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What to Eat Before Swimming? (16 Foods You Must Consume)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: September 7, 2022

Being in the fitness world for over ten years now, I've always incorporated swimming into my workouts because it is a great exercise to help me shed some pounds and get in shape.

But like any workout, it's important that you eat good pre-workout meals packed with energy and protein to get you through your training session.

I solicited expert nutrition advice from a dietician friend to find precisely what you should eat before swimming.

I connected all the dots, and here's a summary of what I found.

Quick Summary

  • Swimming is a great exercise to lose weight and keep fit.
  • Eating before swimming gives you the necessary energy to swim better.
  • Eating extra spicy foods before swimming can cause stomach upset.

What to Eat and When?

My swimming sessions involve sprint and endurance training that can last up to 60 minutes.

This places unique considerations on what pre-workout meals I should take for training.

Here's a breakdown of the right foods you should eat, depending on the timing of your swimming session.

Before Morning Swim Workout

Fruits in a tray

It's essential to eat something before your morning swimming session.

Because the body uses its glycogen reserves for intense exercise, training intermittent fasting or on an empty stomach may cause you to become fatigued rapidly [1].

I get up two hours before my swim so I have enough time to make these pre-workout hearty breakfast options that you can also try:

  • Linseed and apple porridge
  • American pancakes with hazelnuts in honey
  • Peas with smoked salmon
  • Banana yogurt
  • Low-fat chocolate drink

If you wake up and jump straight to the pool, you can grab these light pre-workout snacks on your way.

  • Fruit
  • Fruit juice
  • Fruit snacks
  • A waffle with jam

If your stomach can't handle food that gets you energized before your workout session, consider increasing the carbohydrates you eat for dinner the night prior.

This will be deposited in the muscles in preparation for your morning swim.

Afternoon Swim Workout

Oatmeal and fruits in a tray floating on a pool

You cannot eat lunch and then go swimming immediately; therefore, it's critical to have a snack at least one to one and a half hours before exercising.

Try snacking on these:

  • A single slice of toast with maple syrup
  • Fresh fruits
  • Yogurt or smoothie sports drinks
  • Whole-grain cereal with banana chunks

Pick fruits or whole grains so your body can turn them into glycogen and keep you energized during exercise [2].

If I combine a carbohydrate source with complete proteins or healthy fat sources, like oily fish, I keep it to a minimum because protein and fat require more time to absorb [3].

I always ensure to take sips of water or recovery drinks between my sets to stay hydrated.

Evening Swim Workout

A creamy vegetable pasta

If you swim at the end of the day after your workday, you'll probably have time to eat a full dinner an hour or so before the session.

Just be mindful of the serving size and nutrition facts of the meal you consume.

Keep your meals simple and focused on carbohydrates with a modest amount of wholesome fats and lean proteins.

I prefer to eat foods with enough energy levels, like a bowl of creamy veggie pasta, but avoid intense seasoning that can cause stomach upset.

If I want a protein-packed meal, I always go for something like lean chicken breast, brown rice, and avocado slices for healthy fats.

3 Benefits of Eating Before Swimming

A shot of a person practicing to swim

Eating the right food before swimming sessions is critical. Here’s why.

1. Boost Your Energy Levels

Carbohydrate is the primary energy source for exercise, stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver [4].

Because the body can only store a minuscule amount of carbohydrates, it is crucial to maintain a steady supply by eating a carbohydrate-rich healthy meal.

The emphasis is on eating before the exercise to maintain energy stores. This is because digesting food and swimming simultaneously is tricky, especially if you'll swim more during a tough winter training block.

Prior to a swim, aim to concentrate on smaller, higher glycemic index (GI)carbohydrates that will be swiftly digested and help you regain energy fast before your session [5].

These include:

  • A bottle of sports drink
  • Sweet potatoes
  • One big banana
  • Large cereal bar or energy bar

2. Better Focus

A person training in a swimming pool

Food and eating can genuinely impact how focused you are in the water and affect how well your morning training goes.

First, not getting enough nutrition can make it difficult for you to focus on the task.

On the other side, eating too little or too much might also impact your ability to concentrate when swimming.

If you eat too little, you may experience distracting hunger pangs or, worse yet, feel lightheaded and dizzy due to low blood sugar [6].

You may feel fatigued if you overeat and swim on a heavy stomach.

3. Improved Swimming Performance

When you swim or workout on an empty stomach, there might not be a lot of glycogen available for muscles to utilize to perform at their best.

This forces your body to look for alternative energy sources, like fat, which isn't the best option because you'll also lose vital muscle mass [7].

The nutrients in your glycogen and carbohydrate stores will allow you to exercise at a higher intensity and more endurance when you swim after topping off your fuel reserves by eating a light snack.

What to Avoid Eating Before Swimming?

Friends beside a pool eating a pizza

You should avoid any food and drinks known to upset your stomach, including foods high in excess fiber, fat, caffeine, spices, and alcohol before swimming.

These foods can limit your exercise abilities because they can increase the risk of sickness, diarrhea, and upset stomach.

"Swimming's horizontal body position can cause stomach reflux, making you feel nauseated and affecting your performance. Therefore, eating a big heavy meal just before swimming is not recommended."

- Charlton Norton, Medical Doctor

Minimizing fatty foods before a swim will save you from indigestion and uneasiness during swimming because fatty foods are slow-release carbs, and they take longer for your body to process.

Additionally, you should stay away from meals that you haven't eaten before and are unfamiliar to you in terms of the potential side effects they may have on your body.

Avoid high-sugar foods and beverages like sweets and carbonated drinks that tend to increase blood sugar levels.

FAQs

Why Should You Eat or Drink Before Swimming?

You should eat or drink before and after swimming to get the energy to help you through the intense swimming strokes.

What Happens If You Swim on an Empty Stomach?

If you swim on an empty stomach, you can feel dizzy and lightheaded because you'll experience low blood glucose levels.

Can I Eat a Banana Before Swimming?

Yes, you can eat a banana before swimming. Bananas are a good source of energy to help you when working out.

What Is Best to Eat After a Swim?

Protein-packed instant recovery foods are the best to eat after a swim because they provide the necessary nutrients to heal and repair torn muscle tissues.

Eat The Right Food Before Swimming

A proper pre-swim meal is essential to improve your swimming abilities and get you in the desired shape quickly. Your body won't be able to function or recuperate effectively if you don't eat right.

If you don't have enough time to fix a whole pre-workout meal or snack, try these ready-to-go supplements for an extra boost in energy:

These supplements are packed with numerous exercise-effective ingredients that most standalone pre-workout snacks don't have.


References:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20519256/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4687103/
  3. http://pressbooks-dev.oer.hawaii.edu/humannutrition/chapter/protein-digestion-and-absorption
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3248697/
  5. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/carbohydrates-and-the-glycaemic-index&
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hypoglycemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20373685&
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333076911

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