Nutrition 101 for Swimmers

My 3 great nephews joined a swim team for the first time…the Hartwell Hydros. They range in age from 6 to 9 years and it is fun to hear about their races and see the enjoyment they get from swimming. After watching a swim meet, here are some tips for parents whose kids are on swim teams; sort of a nutrition 101.

1. Just because kids are surrounded by water doesn’t mean they don’t need to drink water. After 30 minutes of swimming, kids can get dehydrated. Couple that with warm pool water, hot, humid air around the pool, and summertime high temperatures and kids can get dehydrated more quickly than adults. On swim meet days, keep your little ones hydrated by providing him or her with a water bottle and encourage drinking throughout the day. Ten to 20 minutes before the swim meet, have them drink 1 cup of water. Keep the water bottle near the pool so kids can sip water between heats. Sports drinks are useful for kids who sweat heavily and for those who don’t like water. Skip the fruit juice and soft drinks as they are too high in sugar to be good fluid replacers.

2. Keep quality carbs around the pool. Swimmers use muscles in the arms, legs and trunk and these muscles are fueled by carbohydrate. Choose carbs that provide nutrients to sneak in needed vitamins and minerals…fruit (bananas, orange or apple slices, or grapes are good choices…easy to pack and quick for snack). Fig bars or oatmeal cookies are better choices than chocolate cookies or candies (and fruit leather doesn’t qualify as a fruit, despite marketing claims).

3. Recover for the next day’s training. Swimmers train long and hard and need to refuel after a workout or a meet. Low-fat chocolate milk is a great recovery food….it provides high quality protein and carbohydrate along with nutrients like calcium, potassium and Vitamin D needed by kids for growth and development. Peanut butter on whole grain bread or crackers, trail mix with nuts, or low-fat string cheese and turkey wrapped in a tortilla make great snacks for the ride home.

The Athlete’s Plate

MyPlate has generated a lot of buzz and I’m using it to show athletes how to eat for performance and good health. The USDA website contains loads of good tips on good nutrition but I’ve pulled out the tips that apply to athletes by showing them how eating by the plate method can deliver performance fuel. www.choosemyplate.gov/index.html

In the fruit section of the plate, encourage potassium-rich fruits. I’ve found that many athletes don’t get adequate potassium but they get plenty of sodium. Athletes who sweat heavily and lose sodium need more salt than most adults, but not much emphasis is put on potassium-rich foods. So I encourage bananas, melons, and dried fruit in trail mix to boost potassium. I also suggest they use a fruit-flavored yogurt as a dip for strawberries, bananas, melon wedges and apples…the dairy provides another boost of potassium. And, with the hot weather and outdoor practices, I suggest eating frozen fruit bars for a refreshing treat.

In the vegetable section, I suggest baked sweet potatoes in place of baked potatoes for a sweet change. Emphasize color (although one athlete asked me if a green apple was healthier than a red apple, so the color rule doesn’t always work) like dark lettuce, spinach salad, broccoli, and tomatoes. Athletes like pasta so they are happy to know that the marinara sauce counts as a vegetable serving. Encourage a lot of veggie toppings for pizza…they all like pizza…but I ask them try mushrooms, green peppers, and onion toppings. Stir-fries are popular, as are veggie kabobs on the grill.

For grains, I encourage whole grains, but many athletes are confused about what is a whole grain. They still think that 100% wheat bread or mixed grains or 7-grain breads are whole grains. I suggest they try whole wheat pasta in macaroni and cheese, brown rice with a stir-fry, and snacking on whole grain crackers (like Triscuits) or whole grain breakfast cereals (Wheaties and Cheerios are popular). And, popcorn is a good study snack to increase whole grains. But, only half of grains need to be whole grains and refined grains contribute some iron to an athlete’s diet. Iron is nutrient that is often in short supply in the diets of female athletes.

Protein is usually an easy sell to athletes but I encourage lean protein, like 90% lean ground beef or ground turkey or chicken breast. Athletes are often surprised to know that some beans and peas are high in protein, as are nuts and seeds. Fish and shellfish are also popular protein choices…unfortunately, often fried fish or shrimp is consumed instead of grilled or blackened fish or steamed shrimp. I encourage athletes to eat fish when they eat out as many don’t know how to cook fish.

Dairy foods can be great recovery foods and many athletes know that low-fat chocolate or strawberry milk is a good post-workout food. Yogurt makes a good snack, fruit dip, smoothie base, and baked potato topping. I also encourage “skinny” lattes for the morning coffee run.
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Using the plate to educate is an easy and smart way to reach athletes. For another good resource, check out the PowerPoint on MyPlate at www.extension.unl/edu/fnh