If you have a swimmer, chances are they are swimming at various times of the early morning up until late in the evening. This can make it extremely tough to plan out their meals and make sure their nutrition is taking priority. You might be wondering what is the best pre-practice food for morning swimmers?
Having an overall balanced diet is one of the most important parts of your young swimmer’s training, but odd practice times that interfere with “regular” mealtimes can make good nutrition tricky.
Use their pre-practice snack as an opportunity to maximize the nutrition that you can get into their active bodies without it impacting their training by causing GI discomfort by being too full.
Morning practices may be the most challenging of all. It’s a hard choice to either get them fueled or let them sleep as long as possible. I’m a huge advocate for sleep, it is so important for growing bodies, especially in the early morning hours.
If you have a swimmer in the morning, most likely they are 13 or older and may be more receptive to the reasons why they need to eat. The main reason they need to eat something is to maintain blood sugar. Here’s why.
Swimming practice is a low to moderate and sometimes high intensity exercise. The body likes to use blood glucose as the fuel for low intensity exercise. Get into moderate and high intensity exercise and the body uses muscle glycogen (the storage form of glucose). The body stores glycogen in the muscles and the liver. The glycogen in the liver is also working to maintain proper blood sugar levels, so you don’t want to deplete everything. Depending on the length of the practice, you could start to run low on both blood glucose and glycogen, so a few things will happen:
- Performance will suffer because energy will be zapped.
- Symptoms of low blood sugar will creep in: lightheadedness and nausea
Usually there are 3 types of swimmers.
- Those who can eat anything and get in the pool with no problem.
- Those who cannot look at food in the morning.
- Those who can only tolerate liquid nutrition.
Regardless of the type of young swimmer you have, whatever they choose for their nutrition in the morning should be well tolerated, easily digestible, and not heavy (sorry, bacon & eggs, this is not the time, keep the eggs for after practice). You’re also looking for carbohydrate foods (think white breads and fruits), low in protein and low in fat. You can have some fiber, but not too much — too much fiber can slow digestion. So, save those fiber bars for another time.
First things first, ensure they are going to bed hydrated. In a study on hydration published in 2016 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, they found that 2/3 of swimmers came to morning practice with suboptimal hydration. While, these results may not extend to all swimmers, there is a good chance that a morning swimmer is starting practice at least mildly dehydrated.
Swimmers should start out by drinking a glass of fluid in the morning. If they aren’t going to eat anything, that fluid should be something with calories, such as orange juice, milk, or a smoothie. Otherwise, they need a drink of water.
When it comes to food, it depends on the swimmer. Practice is not only about practicing and refining their swim strokes, but also to see what their own body will tolerate for morning food.
Here are some ideas to get you started with some of the best pre-practice food for morning swimmers:
- Banana and peanut butter
- Oatmeal (not the kind with extra fiber added in)
- Toast and Jam
- Fruit Smoothie
- Orange and mini-granola bar
- Chocolate milk
- Cereal and milk
- 1-2 Frozen waffles
- Banana Bar
- Energy bites
Practice their nutrition, so when it comes to meets, they know what they can eat in the morning before they get in the pool when it counts.
If your swimmer is not on board with pre-practice food, have a discussion with their coach about it or have a dietitian speak with the team on the importance of maintaining their energy stores.
Adams, J. D., Kavouras, S. A., Robillard, J. I., Bardis, C. N., Johnson, E. C., Ganio, M. S., McDermott, B. P., & White, M. A. (2016). Fluid Balance of Adolescent Swimmers During Training. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 30(3), 621–625. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000001132