Processed foods
  • Red meat with high fat content

Foods to Eat

  • Lean red meat
  • Turkey and chicken breast
  • Fish and shrimp
  • Eggs
  • Milk, cheese, and Greek yogurt
  • Beans
  • Oats
  • Vegetables
  • Whey or plant-based protein

Don’t Forget to Hydrate

While discussing what to eat before a swim meet, we shouldn’t forget the importance of hydration. Even though water does not provide you with any of the calories that fuel your athletic performance, it is necessary to stay hydrated before, during, and after your swim meet. 

Hydration plays a significant role in your overall body function. It allows your muscles to work efficiently and boosts your endurance levels so you can perform your best during your next swimming competition. Try carrying around a refillable water bottle so you can get into the habit of regularly maintaining hydration.

Another thing to consider when staying hydrated during your swim meet is to replenish your electrolytes. During perspiration, the body loses both water and electrolytes. Electrolytes play a crucial role in regulating various operations in the body, including your muscle function. Consider drinking water with electrolytes or another sports drink that has electrolytes in it.

Give Yourself a Carb Boost the Night Before

Focus on eating a meal that is rich in complex carbohydrates the night before your swim meet. Eating healthy carbs the day before your event will boost the glycogen stores in your muscles so your body will be ready to perform at your race.

You can get pretty creative with meals that are rich in complex carbohydrates. A great option would be something like a whole-grain pasta primavera with olive oil. Or, you could make yourself a burrito bowl using brown rice, beans, veggies, and some lean chicken breast to top it off.

What to Eat Before a Swim Meet

What to eat before a swim meet: Swimmer adjusting her goggles

It’s the day of your event, and it’s time to grab your goggles and fuel up on some nutritious food for your big race. What you should eat will vary slightly depending on what time your swim competition is. You should adjust your diet to meet the timing needs of your swim event. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to digest adequately based on the amount of food you have eaten. 

Central Washington University suggests that you should allow appropriate time for digestion before competing: 

  • 3-4 hours for a large meal
  • 2-3 hours for a small meal
  • 1-2 hours for a liquid meal
  • Less than an hour for a small snack.

If your swim event is in the morning, give yourself enough time to have a light breakfast, like yogurt and whole-grain toast. If you tend to get butterflies before competing, consider a protein shake or a fruit smoothie with protein and veggies added to it.

If your swim event is later in the day, you should eat a healthy, carbohydrate-rich breakfast. You should have a similar carbohydrate- and protein-rich meal for lunch, like a turkey breast sandwich with plenty of vegetables on whole grain bread. Then, you can have a pre-race snack about an hour before you swim.

What to Eat During a Swim Meet

During your swim meet, especially if there is a lot of time before your next race, you should snack if you feel the need. Always remember to give yourself enough time to digest, though, and don’t forget to account for your warm-up time as well.

Consider a snack like a rice cake with some type of nut butter on it. Or, you could snack on a mixture of granola, dried fruit, and nuts. Another good pre-race snack is fresh fruit, like a banana that is rich in potassium.

Avoid snacking on foods that are high in sugar, like candy, soda, and baked goods. The high amounts of sugar in the foods could cause your blood sugar to drop, which could negatively impact your race performance.

What to Eat After a Swim Meet

Swimmer putting a towel on his shoulders

After the swim meet, you and your muscles will likely be craving protein. You should eat a meal rich in protein so your muscles have the proper fuel to recover. Muscle recovery is essential and will reduce muscle soreness, improve strength, and limit fatigue the next time you train. It is also an important step to lower the chances of muscle injury.

Try eating lean red meat with a leafy green vegetable, like spinach, and finish off the dish with a side of brown rice. A vegetable omelet with cheese is another good protein-rich option.

​Now You Know What to Eat Before A Swim Meet

Now that you understand the types of food you should eat and when to eat them, you’re ready to implement some healthy dietary changes to boost your swim performance. Remember to cut out the simple carbs and saturated fats and replace them with complex carbohydrates and unsaturated healthy fats. Always stay hydrated, and plan out your meals according to your swim event calendar so you can perform your best during your next race.

Be sure to visit arena for all of your training and competitive swim needs.


Written by:

Harrison Howarth

Harrison is a freelance writer with a background in competitive aquatic sports. His love for water polo and swim, combined with his passion for writing and education, drives him to continue teaching and inspiring individuals to participate in aquatics.