How to Fuel Your Water Workout {Guest Post}

I have a confession: I hate swimming. Yup. I hate it. The only thing I like about swimming is cute bathing suits. I don’t like the chlorine. I don’t like getting my hair wet. I don’t like the idea of public pools. And I’m not a very good swimmer to boot. I’m aware that I sound like a brat. But the thing is: I am jealous of those who like to swim and are good at it. I have tried to force myself to like swimming for years… it just doesn’t happen. Not only are swimmers incredible athletes, but swimming is an amazing activity for cross-training: it is wonderful for muscle recovery and increases cardio and strength without putting the same strain/pounding on your muscles. My Dad has tried and tried and tried again: “swimming is so good for you!” I know Dad… and I really wish that I could like it.

With the summer coming up and my miles increasing, I think I need to try even harder to incorporate some swimming into my life. If I do so, I need to learn how to properly fuel my workout and nourish my body. So I am very excited to introduce Christina from The Fueled Athlete to chat about fueling your swimming workout today. I love blabbing to you guys but I also think guest posts and post swaps are a nice part of blogging and a way to find new blogs – I found Christina through a guest post.

I love Christina’s philosophy and she kindaaaa has my dream job: working with athletes on their nutrition to enhance their performance. She believes in ditching the gunk (yay!) and eating simply, whole, clean food in order to best fuel our bodies.

Be sure to hop over to The Fueled Athlete today for my post on fueling your strength training workout – you can check it out here. But before you do that, I hope you learn as much as I did about fueling a swimming workout.

“Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…”


I’m so excited that Amy and I decided to do a post swap! I was first drawn to her blog when I saw how she liked to focus her nutrition habits around performance, especially improving her own performance! We came up with the perfect idea for our swap since both of us are interested and focused on exercise & nutrition together.

A little bit about me: I’m Christina and I write about sports nutrition over at The Fueled Athlete. I’m a Sports Dietitian by day, and aspiring chef & blogger by night. Since I was a competitive swimmer and completed my first triathlon a couple years ago, I thought swimming would be a fun sport to spotlight for this article.

I remember lots of early mornings when I was a competitive swimmer. Half of the time I dove into the water for warm-up, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t even fully awake yet. Early morning practice can make a pre-workout meal or snack pretty hard to squeeze in for many athletes. Success to fueling the body early in the morning involves: preparation, small & dense foods, and fluids.

Triathlon photo-1

Pre-Swim Needs

High carbohydrate

Moderate protein & fat

Low fiber

Less than 30 minutes until swim: 10oz fluid

1-2 hours until swim: 16-24oz fluid


It’s important to recognize that carbohydrates are seen as fuel by the body especially the muscles and the brain. Protein can be converted to fuel when there is a lack of carbohydrate, but it’s not an efficient process & this means muscle mass loss over time. Its main function is to support muscle and immune function.


Pre-Swim Meal/Snack Ideas

1)   2 bananas with 1 tbsp PB & 8oz water

2)   Smoothie/shake: 1 cup berries, 1 banana, 8oz unsweetened almond milk

3)   Fruit cup (1-2 cups of melon, banana, berries, orange, etc.)

4)   ½ PB&J on whole grain bread with 8oz 100% juice

5)   If using caffeine: 8 oz. strong brewed coffee with 2 bananas, ¼ cup almond milk, 1 tbsp honey & 1 tbsp almond butter blended together

All of these ideas can either be made the night before or set out the night before. By preparing and having it ready, you are much more likely to fit it in!

 Banana and PB


During Swim Needs

There are specific recommendations for an athlete’s needs during exercise thanks to many research projects. While every single athlete is different, these are general guidelines to try when looking to find what works for you.

  • 30-90g carb per hour
  • Protein after 2-3 hours (~5-7g per hour)
  • 6-8% carb solution
  • 100-110mg sodium/8oz
  • 30-50mg potassium/8oz
  • 32-40 oz per hour


During the swim, whether it’s a triathlon or just a swim meet, the limiting factor is always “what can the athlete tolerate?” Don’t get overly concerned with meeting the exact recommendations or hitting a certain amount of grams consumed… try a few different suggestions and see how your body feels. Do you feel strong? Do you feel somewhat refreshed after eating/drinking it? If you feel bloated, slow, or stomach pains, it’s not the right choice.


During-Swim Fueling Ideas

1)   Gel/Gu pouch

  1. Many of my athletes have used the gel or gu during a triathlon. They find it easy to keep on them and pull out right after the swim or even during the swim since it’s completely closed and small enough to carry on the body. As soon as you reach a transition area you can drink water for your fluid.

2)   Sports drink

  1. Making a homemade sports drink or buying one from the store can work during a swim practice or competition, especially if you’re swimming long distance. Keep the bottle on the edge of the pool where you make your turn.

3)   Electrolyte tablets in water, plus fruit

4)   Water, plus chews or pretzels

5)   Water, plus fruit

For the ideas that are a beverage, plus fruit or some type of food, it’s easy to drink fluids during or after the swim while eating actual foods while on the bike or during transition if you’re completing a triathlon. If you’re at a swim meet, hydrate & eat in-between your specific events.

Sports Drink-2

Post-Swim Needs

  • Post-workout nutrition is very similar for all athletes regarding the nutrient composition of the meal or snack. Carbohydrate and protein are needed to help the body restore glycogen (carbohydrate stores in the muscle & liver) and repair muscle.
  • Leucine, an amino acid, is key to stimulating muscle protein synthesis or muscle growth. Some facts regarding leucine:

o   Food protein, particularly high-quality dairy protein, containing all essential amino acids and high leucine may be more effective than other protein sources. Leucine is the most abundant of the three branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) in muscles (the other two are isoleucine and valine).

o   BCAAs make up a high proportion of the amino acids in muscle. They are unique because they are the only amino acids burned by muscles as fuel; thus, both blood and muscle levels of BCAAs decrease after exercise.

o   After reviewing recent studies, people consuming high leucine diets had greater weight loss, greater fat loss and better preservation of lean body mass during calorie restriction. A high leucine diet also resulted in better glucose control.

o   The best food sources of leucine include any proteins from animals (Chicken, Beef, Milk, Egg, etc) as well as dairy (cottage cheese tops the charts with 3g per 1 cup) that naturally contain all the essential amino acids, with 2.5g leucine stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

  • The timing of the post-workout meal affects glycogen storage, or the storage of carbohydrates in the muscle and liver. Consuming a post-workout snack within 30 minutes of the workout results in higher glycogen levels than when ingestion is delayed for 2 hours. – source
  • Fluids are needed to rehydrate the body: 16-24oz per pound of weight lost during the workout. If you didn’t lose weight, stick with 16-20oz post workout.
  • Aim for protein to be between ~10-20g, with carbohydrates between 1-1.5g per kg body weight (For specific number explanations, see my post-workout article here)


Post-Swim Meal/Snack Ideas

1)   Smoothie: 8oz skim or almond milk, 6oz greek yogurt, 1 cup berries, 1 tbsp honey

2)   Breakfast taco: whole wheat or corn tortilla filled with egg, turkey bacon, avocado & greek yogurt or banana on the side

3)   16oz lowfat chocolate milk

4)   Oatmeal with peanut butter, chopped banana and 2 scrambled eggs

5)   Plain Greek yogurt with fruit & drizzle honey

6)   Homemade burrito bowl – lean meat, black beans, quinoa or brown rice, veggies

Don’t skip this part! Many athletes don’t feel hungry following a high-intensity workout but this is not an excuse. Try something small and liquid based if you have this problem. Remember, something is better than nothing! Let the body start the recovery process.

Chicken Bowl-8

While I hope you find some ideas here that you really like, the most important part of fueling your workout or competition is finding out what works for YOU! Try out many different ideas while sticking to the general guidelines and see how you feel. The absolute key to fueling your workout is finding what you can tolerate well.



A big thanks to Christina for all this awesome info! Now, if I can only get myself in the water…

P.S. Be sure to check out my post on The Fueled Athlete today here.


Questions of the day…

Do you incorporate swimming into your workout routine? 


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8 thoughts on “How to Fuel Your Water Workout {Guest Post}

  1. Well, I’m not a fan of swimming either. Everyone tells me it’s such an awesome way to workout, but I just have a hard time getting into it. Perhaps I should give it another chance!

  2. One of the main reasons I pay for a gym is for a swimming pool. I try to swim at least once a week, usually a mile and a half swim broken up into a few sets of laps. Love this info! I’m always wondering what to eat before a swim so I don’t get cramps.

  3. Great info! There is not enough info available for swimmers. I used to hate swimming. I injured my foot in January and could only bike and swim for until a few weeks ago. I ended up falling in love with swimming and still do it. I think the turning point for me was find H20 audio. I need music to workout and now that I have it, my swims feel more like a real workout.

  4. I used to actually do lots of swimming when I was a teenager as my mum is really into her swimming and still now even though she’s 64 swims 4+ times a week for 1.5 hours. She’s a member of a masters swimming club and is my fitness hero in terms of how fit I still want to be at her age. Alas though I don’t love it like she does and don’t do it very often anymore as I’m definitely more into my running. Once my joints give out though it is something I may get back into. When my sister and I were young we used to spend 8 hours in the pool on a hot day at friends houses since we loved it.

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