The body needs fuel to drive performance and if that fuel runs out then fatigue will set in.  It is important to consider fuel for swimming in both training sessions and in the competition environment.

There are issues associated with eating and drinking during trainings and competitions including; adolescents not feeling hungry, the idea that eating will cause stitch or discomfort, friends or peers do not eat or drink so it is not considered normal behaviour, and a lack of availability of suitable foods and fluids.  For these reasons the adolescent athlete needs to have a plan for trainings and competitions.

In general for a training session less than an hour in duration water is fine and the athlete will not need extra carbohydrate food sources.  For any training session over an hour in duration a sports drink may help maximise performance (as they provide extra fuel for the muscles which helps to delay fatigue).  If the athlete chooses not to consume sports drinks they can have a small carbohydrate based snack and water.

For events where there is time between events the athlete should base their food and fluid choice on the time available.  If there is less than one hour between events the athlete will feel more comfortable if they consider just fluids (sports drinks, smoothies, and water).  For events that are one hour to two hours apart the athlete should practice having fluid and a small snack or two.  When events are further apart the athlete can usually comfortably consume a meal, and fluids.  As individuals differ there may be cases where athletes feel like eating more (or less) in the time periods and so long as the athlete is trying to maintain hydration and take some carbohydrate in they should be encouraged to do what feels comfortable.

Fluid intake during training sessions is an important aspect of fuel for swimming.  Swimmers tend to forget that they sweat because it is passed into the surrounding water before being noticed on the skin.  This can lead to the false impression that as sweat is not noticed that they do not have to drink as much fluid.

There are general guidelines for fluid intake in athletes but these need to be adjusted for individuals.  It is recommended that an athlete should consume approximately 600 – 750mLs of fluid per hour.  This is a significant amount for some athletes and not all will need to consume this much.  To ensure that the athlete stays hydrated they should regularly monitor the colour of their urine.  If the urine is pale this indicates a good hydration status.  If the urine is yellow or brown coloured this indicates a need for more fluid.  This is a very easy way for the adolescent athlete to monitor their own hydration status.  It is important to be aware however that if the athlete is consuming multivitamins that these will change the colour of urine and will mask the hydration status.

Practical tips to ensure your adolescent athlete drinks enough fluid during training and competition:

  • Provide a drink that the adolescent enjoys (this could be water or a sports drink)
  • Keep the drink at an appropriate temperature (you may need to take it in a chilly bag)
  • Ensure that the athlete knows how to check their hydration status by urine colour
  • Ensure that the athlete knows how dehydration may affect their performance
  • Continue to gently encourage the adolescent to consume fluid throughout the session or day

The article above (Fuel for Swimming Training and Competition) is an extract for the number one nutrition book for swimming families. Find out more at Nutrition for Swimmers.