Swimming provides a great workout for the whole body and is a great way to keep fit and healthy. As a competitive sport, session can involve a mixture of endurance and sprint training, depending on distance. Competition races can last anywhere between 20 seconds and 15 minutes, containing multiple heats over the course of the day. This places unique considerations on how swimmers should fuel the body.


Recovery post-swim is extremely important, especially if you have been unable to fuel appropriately before an early morning session. Many swimmers can feel extremely hungry after swimming (in comparison to running and cycling), which may be due the cool pool water preventing a rise in temperature and associated appetite suppression.

Question 1

What and when should I be eating after a swim to maximise recovery?

The sooner the better, ideally within one hour after swimming. After a hard session your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process.

Question 2


Is protein or carbohydrate more important for recovery?

Both are critical for proper recovery after any exercise. Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel and are stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. After exercise stores will be depleted and need to be replaced before your next workout session.

Protein is vital for the growth and repair of muscle tissue. Hard training causes the breakdown of the muscle tissue, which is made from protein. Taking protein on board after exercise provides the building blocks (amino acids) for growth and repair, and can reduce muscle soreness the next day.

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20g of protein is the magic amount you need to optimise the recovery process after heavy training. The following are good examples containing both carbohydrate and protein. Consider combining snacks or increasing the portion sizes after intense training:

Frozen strawberry yogurt
Lime & pepper chicken wraps
Honey crunch granola with almonds & apricots
Smoked salmon & avocado sushi

Question 3

Turkey burgers with beetroot relish

If you’re watching your weight, how do you balance eating for recovery with continued weight loss? How much should you eat?

It is possible to balance correct recovery with weight loss, it’s just about getting the balance right. Although the answers to many of the above questions include carbohydrate, it is important to adjust your daily intake depending on your training. Intake should be higher on ‘key’ training days and reduced on days with less training.

When managing your weight, try to get most of your carbohydrates from Low GI foods at mealtimes, rather than lots of higher GI snacks. These will also keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Use your meals for recovery following your swim, instead of adding in extra recovery snacks, which increase your total energy (calorie) intake for the day. This may take more planning to coincide swims with mealtimes.

Here are some higher protein options for recovery meals:
Griddled chicken with quinoa Greek salad
Fruity lamb tagine
Turkey burgers with beetroot relish
Warm quinoa salad with grilled halloumi

Now you know what to eat after your swim, get the rest of your training nutrition right:

What to eat before your cycle
What to eat during your cycle
What to eat after your cycle
What to eat before your swim
What to eat during your swim
What to eat before your run
What to eat during your run
What to eat after your run

Are you training for an event this year? Share your tips and experiences below.


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.

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