Confused about what to eat on race day? Here are some proven tips from NC State’s Director of Sports Nutrition to make sure you eat and swim well the day of the big meet.
The work has been done, you’ve thrown down some cash on a new racing suit, and now it’s time to step up on the block and unleash a torrent of speed and fury on your way to crushing some PB’s.
For some swimmers, meets are a shining example of when good dietary habits go down the drain. This is particularly the case at away meets when we don’t have access to our kitchen and home cooking, leaving us reliant on the pool’s snack shop or worse (vending machines) to keep us properly fueled before, between and after races.
Don’t be the swimmer that throws their hard work away in a sugar-fueled chip and soda binge on the day of your big race.
Diana Nguyen, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, (@DNguyenSportsRD) Director of Sports Nutrition for the athletes (including the swim teams) at North Carolina State University, stopped by to kick some knowledge on how to make sure that your nutrition is tight on race day.
Let’s do this:
1. Practice what you are going to eat ahead of time.
There are foods that you know work for you. And those that don’t. Figure out what they are during training so that you can better plan out what you are going to eat in competition.
“Practice with different snacks before, during and after practice to see what works best for you,” says Nguyen.
Knowing what works gives you a blueprint for what to eat in competition so that you can plan your nutrition over the course of the day and the weekend.
2. Avoid surprises.
One of the alluring aspects of being away from home at a swim meet is eating new foods. While experimentation is fun and variety is the spice of life and all that, getting frisky with your palette on race day is a risky choice.
(True story: a teammate tried pre-workout for the first time in his life at a swim meet. The kid was such a balled-up mess of anxiety and nerves that he false-started and didn’t let go of the blocks when he fell forwards. It was….something.)
Whether it’s food or supplements, Nguyen advises to sticking to what works and staying away from experimenting on race day. (Remember tip one?)
3. Stock up on high-carb snacks to fuel high-performance radness.
Stick to high-carbohydrate foods that are easy on your tummy while you are at the pool.
Nguyen recommends snacks such as bananas, apple sauce, pretzels, pita chips, bagels, fig newtons, dried dates, Cliff bars, PB&J sandwich, and electrolyte drinks.
The good news is that these food items can be planned for and packed in your swim bag, which will help keep you from diving head-first into the assorted vending machines in the pool lobby.
(For more information on better nutrition habits for swimmers—including meal prepping—check this post.)
4. Time your meals properly.
Racing on a full belly is not only uncomfortable, it’s probably gonna cause us some extra drag (not sure, but seems likely) with our belly button reaching for the bottom of the pool.
But you also don’t want to not eat. Here’s how to time your food on race day:
- Eat your last big meal three hours before racing to allow for ample time to digest, advises Nguyen.
- Between 30 and 60 minutes prior to your race, “Have a carbohydrate rich snack for a quick energy boost.”
5. Don’t forget to drink lots of water.
Yep—we swim in a pool. Full of water. So much water. That we can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) drink.
Although it’s easy to assume that we don’t sweat while in the water, or think that because we are swimming in water we are somehow hydrating ourselves vis osmosis, swimmers still need to drink lots of water to maintain proper body function.
The side effects of dehydration are nasty: you recover slower, your perceived effort goes up, and there is a general decline in performance.
And even though you have likely been told over and over again by coaches, parents and PSA’s that water is crucial, research on NCAA athletes found over 60% of them were dehydrated when sampled during training.
“Even though you are in a pool, you still sweat and lose electrolytes,” notes Nguyen. “Sip on water and sports drinks throughout the day.”
Pack your water bottle, pack some high-carb snacks, and save the surprises for the team dinner after the meet is over!
More Stuff Like This:
Why Swimmers Shouldn’t Skip Breakfast. What we eat in the morning sets up for the rest of the day, both in the pool and out. Here’s why swimmers shouldn’t skip breakfast.
Eat Better & Swim Faster: 3 Strategies for Awesome Nutrition Habits. Knowing what we need to eat isn’t always enough. After all, we all know we should be eating more greens and less sugar. But how many swimmers actually stick with their nutrition goals? In this guide we cover three proven strategies for making excellent dietary habits a whole lot easier.