Eating a full meal shortly before an intense cardio workout like a swim isn’t generally a good idea. But to perform at peak levels, you do need a fresh supply of energy from a healthy food source. Choosing the right foods for low glycemic index carbohydrates and protein provides a slow, steady, sustained boost of energy. On the other hand, choosing the wrong foods—those with high glycemic index carbs from sugar—causes a spike and crash in energy levels that can leave you feeling wiped out mid-swim.
What Not to Eat Before a Swim
To elaborate on the above, certain types of food are poor choices as snacks before a swim (or any other exercise). The aforementioned high glycemic foods include refined grains like white flour breads and baked goods, white flour pasta, and white rice. Also, sugary and/or processed snack foods don’t deliver sustained energy.
Sports drinks and energy drinks aren’t a smart pick before a swim. They’re high in sugar and cause your blood glucose levels to spike and crash. Also, energy drinks usually have lots of caffeine, which also triggers fairly quick peaks and valleys in energy levels for most people.
Heavy, fatty, greasy, fried, and spicy foods aren’t advisable either. They can leave you feeling bloated and sluggish or cause digestive upset that interferes with a great workout.
Healthy Pre-Swim Snacks
Here are some simple, healthy ideas for what to eat shortly before your swim. Many are things you can easily carry around in your swim bag, but others work best at home or in the office lunch room. These are just for inspiration—there are plenty of ways to mix, match, and personalize to your taste.
- Trail mix of nuts and dried fruit for complex carbs and protein, as well as fiber, heart-healthy unsaturated fats, and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients
- Protein bars without a lot of added sugar are great on-the-go convenience items for carbohydrates and protein before your swim
- Whole grain crackers are a good source of good carbs; top them with some tuna, cheese, peanut butter, or a nut butter for protein and other nutrients (including omega-3 fatty acids from all of these except the cheese)
- Dry whole grain cereal or granola without heaps of added sugar supply the carbs you want, and tossing it with some low-fat yogurt adds protein, vitamins, and some probiotics
- Raw veggie sticks and/or pieces (e.g., carrots, celery, bell pepper, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower) dipped in hummus or low-fat cottage cheese provides lots of vitamins and minerals with your good carbs and protein