Food For A Great Swim


You swim – no matter which event or the distance, every participant is simply pulling their body through the water in the best way they can.

Therefore, it’s easy to think that all Great Swim swimmers need to eat and drink the same way – but this isn’t the case. Your Great Swim might be from 250m up to 10km, but how you eat and drink before and during the event is more about your completion time than the distance you will cover.

A big question to ask is, ‘how long will my event take?’. Taking time to consider this will help you eat and drink the right things at the right time and so we thought we’d go over the various scenarios so that you can prepare and enjoy your Great Swim experience as much as possible!

General Diet

Eating the right foods will support your training and help you get fitter faster, but what are the ‘right foods’? Research has constantly shown us that natural, unprocessed foods that haven’t been smushed into something unrecognisable are what we should all be basing our diet on. You can’t out-train a bad diet, but a good diet will boost your training.

Completion time: Less than 30mins

If you are in this group, then the great news is that your nutrition and hydration needs are simple. Before the event, make sure you eat natural unprocessed foods, and don’t eat too little in the days before the race. This will give you the energy you need to complete the event with no need to take on board anything during your swim. After the event, there is also no need for any recovery strategy, while a warm soup of cup of tea might be a good idea if the water/weather is cold, your normal diet will be enough to help you recover.

Completion time: 30-60mins

If you are in this group, there is no need to take on large amounts of carbohydrate in the days before the event. However, you will want to make sure you eat a carbohydrate rich breakfast 2-3hrs before the event to make sure you have enough energy to get through. Also, you will want to make sure that you drink enough in the 24hrs before the event to keep you hydrated, as up to 60mins without fluid and in a wetsuit is quite demanding. 

Completion time: 60-90mins

There is still little need to take on board extra carbohydrates in the days before the event as this only really supports perfromance in events of 90mins or more, however, don’t neglect your carb intake in the lead up to the event, it is still the most important nutrient when it comes to your performance as is fluid intake, which you should also focus on in the 24-48hrs before the event. The major adjustment for this group is the need to try to take on board energy and fluid during the event. All swimmers in this group should aim to take on 2-3 Bloks or a gel during the event.

After the event your energy stores will be quite depleted and you maybe quite dehydrated, so make sure you take on board some food and fluid as soon as possible and contiune to eat and drink every few hours for the 24-48hrs after the event.

Completion time: Over 90mins

Eating a few more carbohydrates in the days before the event can help to load energy stores which in turn can sustain performance. It isn’t about huge bowls of pasta, just simple tweaks like adding honey to cereal.

Doing this will mean you have 75-90mins of energy stored up for your swim, if your swim will take longer than this you should plan to take on board some energy during the event.

In the 48hrs after your event, you should look to eat wholesome meals and snacks that give a good range of carbs, protein (found in meat, dairy eggs, but also in grains, beans, pulses and nuts) and vitamins and minerals found in berries, greens, vegetables, beans, spices (particularly ginger and turmeric) as well as dark chocolate and all will help heal our body more quickly after exercise without stopping the body’s natural ability to fix damage from exercise.

In summary:

The longer you are in the water the more the demand on your body. While swimming isn’t as impactful as running, longer swimming events still place significant stress on the body and eating and drinking well is the best way to combat this and meet the energy demands of the event. Eating and drinking well before, during and after your Great Swim is really important, so make sure you take time to get it right.

Click here for nutrition videos featuring Joel.

The ideas and suggestions written above are the opinions of Joel Enoch, an award winning triathlon coach for the Hartree JETS, 9-time GB Age-group triathlete, 2x Great SwimRun winner and CLIF Bar’s paid nutritional ambassador in the UK.  This article is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice or care. The contents of this article are not intended to make health or nutrition claims about Clif Bar & Company products. Always seek the advice of a Doctor or other qualified health provider before beginning any physical fitness or health and nutrition related activity.  


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