Swimming is a popular sport that is known to be an excellent form of exercise for maintaining fitness and health. Being a form of non-impact exercise, it is also less likely to cause impact damage to joints. This is can be of particular interest to certain populations who may have mobility or joint problems. Thus, swimming is a pastime that all ages can take part in as a form of physical activity or as a means of having fun.

On the other hand, elite level swimming is a highly technical and physically demanding sport that requires a huge commitment in terms of time and training. Elite swimmers not only train in the pool but also complete dry land training that may include resistance training, running, cycling or rowing. These training demands require a significant amount of energy from the appropriate food and fluid sources. Choosing appropriate sports nutrition strategies and supplements can be a huge asset to swimmers during intense training and to support performance during race meets.

Sport-specific physiological demands

Olympic level competitions take place in an indoor 50 m pool. Competitive swimming events differ in stroke used (backstroke, breaststroke, front crawl and butterfly), but, of course, there is also a variation in the distance swum, which is generally between 50 m and 1500 m. Swimming a 50 m sprint lasts between 22 and 25 seconds and requires strength, power and excellent technique, where as the 1500 m takes a minimum of 14 min 40 sec to complete, and thus requires more of an endurance capacity. Consequently, endurance events result in the majority of energy coming from the aerobic energy system, where as sprint events result in greater emphasis on the anaerobic energy metabolism.

Swimming is a high volume sport and elite swimmers must dedicate a substantial amount of time to training as performance is highly influenced by coordination, technique, an efficient stroke, appropriate breathing and body size. During heavy training periods swimmers may train up to three times per day on five days of a week. Three training sessions per day can mean over 5-6 hours spent training that results in a large physical and mental load. In terms of physique, competitive swimmers are usually categorised by high levels of upper body muscle mass, and low percentage body fat levels, facets that are honed by planned training and nutrition strategies. Although swimmers move relatively slowly through the water compared to land sports, the physiological demands of competitive racing are extremely high. Due to the high demands of the sport, it is essential that the swimmer consumes adequate amounts of energy and essential nutrients to facilitate performance and maximise recovery after each training or competition.

Nutritional considerations

Due to the physical demands, high energy expenditure and loss of fluids, athletes must give great attention to their nutritional requirements in preparation for, during and recovery from swim events to maximise exercise performance. High volume training depletes carbohydrate (glycogen) stores resulting in tired and fatigued muscles. If recovery is not optimised by replenishing glycogen stores through consumption of dietary carbohydrate (CHO), and rehydrating with appropriate quantities of fluids, subsequent performance will be compromised. Glycogen provides the main source of energy during swim events and training, and hence if a swimmer begins the race with low glycogen levels, performance is likely to suffer. CHO-rich foods are therefore critical for replacing glycogen stores that are depleted during training and competition. For this reason, swimmers must follow a high CHO diet to maximise energy reserves for training and competition. To perform optimally, swimmers must consume at least 6 g of CHO per kg body mass daily and up to 10 g of CHO per day in preparation for swim events. This means roughly 500-800 g of CHO for a 13 st. (83 kg) swimmer. In addition, athletes should also aim to consume a balanced-diet rich in micronutrients and essential oils to maintain a healthy immune system and avoid illness, whereas as the contribution of appropriate protein intakes to aid recovery from training should not be underestimated.

Nutrition on training and competition days

Foods that contain a majority source of CHO should be consumed between sessions to maintain energy levels. Practical demands, such as the swim meet environment, can limit the intake of whole foods, and thus, sports drinks, supplements, gels and sports bars can be a practical solution for fuelling and hydration during swim training and competition. If the time between training sessions or races is short (e.g. 4-8 h), then liquid supplementation may be a practical option. Products such as CHO Charge and RecoverAce Endurance contain a fast-digesting source of CHO in the form of Vitargo® that is suitable for rapid recovery. The combination of different sugars in a sports drink may be optimised for delivery of CHO during performance making CHO Charge the ideal drink to consume during training and competition. CHO Charge is a cutting-edge formulation containing an advanced Vitargo®/fructose combination. Vitargo® is a unique energy boosting high molecular weight CHO that is rapidly digested into glucose; glucose and fructose combined provide an enhanced delivery of fluid and fuel to working muscles. Vitargo® has a low osmolality, meaning that it is transported rapidly to the muscles for fuel without causing stomach distress. CHO Charge also contains electrolytes for improved drink palatability and fluid retention, which is important for hydration (See below). RecoverAce Endurance also has the added advantage of containing a high quality protein source and added amino acids that promote muscle recovery and training adaptation.

Recovery nutrition

Due to the frequency and demands of training, swimmers must eat regular meals and drink adequate fluids to replace depleted glycogen stores and achieve fluid balance. Consuming an easily digestible source of CHO, protein and fluid is essential directly after swim sessions. Swimmers who do not consume adequate energy and nutrients after each training session and competition will limit recovery and may leave themselves open to infection and illness due to exercise-induced immune suppression. Often, kick-starting recovery is best achieved by consuming a recovery shake. RecoverAce Endurance is ideal for taking within 30 minutes of either a pool- or gym-based training session. RecoverAce Endurance provides all the necessary nutrients required for optimum recovery, and delivers the CHO and protein in the optimal ratio to support the recovery of CHO stores. However, for swimmers performing prodigious amounts of resistance training, they should also consider RecoverAce Strength for recovery from gym-based training sessions. This product has a blend of CHO and protein more attuned to the recovery from resistance training and gaining lean muscle mass. Both RecoverAce products also contain electrolytes to aid in rehydration.


Protein is required for growth, development and recovery from gym-based training. Therefore, protein is an important component of an athlete's diet. The requirement of added protein to support recovery and muscle growth from damage caused to the muscle fibres during intense exercise may be relevant to some swimmers. Blue Label Whey and Target Whey Protein are examples of quality protein supplement formulations that can be used to meet a swimmer's requirement for higher protein intakes. Blue Label Whey contains added branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine, which are essential to speeding recovery. There is emerging evidence that protein supplementation, particularly essential amino acids (EAAs) and BCAAs consumed during and after high intensity exercise can reduce the feelings of fatigue, and promote muscle growth and adaptation after exercise. The type, timing and amount of protein can be manipulated to enhance the adaptive response to training. Using isolated amino acids such as ISO BCAA, is appropriate. RecoverAce Strength is a source of both quality protein and isolated amino acids, with the added benefit of containing a source of CHO. Apart from the general macronutrient considerations for performance and recovery, many other nutrients can be taken to support gains from resistance training e.g. creatine, glutamine, HMB and so on. A range of other products that are suggested to enhance your training are listed in the table below. For more information on their use and value to your nutrition strategy, please see the individual product pages.

Hydration in swimming

Dehydration by as little as 2% of body mass can reduce exercise performance by anywhere up to 30%. Athletes who become dehydrated during training or at meets are more susceptible to injury and will fatigue quickly if adequate hydration strategies are not implemented. Hydration is something that may potentially be over looked by some swimmers during training and competition. Swimming in warm pools or outdoors in the sun can lead to dehydration which may not be as obvious to swimmers because they are already wet. Athletes should bring fluids with them to the pool and should consume moderate amounts between sets. Regularly consuming a CHO/electrolyte solution (i.e. sports drink like CHO Charge) during training or meets will likely improve performance compared to consuming water alone.

Monitoring hydration

Two simple methods for monitoring hydration are to observe the colour of your urine when using the toilet. The lighter the colour the urine the more hydrated you are, the darker the colour the more dehydrated you are. Urine colour charts are freely available online to act as your reference tool. The other method is to weigh yourself before beginning exercise, but taking care that you do so in as little clothing as possible in order to give the most accurate reading. Weigh yourself again after your exercise session, in the same clothing, and note how much body mass you have lost. Fluid replacement guidelines are to consume 1.5 times the amount of mass lost (the mass lost largely reflects loss through sweating).For example, if you have lost 1kg then you must consume 1.5 L of fluid. Plain water is suitable if consumed with food, but in the absence of a food source, CHO Charge is a suitable rehydration product as it contains an optimal blend of electrolytes to replace those lost through sweating.

For more nutrition, training and sports articles, please visit our Nutrition Centre.

ROS Recommends

Goal Why? ROS product
CHO loading Maximise muscle glycogen stores that are critical for performance RecoverAce Endurance
CHO and fluid supply during exercise Offset dehydration and muscle glycogen depletion, key factors contributing to fatigue CHO CHARGE Decaffeinated
Recovery product Restore fuel stores and support optimum muscle recovery RecoverAce Endurance
RecoverAce Strength
Amino acid supplementation Facilitate training adaptations Aid growth and repair ISO BCAA Max 1500 mg
Quality protein intake Essential for maintenance of optimum body composition Blue Label Whey
Target Whey Protein
Calcium Caseinate
Multivitamins and minerals Ensure adequate intake of essential micro nutrients Accovit Performance - Men
Accovit Performance - Women