] Eating for Training and Competitions - Hertsmere Flyers

Eating for Training and Competitions

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Your pre-event meal serves two purposes; first to prevent you from feeling hungry either before or during the event, second to help supply fuel to the muscles during competition.  Most energy needed for any sport is provided by what you have eaten during the week prior to the event and therefore, in order to be able to train hard and swim fast at competition, you need to eat a well balanced diet.

Two evenings before the event, the best pre-training, or pre-meet meal should consist mainly of carbohydrates.  Such as; pasta’s, rice and potato based meals.

On the day of competition; cereal bars, Jaffa cakes, flapjacks, bananas and dates are a medium source of carbohydrates that last longer than a sugar burst from chocolate or sweets.  These medium source carbohydrates are not as heavy as the more complex carbohydrates and digest quicker.

Do not eat sugary foods for a burst of energy just before you race, it just does not work.  In fact, the aim is to have a relatively empty stomach whilst competing, so try to eat at least three hours beforehand.

High fat and protein foods take longer to digest than carbohydrates and therefore if these are eaten a few hours before exercising they could contribute to nausea and vomiting.  So what sorts of things are recommended to eat before a competition?


  • 3 – 4 Hours before:
    Fruit or vegetable juice, Fresh fruit.
    Bread (wholemeal), rolls (wholemeal and seeded), muffins.
    Porridge or Oats, Low fat yoghurt.
    Baked potato. , Cereal with semi skimmed milk.
    Pasta with tomato sauce/ small amounts of tuna/ small amounts of chicken


  • 2 – 3 Hours before:
    Fruit or vegetable juice
    Fresh fruit , Porridge or Oats

Small amounts of Bread (no margarine or butter) or Simple Pasta


  • 1 – 2 Hours before:
    Fruit or vegetable juice
    Fresh fruit- Banana/ Dates/ Raisins/ Mixed Fruit / Rice Cakes

Cereal Bars/ Small Flapjacks


All Day Meets
Open Meets that last from four hours upwards require as much pre planning as possible and trying to find the time to eat between sessions or heats and finals needs to be though out well.    With less than one hour between swims, it is best to consume easy digestible high carbohydrate foods and drink but try to limit the amount of food.  It’s not always easy to buy what you need at the event so plan ahead and take an emergency supply with you, bread based snacks (careful with the fillings), bananas, fruit juices etc.




Before food is taken into consideration to make energy, most of the cells in your body work by using Oxygen, so at least once a day you should follow a breathing exercise of: Breathe IN for 5 seconds, HOLD for 20 seconds and breathe OUT for 10 seconds.  Repeat this up to 5 times. As you perform this exercise you are increasing the oxygen input to over 50 million cells in your body which will immediately give you a boost of energy.  It may be good to get in the habit of doing this before and after every training session and before and after every race.



In terms of energy required for Aerobic exercise – carbohydrates are the food that you require most of.  If 70% of your training is Aerobic based, then 70% of your food intake should be carbohydrate based.  In terms of Carbohydrates, there are foods that can give you a quick boost of energy named ‘Simple Carbohydrates’ and there are foods that take a while to break down, giving you a constant release of energy, these are called ‘Complex Carbohydrates’.

So when do you need carbohydrates?  Most of the time if you are in full time training!  If you have evening training then a good time to eat complex carbohydrates would be around lunch time.  If you have early morning training then a good time to eat complex carbohydrates would be the previous evening.  If you have not had time to eat complex carbohydrates, then you may eat some simple carbohydrates about an hour before you swim, which will give you some energy to train.  Jaffa cakes are a favourite source of simple carbohydrates to many children.

  • Complex Carbohydrates are: 
    • Bread, bagels, pasta, cereals, beans, oats and root vegetables.
  • Simple Carbohydrates are: 
    • Jaffa Cakes, Bananas, Chocolate bars, energy drinks, flap jacks, sunflower seeds.



This food source is what the body uses to grow or heal.  If you are training hard and your muscles feel sore, then proteins will help your body to strengthen the muscles for next time they need pushing.  Proteins should be eaten at the end of the competition day or after heavy training sessions to rebuild your strength.  Proteins should only consist of about 10% of your nutritional intake.  Protein is only used when required and any excess protein will be stored in your body as waste products, meaning fat!

  • Protein Rich foods are:
    • Meats, fish, nuts, beans, pulses, soya, eggs and lentils


Vitamins and Minerals

Another very important source of nutrition are Vitamin’s and Mineral’s which are found in fruit and vegetables. Vitamins and minerals help keep your body efficient at removing waste products, transporting nutrients around the body and maintaining a good immune system.  You should aim to eat at least 5 pieces of fruit or vegetables daily.  Your body absorbs fruit quickly when eaten on an empty stomach, so having a smoothie made of berries and fruit’s is ideal first thing in the morning.  It is also recommend that only organic vegetables and fruit be eaten, as we can be assured that there is still goodness left in them (try to ensure that they have the ‘Soil Association’ stamp on them).



Fat is an essential part of the diet and should consist of 20% of your dietary requirements.  The trouble is these days we eat so much fat as we do not know about what is hidden in processed foods and hidden between figures on food packets.

In the UK, food advice is measured in grams so a packet of crisps may have the following information, Carbohydrates 10g, Fat 6g and Proteins 4g.  So you would think that these would be okay to eat as there are more carbohydrates than fats and proteins.

The only problem is grams are a measurement of weight, and the currency your body uses is Calories.

Did you know that there are 9 calories in a gram of fat and only 4 calories in a gram of protein and 4 calories in a gram of carbohydrate?


So the original food label suggests there are more carbohydrates than fats in the packet, well in reality the comparison reads like this:


Grams Calories
Carbohydrates 10 (50%) 40 (36 %)
Fats 6 (30%) 54 (50 %)
Proteins 4 (20%) 16 (14%)


You can see why obesity rates are at an all time high.


The main reason your body needs fats are to absorb vitamins and minerals and protect the body.  It also acts as an extra energy store for the body.


  • Ways to minimise the fat in your diet are:
    • Use very lean meat and remove any visible fat before cooking
    • Eat fewer fatty products such as pies, pates and sausages
    • Remove skin from poultry before cooking
    • Use low fat cooking oils
    • Grill instead of fry
    • Reduce your intake of dairy products
  • Good fats foods are:
    • Vegetable and fish oils (salmon, tuna and mackerel are among the best oily fish), olives, avocadoes and nuts provide useful fats.