Nutrition is a top priority for young swimmers and endurance athletes who train regularly and compete.

Its the million dollar question, “what are the best foods and hydration to help and boost performance whilst training and competing for our budding young Olympians?”

Whilst all children are different and may be picky about what they eat (some more than others), it is so important to get the fuel they eat right. The right food provides the fuel for exercising muscles and has important nutrients and vitamins for growth and recovery after training and weekend long galas.

Establishing good eating habits at a young age and managing hydration are essential especially in swimming as it is such a demanding sport, mentally and physically. Food and hydration contribute to performing well both in training and on gala days.

Swimmers need energy

Energy rich foods should be incorporated into any swimmers diet for maximum energy  and nutrient intake for an active and healthy lifestyle. Good sources of energy include:

  • Carbohydrate rich foods – such as porridge, whole grain breakfast cereals, bread and rolls, pitta bread and naan breads, wraps, tortillas, crisp breads, rice cakes, crumpets, fruit bread, soreen malt loaf, scones, pancakes, muffins, fruit cakes, oat based biscuits, rice, cous cous, quinoa, noodles
  • Fruit – Fresh fruits, dried fruits, fruit and grain bars, 100% fruit juices.
  • Pulses – such as lentils, chick peas, baked beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes

Food for recovery

Foods rich in protein eaten in small servings throughout the day and after training aid muscle growth and recovery.

Proteins for recovery, growth and development include: lean chicken, turkey, lamb, pork, beef, veal, fish, most seafood, tuna, etc..,eggs, yoghurt, milk, baked beans, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, peanut butter, peanuts, etc

Hydration is Vital

Bad tempered, lethargic, no interest in training usually all adds up to dehydration. As parents and coaches we need to constantly remind young athletes the importance of fluid intake, especially when training and competing.

Swimming is totally unique in the sense that swimmers are submerged in water and therefore is it often difficult to gauge how much they are sweating and losing fluid. We take it for granted that we don’t sweat because we are surrounded by water. Doing long hours of high intensity training in water dehydrates all swimmers and therefore fluid that the body has lost needs replacing.

As a rule of thumb we should be drinking about 800ml of fluid per hour during training. If not, the loss of performance can be quite significant, as much as 15%!

Pre Gala day

In the run up to a gala diet can ply an important role. A good carbohydrate based meal (noodles, pasta, rice, quinoa) will ensure maximum energy. Aim to eat a meal that will provide a good energy store for a days racing.

  • A stir fry with noodles and lean chicken, 
  • lasagne made with lean meat and veggies,
  • pasta in a tomato based sauce with tuna and salad,
  • curry with chick peas, veggies and steamed rice,

are all examples of a good pre gala day meal.

Gala day


Realistically a good breakfast should be eaten 2 hours before competition and topped up with smaller portions frequently during the day and don’t forget to stay hydrated. Good things for breakfast include:

  • porridge oats with milk, raisins and banana,
  • scrambled eggs on toast with cheese and tomato,
  • a fruit salad with yoghurt and nuts
  • beans on toast with some fruit and a glass of milk
  • peanut butter and jam on toast or muffins with a fruit smoothie
  • rice pudding with honey or cinnamon
  • 100% fruit juice

During competition

Small amounts of food and drink are essential to keep energy levels topped up depending how much time your swimmer has between events. Avoid soft drinks and fizzy drinks.

Choose small snacks such as :

  • sultanas, currants, dates,
  • fruit or grain bar,
  • small slices of soreen malt loaf,
  • pieces of fresh fruit,
  • nut selection,
  • fluids.

If you have more time between events of 1 hour or over you may be able to include

  • a sports drink,
  • banana sandwich,
  • some rice or pasta dish,
  • fruit bread with jam,
  • rice cakes,
  • canned fruit or snack pack,
  • choice of filling wrap or muffin.

Don’t forget the more you eat, the more energy your body uses to digest it- keep it small!

Post competition

Following competition you should always try to eat recovery foods and replace fluids, ideally this should be started within 30 minutes of finishing competition. Good food for recovery include:

  • Baked potatoes and tuna,
  • scrambled eggs on toast,
  • cheese and tomato on toast,
  • chicken or tuna pasta,
  • wholegrain cereal with milk,
  • fruit smoothie,
  • fresh fruit,
  • milk drink.

Depending how far you have to travel after the event, always make sure you pack a healthy recovery snack and plenty of fluids.