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The main source of energy during training is derived from carbohydrate, therefore, it is not surprising that high carbohydrate meals and drinks are essential to provide energy and facilitate recovery. The timing of meals and snacks, however, is important.

30 minute rule

The muscles are most susceptible to restoration of carbohydrate stores within the first 30 minutes after exercise. Thereafter, the process becomes progressively more difficult. The swimmer should eat 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrate*, whilst keeping fat ingestion low, as soon as training finishes, and definitely within the first 30 minutes after training. The following are examples of appropriate snack foods and their approximate carbohydrate content:

snack examples

An apple, banana or orange: 15-20g

Muller rice: 20g

Nutrigrain Elevenses bar: 25-30g

Fruit Shake or Smoothie: 25-30g per glass

One thick Jam or Honey sandwich (no or minimal butter): 50g

Malt Loaf (Soreen): 18g per eighth of a loaf

Fig Rolls: 13g per biscuit


Other excellent snacks: Rice cakes, dried fruit

morning training

Have a snack item (examples above) with fruit juice 30 minutes before training with breakfast after training

* After high intensity training it may be appropriate ingest protein mixed with high carbohydrate. This may be achieved using known brand formulated drinks.

guidelines for event meals

Before a race: High Carbohydrate/Low Fat meal 2-4 hours before the race. Suitable types of food include: breakfast cereals, porridge, bread, rolls, toast, fruit juice, fruit, rice cakes, plain crackers, boiled rice, potatoes, boiled pasta, dried fruit, oatmeal biscuits, plain wholemeal biscuits, muffins and carbohydrate drinks. These are all examples of complex carbohydrates as these release energy slowly. Avoid simple carbohydrates (the sugars) as these release energy quickly but trigger the release of insulin, which can have a negative impact on performance.

A small snack (examples above) may be eaten about 30 minutes prior to the race.


If the interval between races is less than 30 minutes: The swimmer should drink fluids/juices or a sport drink.


If the interval between races is up to 1 hour: The swimmer should have a snack from the above list, with plenty of fluid, up to 30 minutes before the next race.


If the race interval is 1 to 2 hours: The swimmer should have a small high carbohydrate/low fat meal.

If the rest period between races is longer: The swimmer should have a substantial meal no later than 2 hours before the next race (see before a race).

Important: As water is stored with carbohydrate it is essential that substantial amounts of fluid is drunk with meals and snack.

pre training meals

Pre-exercise meals should prepare you for activity and leave you neither hungry nor with undigested food in your stomach. The size and timing of pre-exercise meals are inter-related. It is not ideal to exercise on a full stomach, therefore larger meals should be consumed 3-4 hours before exercise, whilst small snacks can be consumed in closer proximity.


Meals/snacks should provide sufficient fluid to maintain hydration, relatively low in fat and fibre to facilitate gastric emptying and minimize gastrointestinal distress, be relatively high in carbohydrate to maximize maintenance of blood glucose, be moderate in protein content, and consist of foods familiar and well tolerated to the individual athlete.

Pre exercise meals

Examples of pre-exercise meals and snacks: 2 – 4 hours before exercise (eg breakfast before morning session or lunch prior to afternoon session)

Breakfast cereal (1 cup or 2-3 Weetabix) with low fat milk & fruit

Porridge (medium to large bowl) with low fat milk & fruit juice

Toast (2-3 pieces),

muffins or crumpets (large with honey/jam)

Beans on toast (half large tin with 2 thick slices)

Low fat rice pudding with tinned fruit

(large tins) Pasta (100-150g) with low fat, tomato based sauce

Jacket (medium) potato with beans (half large tin)

Large Roll / tortilla/ sandwich with lean meat filling & banana

Fruit salad with low fat yogurt (150g) or fromage frais Smoothie based on low fat milk,

low fat yogurt (250ml) and fruit Within an hour before training

snack examples

(snacks which can be consumed in the hour before training sessions e.g. early morning sessions)

1 large Banana and cereal bar and water/fruit juice

1 or 2 cereal bars and fruit juice/water

50 – 100 g Jelly beans or babies & water

Medium Bagel/ 2 x toast and fruit juice/water

2 weetabix with low fat milk and orange juice/water

post training meals

The timing and composition of post exercise snacks and meals depends on the duration and intensity of the exercise session (ie whether carbohydrate stores were depleted) and when the next intense workout will occur. After intense exercise sessions when muscle glycogen stores are depleted the athlete should aim to consume 1g of carbohydrate per kg of body mass immediately after exercise to replenish glycogen stores. Protein consumed immediately after exercise will provide amino acids for the building and repair of muscle tissues. Consuming 10 - 20g after exercise will be valuable after an intense pool session.

This is not extra nutrition and should make up part of your daily energy intake. The examples shown are based on a 70kg athlete and should be adjusted accordingly to suit your nutritional requirements.


Please find below some useful information from British Swimming regarding eating whilst training/resting and eating out: 

examples of snacks choice 1

1 tin of low fat rice pudding

1 pint of low fat milk

1 pot of low fat yogurt 

1 pot of low fat custard

500ml carbohydrate drink/juice

2 Jam tarts

1 75g flap jack

examples of snacks choice 2

1 large piece of fresh fruit

  1 large tin or pot of fruit salad

1 cereal bar

500ml low fat milkshake

1 sandwich (meat or peanut butter filling)

2 medium slices malt loaf

other information

The following guides contain some more information on eating to benefit swimming.

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