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To Swim on Empty or To Fill Up The Tank?

Updated: Jul 9, 2022

Dana Eshelman, MS, RDN


Eating something is better than eating nothing before a training session or competition. Your muscles preferred source of energy is sugar. When there is not enough sugar in the bloodstream, stored carbohydrates known as glycogen are converted into energy (or sugar) for fuel.


In the 2-3 hours before your swim workout, try to eat a meal with complex carbohydrates and protein for a slow release of energy:

  • ½ c. oatmeal or other hot cereals with ½ c. milk or 2 T. nut butter

  • 1 sweet potato + 2 T. nut butter

  • 1 whole bagel or 1-2 slices whole grain toast + 1 T. jelly/jam

  • 1 c. yogurt + ½ c. granola

  • 1 whole grain English muffin + 2 T. nut butter

  • 1-2 slices whole grain toast + 2 scrambled egg


What if you have an early morning training session or competition? It is not uncommon to jump into the pool for training by 5:00 or 6:00 am. That would mean waking up by 3:00 am to eat for your training session (no thanks!!). When you have 30 minutes before your swim, or you have a sensitive stomach, stick to low fiber, low fat and high carbohydrate, such as these options:

  • Honey stingers waffle

  • CLIF Shot, GUs

  • CLIF Blocks, HoneyStinger Chews, Skratch Chews, Base chews

  • 1 c. fruit

  • 1/s c. fruit juice

  • 1 slice white toast + 1 T. jelly/jam

  • ½ c. applesauce


If you are doing a long swim workout (>60 minutes), consider adding in some carbohydrates + electrolytes to your drink:

  • Tailwind + caffeine

  • Tailwind

  • Infinit Go Far

  • SIS Energy Gel Pack

  • Gatorade Endurance Formula


Skipping a meal or a pre-training snack, especially for those early mornings and after a night’s fast, impairs your ability to perform at high levels because of low blood sugar (low energy). Pre-training fuel allows your body to maintain blood sugar levels and prevents fatigue, lack of concentration, and light-headedness. Just as with your running and cycling, addition of new food and/or nutrition products should be done slowly. You will want to have trial sessions, or rehearse, with new nutrition products and food to understand what your stomach will tolerate for pre-training snacks for swimming. Remember - high carbohydrate, low fat, and low fiber.


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