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Is Pre-Workout Good for Swimming? (From A Trainer)

Michael Garrico
Published by Michael Garrico
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

One of my clients was taken by surprise when I advised her to take pre-workout supplements for swimming.

She thought they were only effective in the gym for lifting weights and muscle building.

So, to answer her many questions, I decided to compile what I know about pre-workouts, their ingredients, and what makes them suitable for swimming.

I also consulted a dietician specializing in sports nutrition to back up the information with studies and relevant literature.

Quick Summary

  • Taking pre-workout supplements can boost your energy, focus, and alertness to help you swim faster and longer.
  • While stimulants like caffeine are great for swimmers, excessive dosage can lead to overstimulation with adverse physical symptoms such as anxiety and jitters.
  • Pre-workout supplements should not be used as a substitute for a balanced diet.

Can a Pre-workout Help In Swimming?

A professional swimmer in an indoor pool

Yes, a pre-workout can help in swimming by boosting your energy and nourishing your muscles with nutrients so you can swim faster and longer and have a faster recovery.

As a demanding physical activity, swimming fatigues the muscles quickly, and swimmers could use a boost in energy and mental alertness.

Pre-workouts often contain ingredients like caffeine and creatine that provide these benefits.

They also contain nitric oxide precursors like L-citrulline and L-arginine that enhance the flow of blood by dilating blood vessels [1].

This enables nutrients to reach the muscles more easily and get absorbed to boost performance and reduce recovery time.

Shortly, we’ll examine some of these common ingredients in pre-workout supplements. But before that, let's explore more of these benefits.

Why Swimmers Take Them

Swimmers drink pre-workout supplements because of the benefits the nutritional supplement adds to their performance.

The benefits include:

  • Extra stamina and long-term endurance, which translates to the ability to swim faster and for longer
  • More power and added muscular strength, which means more throttle, torque, and speed while swimming
  • Enhanced mental focus, which helps to keep your head in the game (pool) for longer

A pre-workout supplement can provide the above benefits to swimming athletes because of its unique blend of ingredients.

5 Common Ingredients and How They Help

A buff male mixing pre-workout

Below are the common ingredients you’ll find in a pre-workout:

  • Caffeine
  • Creatine
  • Nitric oxide precursors
  • Branched-chain amino acids
  • B vitamins

Let's take a more detailed look and see how each compound benefits a swimmer.

1. Caffeine

Close up shot of a glass jar of coffee beans

Swimming is exhausting because it leverages almost all muscle groups.

To improve time intervals as a competitive swimmer, you need all the focus and energy you can get.

Pre-workout supplements get you geared up by enhancing your energy levels and improving your mental focus when swimming, thanks to ingredients like caffeine that stimulate the nervous system.

Scientists investigating the effects of caffeine on swimmers subjected their respondents to a power test.

They found faster swim time and increased peak power among participants who took a caffeinated beverage than those who took a decaf drink [2].

While this is good news to most competitive swimmers, caution should be applied to the dosage.

The FDA recommends a maximum of 400mg, although it may depend on your caffeine tolerance levels. Even half this amount is still significant [3].

A study on caffeine confirms that even low doses can significantly affect your mood and performance [4].

The adverse effects of overstimulation include:

  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Insomnia

Besides caffeine, similar stimulants such as theobromine, theanine, and tacrine can also give similar results.

2. Creatine

A person holding a scoop of creatine powder

Swimming is a strenuous exercise that leaves your muscles exhausted and sore. This is where creatine comes in; to provide your body with more energy for rapid use.

Studies on the ingredient show significant gains in strength, lean muscle, and exercise performance in high-intensity tasks like swimming [5].

Additional research shows that creatine supplements can improve performance in repeated interval swim sets [6].

The study also suggested that creatine improves power development in swimmers.

This was particularly helpful for energy-demanding swimming styles like butterfly and breaststroke.

3. Nitric Oxide Precursors

Nitric oxide precursors, L-citrulline and L-arginine, are common ingredients in swimming pre-workout supplements.

They aid in reducing muscle fatigue and soreness by relaxing and widening the arteries, which improves blood flow to the muscle [7].

They also aid in the delivery of nutrients and oxygen, which enhances athletic performance and reduces fatigue.

Studies investigating the effects of L-citrulline found that it significantly helped increase the swimming period before exhaustion sets in [8].

What’s more, research has also found that the ingestion of L-citrulline, L-arginine, and BCAAs, all of which are commonly found in pre-workout supplements, allowed improved performance in swim interval sets [9].

4. Branched Chain Amino Acids

A graphic of Branched Chain Amino Acids with a person holding a jar of protein powder in the background

BCAAs are part of the nine essential amino acids externally obtained from food and supplements.

They include:

  • Leucine
  • Isoleucine
  • Valine

One unique thing about BCAAs that makes them suitable for physical activities like swimming is that they are broken down in the muscle rather than the liver [10].

Hence, they are thought to be important in energy production during exercise.

Additionally, researchers have found that supplementing BCAAs about an hour before an exercise session can help delay fatigue [11].

Other studies also found that BCAAs, particularly leucine, help enhance strength and performance [12].

5. B Vitamins

B vitamins are essentially a group of eight vitamins, including:  

  • Thiamine (B1)
  • Riboflavin (B2)
  • Niacin (B3)
  • Pantothenic acid (B5)
  • Pyridoxine (B6)
  • Biotin (B7)
  • Folate  (B9)
  • Vitamin B12

Researchers from Oregon State University have attributed inadequate B vitamins among athletes to reduced high-intensity exercise performance and the inability to repair damaged muscles [13].

The same study also confirms that vitamins B1, B2, B6, and B12 are essential in converting proteins and sugar into energy.

Precautions Before Taking Them

A gym coach writing down precautions on a clipboard

First, if you’re caffeine intolerant, you can find stimulant-free alternatives or pre-workout supplements with low doses of the same.

Let’s get into other precautions.

Not a Substitute for Good Eating Habits

Looking at the plethora of ingredients in supplement labels, some swimmers might think they are getting a well-balanced meal.

So they tend to take pre-workout supplements alone, which often leads to poor eating habits.

Pre-workout supplements should complement a healthy and balanced diet, not be a substitute for the same, as they don’t contain all the essential nutrients.

“If an athlete focuses on protein, there is likely to be a deficiency of carbs and fat, and that can take a toll on performance and recovery.”

- Chris Rosenbloom,  RDN

Foods like fish, meat, eggs, and fruits can provide the necessary carb, fat, and protein boost for strength and energy to endure long training sessions and physically demanding workouts.

Protein shakes and pre-workout drinks should only come in handy when there is no time to prepare a fresh meal or to reach a specific protein target.

Aside from proteins, meals consisting of carbs and fats also have a crucial role in overall health.

Be Cautious of Unspecified Ingredients

A doctor discussing ingredients on a clipboard

Nutritional supplements are generally safe and effective in optimizing physical performance. But there are certainly many bad apples.

Perhaps you’ve heard cases of elite athletes receiving bans after a positive test and later suing supplement manufacturers for contaminating products with steroid precursors [14].

This is why understanding the contents of these nutritional supplements is crucial in the first place.

I always advise my clients that it’s better to avoid products with proprietary blends, especially if they do not disclose the exact ingredients.

If you’re an athlete, the consequences are even more pronounced. You don't want to open yourself to the possibility of a positive doping test.

Not a Band-Aid to Poor Sleep Habits

Many swimmers misuse pre-workout supplements by taking them to compensate for the lack of sleep.

For optimal swimming performance, pre-workout supplements will work best when combined with a healthy diet and an uninterrupted 7-9 hours of sleep.

Not a Magic Pill

Some swimmers think that once they start taking pre-workout supplements, they can reach national-level swimmer status in a few months.

Pre-workout supplements only complement the hard work and discipline put into training.

FAQs

How Can I Boost My Energy Before Swimming

You can boost your energy before swimming by taking a pre-workout supplement or consuming foods such as oatmeal, eggs, bananas, and yogurt that can provide a slow and steady flow of energy as you swim.

Do Olympic Swimmers Take Pre-workout

Yes, Olympic swimmers take pre-workouts to boost energy and alertness during training [15].

Most swimmers, including the elites, use them to cover nutritional needs that may not be reached with normal foods.

Choosing the Right Supplement Matters

The energy, nutrient nourishment, and boost in alertness make pre-workout supplements ideal for swimmers.

But given the low-quality products that have flooded today’s supplement markets, with some even containing questionable ingredients, choosing poorly can risk the careers of professional swimmers.

That's why we only recommend thoroughly tested products to our clients:

After carefully vetting the ingredients and gathering the client feedback reports, products on these lists showed the most significant improvements in performance.


References:

  1. https://blogs.cornell.edu/learning/what-are-the-benefits-of-pre-workout-supplements/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26279580/
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209050/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12701815/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24198677/
  7. https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/l-citrulline-uses-and-risks
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21908948/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6315994/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5260006/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7126259/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21487148
  13. https://today.oregonstate.edu/archives/2006/nov/osu-study-poor-athletic-performance-may-be-linked-nutrient-deficiency
  14. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2005-may-13-sp-vencill13-story.html
  15. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-5-22

 

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