What is a balanced diet for swimming

Sports nutrition: Small nutrition lessons for swimmers, trainers and trainers


Little nutrition theory
Trace elements
Dietary fiber (dietary fiber)
Pre-competition, competition and post-competition nutrition
What, how and how much should I eat on competition days?
Lunch and dinner
Recommended literature

Little nutrition theory


Carbohydrates are sugars or are made up of chains of sugars. A distinction is made between simple sugars [monosaccharides; Glucose (grape sugar) or fructose (fruit sugar)], disaccharides [disaccharides; Cane sugar (sucrose) or milk sugar (lactose)], multiple sugars (oligosaccharides), and starches (vegetable and animal storage substances).

Carbohydrates are good sources of energy, especially for short-term, intense work. The energy reserve of carbohydrates in the body (in the muscles) is limited to 1-2 hours of maximum performance. The muscles and liver can store approx. 300 - 400 g of carbohydrates. The body can neither consume nor store more per day. Empty carbohydrate stores (e.g. after a marathon run) need several days to be replenished. At rest, the carbohydrates hardly contribute half of the energy supply (the rest is covered by fat burning); with increasing intensity, however, their proportion rises towards 100 percent.

The nutritionally best carbohydrates are starches and polysaccharides (which are often referred to as complex carbohydrates) because, in contrast to fruit, grape and cane sugar, the increase in blood sugar occurs only slowly after consumption. This will prevent a rapid rise in insulin (a hormone that lowers blood sugar levels). A rapid, excessive increase in insulin could lead to a hunger rush (tiredness, nausea, weakness).

Amount and proportion in the diet

The people of the industrialized nations still eat too much fat and too much protein (despite education). The amount of carbohydrates in the diet should be around 50-60 percent (based on weight) for non-athletes; for athletes, the additional energy consumption should be covered by more carbohydrates in the diet, and not by more protein or fat.

Non-athletes need approx. 150 g (small women) - 400 g (tall men), athletes up to 500 g of pure carbohydrates per day.


Sugar, honey, sweets, sweet drinks; Cereal products, flakes, bread, pasta, rice, corn, potatoes, carbohydrate beverages; Whole grain products; but also in milk and ice cream (caution: possibly fat content), as well as legumes.


The proteins consist of the amino acids as building blocks. A distinction is made between 20 different amino acids, of which the body composes "words" (= proteins) like from the letters of the alphabet. The body can build 12 amino acids from carbohydrates and fats itself (small children only have 10), the others it has to take with protein-rich food (= essential amino acids). Most of the body's structures are made up of proteins, which is why they are often referred to as the building blocks of the body. They only serve as energy suppliers under extreme hunger conditions.

Amount and proportion in the diet

The protein content in the diet should be 10 to a maximum of 15 percent. Too much protein is eaten in the industrialized nations, especially those of animal origin. When you eat too much protein, the excess is converted into fat. The protein and amino acid metabolism also puts a strain on the liver and kidneys. The protein requirement is, despite many different statements in textbooks, usually vastly overestimated. There are no scientific studies that have seriously dealt with the minimum requirements for athletes. In contrast, studies of malnourished people (marginalized groups in industrialized countries, undernourished people in third world countries) know that non-athletes can get along well with 50 g of pure protein per day, women with a little less. Even extreme strength athletes hardly need more than 1-1.5 g protein per kg body weight. However, care must be taken with children, adolescents and pregnant women. The vegetable protein is often wrongly presented as inferior to the animal protein. The fact is that a balanced vegetarian diet (e.g. with cereals and legumes) contains all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities.


Meat, fish, dairy products (caution: note the fat content!), Soybeans, nuts (caution: pay attention to the fat content!),


Fats consist of the fatty acids that are bound to a glycerine molecule (a relative of sugars). A distinction is made between saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. Animal fats contain practically only saturated fatty acids, which are less healthy and valuable (especially the so-called triglycerides) than fats with unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are common in vegetable fats and oils; some unsaturated fatty acids are essential, i.e. the human body cannot produce them on its own.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance and occurs in fatty, animal foods. It is the basic substance for some hormones (sex hormones, cortisol) and the bile acids. Excessively high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels lead to a significant increase in the risk of vascular and heart diseases. In this case, it is necessary to reduce cholesterol intake. One yolk of a hen's egg already contains the entire daily requirement for cholesterol.

The fats are the best sources of energy. They contain about twice as much energy as carbohydrates and proteins per unit of weight. The body can easily store large amounts of it.

Fats cannot be converted into carbohydrates or proteins; they can "only" be used to provide energy.

When you are at rest, almost 60 percent of the energy is provided by fats; with increasing physical activity, the carbohydrates take on the role of energy suppliers, in extreme cases up to 100 percent. When the carbohydrate stores are used up (e.g. after 1 - 2 hours of athletic performance or hard work), the fats come back into play.

Amount and proportion in the diet

The fat content in the diet should not exceed 30 percent. In Switzerland, the proportion of 40-45 percent is still far too high for most people. The percentage of saturated fat should be less than 10 percent. A reduction in the percentage of fat is achieved not only by avoiding obviously greasy dishes (bacon, butter), but above all by reducing the hidden fat, which can also be found in lean meat, pastries, patisserie, chocolate, cheese, nuts or French fries Chips is invisible. It is advisable to study the goods declaration carefully (if available).

Alcohol can be used as an energy supplier by the liver, but not by the muscles; what is not needed ends up in the body's fat deposits.

The total amount of fat eaten per day should be between 50 g (small women) and 125 g (tall men).


Mayonnaise, bacon (fatty meat), nuts, sausage products, patisserie, chocolate, full-fat cheese. Correctly prepared french fries do not contain an excessive amount of fat. The fat of many fish has a more favorable composition than that of meat.


Vitamins are essential substances with no energy content. A distinction is made between fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. The 4 fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) are found in fatty foods; therefore, low-fat diets are unhealthy in the long run, especially if the total food intake is reduced over the long term. The 9 water-soluble vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12, C, niacin, panthotenate, folic acid and biotin) are found in cereals, milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and yeast.

Vitamin supplements in addition to a balanced, rich diet are unnecessary. There is not a single serious study that has demonstrated an improvement in performance in athletes or a protective function through vitamin preparations with good basic care. However, it has been shown that too many vitamins can be harmful. It's not that any excess vitamins are simply excreted by the body. A vitamin deficiency can arise when people are constantly eating too little (problems with "the line", lack of exercise), with one-sided diet (junk food), with heavy alcohol consumption, with medication, contraceptive pills and smoking.


The minerals are energy-free, but essential nutrients. Sodium, potassium and chloride are involved in controlling the water balance. Calcium, phosphorus and magnesium are used as building materials for bones and teeth. Sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are partly responsible for the functioning of nerves and muscles. Phosphorus is involved in the energy metabolism (ATP).

Sweat contains large amounts of minerals. Normally the food contains enough minerals; Like the vitamins, they do not have to be supplied additionally. In exceptional cases, a supply of potassium, magnesium and calcium can be useful.

In the case of one-sided nutrition (e.g. without any dairy products), a calcium deficiency can become noticeable.

Salt tablets should never be taken; In the case of high sweat losses, isotonic drinks with a more suitable mineral salt composition are recommended. The salt intake can (and should) be greatly reduced in a normal diet without adverse consequences. Table salt increases blood pressure, which is undesirable.

Minerals are abundant in milk and dairy products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, bread and grain products, meat and fish.

Excessive intake of mineral salts can, as with vitamins, be dangerous.

Trace elements

The trace elements are also low-energy, but essential nutrients, like the minerals. In contrast to these, the trace elements are only needed in very small quantities. In many cases, the minimum requirement is not even known. The trace elements are absolutely essential for the function of many proteins, e.g. hemoglobin (the red blood pigment that transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissue) and enzymes. The trace elements include iron, chromium, zinc, cobalt, copper, fluorine, iodine, manganese, molybdenum and selenium. With the exception of iron, zinc and iodine, few deficiency symptoms are known to date. Deficiency of iodine leads to a goiter; this disease has practically disappeared in our country since the introduction of iodination of table salt. A zinc deficiency can occur if you consume too much fiber (see next section). Iron deficiency is best described in the literature, probably because it is the easiest to measure. Women are most likely to be affected (menstruation), and long-distance runners are particularly at risk (destruction of the red blood cells in the soles of the feet during impact; possible blood loss in the intestines, due to the shock). Iron should only be supplied under medical supervision.

Dietary fiber (dietary fiber)

They are indigestible food components; primarily of a vegetable nature (cellulose, lignin, pectin), secondly also of an animal nature (collagen, cartilage, gelatine, skin). Dietary fiber stimulates the intestinal activity and improves the digestive process. Inadequate dietary fiber intake is very likely to be responsible for many diseases in industrialized nations. But you have to keep in mind that the excessive consumption of bran can have a negative effect: absorption of minerals and trace elements (zinc), constipation, or even diarrhea (observed in runners). The most suitable is a diet that is as natural as possible or a wholefood diet with wholemeal bread, whole rice, etc. Beware of competitions: These foods can put a strain on the digestive system.


Water as the most important component of food should not be forgotten. About 60 percent of our body consists of water. The water requirement without any particular physical exertion is approx. 2.5 l per day, of which approx. 1 l is consumed with solid food. With increased physical activity, very dry air or a hot climate, the fluid requirement can increase to 5 to 10 l per day. Insufficient hydration can have serious consequences. Even a water loss of around 2 percent of the body weight leads to a significant reduction in performance; death can occur from 10 percent. Man reacts too late to fluid loss; the feeling of thirst arises only after a certain delay. Therefore, fluids should be given quickly and regularly. Details on fluid replacement: fluid replacement / drinking in swimming.

Pre-competition, competition and post-competition nutrition

The pre-competition dietThe purpose of which is to replenish the carbohydrate stores in the muscles and the liver as much as possible, which includes the last 2-3 days before the competition.

The competition nutrition has two tasks: in short competitions (evening competitions or half-day events) it should not make you feel hungry, in longer championships the carbohydrate stores used should be replenished as effectively and quickly as possible. In both cases, the performance should not be impaired by the food (e.g. lying down of the food, nausea, hunger stress).

The post-race diet is not a minor matter just because the competition is over. On the contrary, post-competition nutrition should be part of the indispensable anti-fatigue measures. This means that used energy has to be supplied again (fill up the storage) and the body should be supported in relaxation. This food should also be light, digestible, but definitely pleasurable.

It follows:

A reasonable pre-competition and competition diet contains little protein, fat and relatively little fiber, but many so-called complex carbohydrates (sugars and starches).

The residence times in the stomach and various examinations show:

The last larger meal should be taken at least 3 hours before the competition.

The following advice generally applies to catering on the day of the competition:

  • Liquid food is digested faster than solid food; Powder faster than chunks; well chewed better than badly chewed;
  • Cold drinks pass the stomach faster than warm ones;
  • Carbohydrates are digested more quickly than proteins, these more quickly than fats;
  • Liquid ingested with food speeds up the digestive process;
  • Vegetable food is generally more difficult to digest than animal;
  • Large amounts stay longer in the digestive tract than small portions;
  • Concentrated food (chocolate, dried meat) delays gastric emptying;
  • Stress hinders the digestive process.
Which drinks are recommended before and during training and competitions? You cannot answer this question in one sentence. In principle, sugary and unsweetened, isotonic, hypertonic and hypotonic electrolyte drinks are practically equivalent; provided you can tolerate them. Sweetened tea, low-fat bouillon or even Coca Cola are also possible. Certain carbohydrates in drinks can cause gastrointestinal upset in certain people. So: try it out! Science has found out that sugary drinks can be 6-8 percent glucose, other sugars, sugar mixtures or sugar polymers) immediately before, i.e. a few minutes, and during long work (from approx. 60 - 90 min.) Performance-enhancing. It certainly makes sense to drink plenty before training and competition, but at the right time, not that you have to dissolve water immediately before the start ... Therefore, you should only drink the liquid about 3-5 minutes before the start for a longer distance to take in. The problem is less serious on short journeys. The liquid should be added regularly in small portions at shorter intervals. Shortly before the start (a few minutes), even sugary drinks do not cause any problems in terms of hypoglycemia, i.e. a drop in blood sugar level due to the insulin reaction. It must be emphasized, however, that no experiments with new beverages should be undertaken in competitions. It is not said that the stomach will always react positively to the new, unknown drink.

Rough guide values ​​for the length of time in the stomach:

up to 30 min.Small amounts of each: grape sugar, fructose, honey, isotonic drinks
30 - 60 min.1 - 2 dl water, tea, coffee (little or no milk, cream), buttermilk, skimmed milk, low-fat bouillon, sweet mineral water
1 - 2 hoursMilk, yoghurt, cocoa, low-fat quark, lean cheese, white bread, rusks, soft-boiled eggs, mashed potatoes (little butter!), Dry rice, boiled (lean) fish, fruit compote
2 -3 hours5 dl water, tea, coffee, milk; Lean meat, cooked green vegetables, carrots, boiled and boiled potatoes, pasta, hard eggs, scrambled eggs, omelets (caution: fat!), bananas (yellow with brown dots)
3 - 4 hoursBlack bread, cheese, raw fruit, steamed vegetables, green salad, poultry, grilled veal and fillet, fried potatoes, ham, shortbreads (croissants!)
4 - 5 hoursRoast, fried fish, fried steak or schnitzel, peas, lentils, white and green beans, Bolognese sauce, buttercream patisserie
approx. 6 hoursBacon, smoked salmon, tuna in oil, cucumber salad, hot peppers, deep-fried dishes (chips!), Mushrooms, roast pork and pork chops
up to 8 hoursOil sardines, roast goose and duck, terrines, fatty gnagi, sauerkraut, cabbage and cabbage

What, how and how much should I eat on competition days?

Main principles:

  • No experiments at important competitions. Trying out at test competitions, training camps and before / during training.
  • Small amounts at a time. Eat slowly (chew well) and drink slowly (in small sips).
  • If you are very nervous: Often nibble little things, chew very long and very well and moisten with saliva: crispbread, rusks, unsweetened biscuits, and drink in small sips: unsweetened tea.
  • For stays abroad: Always have "emergency supplies" with you: crispbread, oat flakes, wholemeal biscuits, ready-made muesli, energy sticks, electrolyte drinks in powder form.

Always test the following recommendations for personal suitability!


Breakfast is the most important meal in many cases. Therefore it has to be put together carefully, you may have to get up earlier. If it is taken at least 3 hours before the first start, a lot of different things are allowed, but you shouldn't fill your stomach, otherwise you will feel sick when swimming.

Types of bread:
Crisp bread, wholemeal bread, wholemeal toast bread, wholegrain rusks, wholegrain bread

Note: These types of bread are digested a little more slowly than the white types, i.e. they last longer without feeling hungry. The less time you have before the start, the sooner you should switch to light varieties. Attention: Whole grain products also contain fiber, which can put a strain on digestion. Trying out is also a matter of habit!

Cereal flakes:
Muesli with: oat, wheat, barley flakes, wheat germ, sugared or unsweetened ready-made muesli.

Note: These products are digested a little more slowly than e.g. corn flakes. If there is a longer time gap before the competition, i.e. more than 3 hours, there is in principle no risk of falling into a hypoglycemia state due to the sugar consumption during the competition. The whole grain products last longer. Attention: Whole grain products also contain fiber, which can put a strain on digestion. Trying out is also a matter of habit!

Depending on the season: everything is allowed but not too much!

Dairy products:
Depending on the option, milk drink / whole milk, chocolate drinks (attention: Ovaltine can be placed on top), buttermilk, kefir, yoghurt, low-fat quark, cottage cheese, a little low-fat cheese.

Little butter or margarine.

Topping on bread:
Jam, honey (possibly mixed with low-fat quark), low-fat cheese spread, low-fat cold cuts, ham.

Soft-boiled egg, scrambled eggs.

Tea, chocolate milk, fruit juices, coffee. For fluid replacement during training and at competitions, see: Fluid replacement / drinking in swimming

Lunch and dinner

If it is taken at least 3 hours before the next start, a lot of different things are allowed, but you shouldn't fill your stomach, otherwise you will feel sick when swimming.

Because of the carbohydrates, which are beneficial for the provision of energy and for glycogen storage, always value a starch-rich basic component. So: Preferably potatoes, rice, pasta, bread. Whole grain products are advantageous for longer breaks because they last longer. On the other hand, avoid sweets with grape, fruit or cane sugar. Meat shouldn't be the focus of the meal.

The preparation should be as low in fat as possible (oil, butter).
  • Rice with shredded veal or turkey; Sauce of your choice
  • Mashed potatoes (little butter) with shredded veal or turkey; Sauce of your choice
  • Boiled Potatoes with Lean Fish (cooked)
  • Baked potatoes with low-fat herb quark, cottage cheese, mozzarella
  • Pasta casserole with milk and egg (little cheese)
  • Choice of bread with low-fat cheese, low-fat quark or cottage cheese
  • Toast with skimmed cheese
  • Bircher muesli
  • Cream of tomato soup with rice
  • Honeydew melon with ham and bread
  • Rice pudding with fruits or fruit compote (possibly unsweetened)
  • Millet casserole with fruits or fruit compote (possibly unsweetened)
  • Semolina pudding with fruits or compote (possibly unsweetened)
  • Rice, pasta or spaghetti salad (with a little ham, meat loaf, soft-boiled carrots, green vegetables)
  • Whole grain toast with shredded turkey (e.g. with curry sauce)
  • Unsweetened fruit salad
  • fruit
  • Tea to taste
  • Diluted fruit juices
  • Electrolyte drinks


A break of up to 60 minutes
It is not only important what, but how much of it you eat!
  • Whole grain and oat biscuits or stalks (note the fat content)
  • zwieback
  • White bread
  • Unsalted popcorn
  • crispbread
  • Bananas (yellow with brown spots) and apples
  • Orange pieces
  • Small portions of Bircher muesli, oat flakes
  • Energiestengel (various products)
  • Tea to taste
  • Diluted fruit juices
  • Electrolyte drinks
A break of up to 120 minutes
  • Crispbread with low-fat quark, cottage cheese, mozzarella
  • Toast with skimmed cheese
  • Fruit salad with sea buckthorn or wheat germ
  • Oatmeal with chocolate powder and milk
  • Rice, spaghetti, noodles (with lean sauces, no cheese)
  • Energiestengel (various products)
  • Vegetable juices
  • Tea to taste
  • Diluted fruit juices
  • Electrolyte drinks


Recommended literature

  • Jürgen Weineck, sports biology. Perimed Fachbuch-Verlagsgesellschaft, Erlangen, 2004 (approx. CHF 60.00)
  • Wolfgang Friedrich, Optimal Sports Nutrition, Spitta, 2006 (approx. CHF 45.00)
  • Peter Konopka, Sports Nutrition, BLV Verlagsgesellschaft mbH, 2006 (approx. CHF 27.00)