Growing up swimming, how we fueled and what and when we ate has completely transformed. I remember eating an entire PowerBar (the original one in the gold wrapper) and threw down my best time in the 100 Fly at a high school swim meet. I was convinced I needed to eat the same thing before every big race. If you know anything about swim meets and the cadence of events, you will understand how this became problematic very quickly.
As an adult who needs to log in by 8am, swimming at 5:30am is often a necessary evil. Fueling for that swim, as well as a second workout afterwards (as multisport athletes do) is often a game of caloric intake and GI comfort. Because I also once though peanut butter was what all endurance athletes ate and struggled through the PB-burps for far too long. News flash: peanut butter is a dense protein and digestion takes longer than the 15-min prep time I allow myself in the morning.
Pre-swim, I eat a Nature’s Bakery Fig Bar or a single Pop-Tart. Play around with what you like and what your body likes. I shoot for about 200~ calories or about 35~ carbs. Pop-tarts have 35 carbs per pastry and 185 calories. While the Fig Bar has 200 calories and 38 carbs.
During the swim, I add PowerBar IsoActive to my bottle if I have more than 4000 yards, which is something that will take longer than an hour. Shorter swims I stick to just water. And for anything that is going to be over a 90-min swim (100x100 anyone?) I have some gels on deck for a quick mid-swim refuel.
If I’m headed to another workout immediately after, I also want to double down on the session nutrition, so adding calories to my bottle even if it’s a shorter session. I also want to make sure that I have appropriate fuel, including water heading into the next session. Because you are unable to fuel regularly as you would on the bike, you often come out of the swim more depleted than you expect. Making sure you’re topped off will help for that session, as well as how you continue to feel throughout the day and as you’re stacking sessions throughout the week.
After the swim, we can this swim-ger in our house. I have a spot when I throw my ZONE3 Transition bag, and immediately hit the kitchen when I get home from the 3-min drive from the pool. Personally, I eat a plant-based diet and have for 6-years. I will make breakfast that is a good blend of carbs and protein. Some of my go-to’s have been oats with nuts and fruit or bagel with peanut butter (yes, I eat PB but only after the swim). Also, I’m a big fan of second (or I supposed third) breakfast. First the pop-tart, then maybe the bagel or avo-toast, and then a mid-morning bowl of cashew yogurt with granola.
Like I tell everyone, nutrition is very personal, and there is no one size that works. The big key is to practice and plan ahead. If you know you’re doing an open water swim that’s a long drive from home, pack something (protein bar or shake) for immediately after. If you know your race starts at 6 a.m., get your gut used to taking in calories early in the morning.