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The start of something extraordinary



Training requires time, motivation, dedication and perseverance. As a parent of a swimmer myself, I can appreciate not only the time and effort of the swimmer, but that of the parent, too. 

One of my favorite moments was Ryan Lochte’s interview about how he prepared for this year’s Trials. 

He acknowledged several things like weight training and more time in the pool, but what struck me most was his comment about nutrition. 

“The best thing I did was change my eating… no more fast food.” 

Ryan figured out that fast food doesn’t make you fast. 

Many swimmers are looking for that magical solution to faster times. But they fail to consider their fuel source. 

And it may be as simple as that. 

The key to fast swimming is ‘premium fuel’—complex carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats, as well as enough fluids to stay hydrated. Macronutrients prime the muscles for work and help them recover. If these primary nutrients are thoughtfully chosen, they carry the added benefit of micronutrients that support overall health. 

Simple – not easy. 

Especially for the growing swimmer, who is naturally drawn to sweets and convenient items, making him more prone to eating them. Food preferences, taste, peer pressure and other developmental milestones make the young swimmer more susceptible to eating ‘regular fuel,’ which includes Fun Foods (foods high in fat, sugar and calories, and low in nutrients). 

Fun Foods showcase fast food, soda, desserts, French fries, candy, chips and other similar foods. Fun Foods contribute ~40% of daily calorie intake in children and teens’ diets. Translated: ‘premium fuel’ and its important nutrients are being crowded out by Fun Foods. 

While these foods should be scaled back in the young swimmer’s diet, they don’t need to be eliminated. In fact, for active children and teens, Fun Foods can be a part of daily intake. 

Take a look at the Fun Foods your swimmer eats routinely, and target an average of 1-2 Fun Foods per day. 

Offer normal serving sizes (12 oz. soda, regular candy bar, small fries, etc.) rather than the distorted portions that promise cups of sugar, spoonfuls of fat and excess calories. These items can be spotted advertising words like Biggie, Super and Value size. 

Last, remember to be flexible with Fun Foods. You don’t want to overly control them (this makes kids want them more), nor do you want to allow them in an unlimited fashion. The reality is, on some days the swimmer may eat more (think parties), and other days they may have none. The goal is to strike a healthy balance so that Fun Foods don’t rule the swimmer’s diet, and ‘premium fuel’ is makes up most of what your young swimmer eats. 

Jill Castle, MS, RD is a registered dietitian and child nutrition expert. She is the co-author of the upcoming book, Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School (2013), and creator of Just The Right Byte, a child and family nutrition blog. She lives with her husband and four children (one swimmer!) in New Canaan, CT. 

Swim NZ has Nutrition advice and information.
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Calories provide the energy your young swimmer needs for everyday activity, swim performance and growth.

With hints of calorie intakes in excess of 10,000 calories per day, Michael Phelps blew the competition away in 2008 and blew our minds with his over-the-top calorie consumption. And it produced the nagging question in parents’ minds, “How much does my young swimmer need to eat?”

Children aged 9–13 years need about 1,500-2,400 calories each day, depending on age and gender, to support the demands of normal growth and development. Add the energy burn of a regular two-hour swim practice, and the energy needs can skyrocket to the tune of 2,700 – 3,600 calories or more per day.


Martinez and colleagues (Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 2011) recently found that young, amateur swimmers on semiprofessional teams (year-round club teams) had low energy consumption compared to what they needed. They also found these young swimmers were overdoing protein and missing the mark on other important vitamins and minerals.

What happens if kids don’t get the calories they need? Fatigue, impaired focus and concentration, low physical performance and perhaps a delay in physical development (lag in muscle building, slowed height growth and/or delay in adult development) may occur when calorie intake is less than needed over time.

As parents, it‘s our job to make sure that kids get the energy they need, and from the proper food sources. Avoid the mistake of delivering high calorie, nutrient-poor foods from the fast food drive-through. Not only are they excessive in fat, salt and sugar and under-deliver important nutrients like iron, calcium and B vitamins, they set the tone for future food cravings and selections that won’t support good health when swimming is over.

Sound complicated? It’s not.

Here are some ways to assure your growing child gets the right amount and type of calories he needs as an active swimmer:
Stock your kitchen with good quality nutrition: whole foods in their natural state, such as low fat dairy products, lean meats and other protein sources, vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. These are the foods that should be a part of every healthy, growing child’s diet.
Make sure your child gets three nutritious meals a day. No skipping! A meal should include at least 3-4 of these foods: a protein source, dairy, fruit, vegetable, healthy fats and/or a whole grain food source.
Aim for two snacks each day that include a protein source. Meats, beans and bean dips, nuts and nut butters, cheeses, yogurt, milk or milk substitutes, and protein-rich whole grains such as quinoa are great sources of protein for the swimmer. Unsweetened cereal and milk; yogurt, fresh fruit and nuts; whole-wheat toast and peanut butter are all examples of a healthy protein-rich snack for your school-age athlete.
Timing is everything. Kids perform best in all aspects of life when they eat regularly. Try to provide a meal or snack every 3-4 hours, and avoid sending your swimmer to practice on an empty stomach.
With a little bit of planning, it’s easy to assure your young swimmer gets enough nutrition to cover all his needs. The benefits of that are worth it, keeping your swimmer healthy, growing and energized for performing in the pool.