Can Diet Improve Swimming performance ? January 20, 2018 – Posted in: Sports Performance

Can Diet Improve Swimming performance?
This is often the question I get asked considering of course I have been a swimmer and I in particular never had dietary guidance for most years of my swimming career.

“My son/daughter swims 13 sessions a week, each very high intense covering long kilometers and further about 5-6 sessions a week of strength and conditioning to improve strength during swims. Why aren’t these two essential components enough? Do I really need diet support?”

First: As if diet is not an ‘essential’ component!

And Second: My counter question has always been, “From where do you think he/she gets the energy to do these two important training protocols?”

The answer is simple, we need fuel to power our engines. Whether we want to make it run at 50km/hour or make it fly at 200km/hour, without the necessary fuel, we shall always be unsuccessful.

But is that it? Should we be eating well for energy alone?

Today’s article is more like a summary of results from my thesis research project and it answers the very question, on why nutrition is one of the most crucial components to swimming performance.

Let’s break it down to the physical ingredients for an improved swim performance:

Anthropometry: Genetics can influence one’s physique, but how does one nurture this physique is of most importance. Michael Phelps, whose arm span at 203 cm is 10cm more than his stature and whose feet are a size 14 that bend 15 degrees farther at the ankle representing virtual dolphin like flippers would not have been able to sustain these attributes without proper nutrition to support it.

Body composition: It is of utmost importance that sprint swimmers have a higher skeletal muscle composition and lower body fat percentage. Although varying, the body fat percentage of most swimmers lies anywhere between 9-15%. For female adolescent swimmers, this figure is much higher. For longer distance swimming, such as sea/ open water swims, the reverse ratio is what is needed, where higher body fat helps in buoyancy!

Flexibility: This is the most under-rated fitness parameter, yet most crucial. Not just it reduces injury rate but also allows a farther reach for your strokes. Flexibility is very much related to body composition, too much of either body fat or skeletal muscle mass can restrict flexibility.

Aerobic capacity: This is the ability to do longer die hard sets at a particular pace, Km after Km, longing for them to get over; These sets can drain you off. For sustained energy, a continued supply of nutrients, electrolytes and oxygen is necessary to improve endurance performance. I have tried to measure this with a method called critical swim speed; a measure of endurance.

Muscle strength & endurance: Strength, power and endurance of muscles is closely co-related with the nutrition you provide- the right ratio of more importantly carbohydrates, proteins than fats. The strength and conditioning/ dry land workouts would go all in vain if proper nutrition is not available to support it.

Pre-during-post swim meals are another important aspects which play a significant role in improving during swim performance.

Each physical component is related to what one eats.

Genes & Will power can take you a long way, yes, but they will never take you far enough if you do no support your body with the right environment i.e. through good food at the right time, in the right quantities and with the right quality.

To Well-Being, Positivity & Happiness Always…
Mihira A R Khopkar

Read more about my study here:

For further readings, don’t forget to check out my references!