What to eat after a swim
Elite sports nutritionist James Collins explains what and when you should eat after your swim to aid recovery and optimise performance
Recovering after a swim is extremely important, especially if you haven't been able to fuel appropriately before a session in the pool. Read on to find out why hitting the right balance of protein and carbs is key, plus find recipes to enjoy.
Why do I feel so hungry after a swim?
Many swimmers feel really hungry after swimming (in comparison to running and cycling), this may be due to the cool water preventing a rise in body temperature which, as a result, suppresses the appetite hormone, ghrelin.
When should I eat after a swim to optimise my recovery?
The sooner you eat, the better and ideally within 30 minutes to an hour of your swim. This is because your body is at its most receptive during this time – it needs the nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process following your training session.
What should I eat after a swim?
What you choose will depend on the time of day but it should include a combination of lean protein and carbs.
More like this
Should I focus on protein or carbs for my post-exercise recovery?
Both are critical for proper recovery after any exercise. Carbs are the body’s main fuel and are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. After exercise, your stores will be depleted and need to be replaced before your next workout session.
Hard training causes the breakdown of muscle tissue, which is made from protein. Taking protein on board after exercise provides the building blocks (amino acids) needed to stimulate growth and repair, and the extra protein may reduce muscle soreness the next day too.
20g of protein is the magic number to optimise the recovery process after a heavy training session. The following recipes are useful as they contain a good balance of carbohydrate and protein. However, you may need to increase the portion size:
I’m watching my weight, how do I balance eating for recovery with continued weight loss? And how much should I eat?
It's possible to properly recover after exercise while encouraging healthy weight loss – it's just about getting the balance right. Although the answers to many of the above questions include carbs, it's important to adjust your daily intake depending on the intensity and duration of your training. This means enjoying a higher intake of carbs on key training days and reduce your intake on days with less training or rest days.
When managing your weight, try to get most of your carbs from low-GI foods at mealtimes, rather than lots of higher-GI snacks. Low-GI foods will help curb your appetite because they keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Where possible, eat meals as part of your recovery plan instead of adding extra recovery snacks. This may take a little planning so that you coincide your swims with your mealtimes but it’ll be worth it as you reach your weight loss goals.
Here are some higher protein options for recovery meals:
How many calories you need to lose weight is unique to you and depends on your age, gender, physical build and activity levels.
What are the key components of a post-race recovery plan?
When you think recovery, think of ‘The Four Rs’:
• Refuel - Have a carb-rich snack followed by a meal as soon as possible.
• Rehydrate - Replace fluid losses by drinking at regular intervals post-race.
• Repair - Include a serving of protein (see above) with your recovery meal.
• Rest - Get a good night's sleep – this is when most of your muscle repair will occur.
Can protein bars and shakes form part of my recovery strategy?
Protein bars and shakes are often used for convenience but be aware that their nutritional profile will vary greatly depending on the ingredients used. For this reason, it's important to check labels carefully to ensure the product meets your personal requirements. Read our review of the best protein bars and powders.
Although these products may play a part in recovery nutrition, it's best not to rely on them, instead use them when time and location limit your access to more nourishing options.
Now you know what to eat after your swim, get the rest of your training nutrition right:
Are you training for an event this year? Share your tips and experiences below.
This article was reviewed on 4 December 2023 by Kerry Torrens.
As a sport and exercise nutritionist, James Collins regularly provides comment and consultation within the media and maintains a role of governance within health & nutrition in the UK, where he sits on The Royal Society of Medicine's (RSM) 'Food and Health' Council. He was heavily involved in advising Team GB in the run up to the London 2012 Olympic games, and now towards Rio 2016.
All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.