Swimmers energy – how to maintain energy during training sessions

Swimmers energy just a spoonful of honey

Swimmers energy

Swimmers energy requirements are high during training sessions. Honey is just nectar for a swimmer that does not drink anything other than milk and water.

Our first couple of years as parents were tough and a rocky road.  Since birth Monica battled with breathing and suffered from chronic pneumonia/bronchitis. In no way do we say that this was an isolated case, but it was enough to drive anybody crazy.  As per our pediatrician’s instructions, we raised her on soy milk as she showed an intolerance for milk and dairy products.  Monica never took to any tea, coffee, fruit juices and cold drinks – she blatantly refused to drink it as a baby, so we just ended up not giving it to her.

In desperation to reach a healthy state, we only fed her vegetables as she also refused fruit.  In retrospect, I think the fruit’s acidity did not go down well with her.  She cut her teeth on raw carrots and we found that broccoli, spinach, pumpkin, sweet potatoes were all her favorite food.  As she was not taking in fruit, I ended up giving her honey and used it as a sweetener wherever required.

Needless to say, she developed a love for honey and still loves eating it a spoonful at a time, on bread, in her porridge and every opportunity she gets.

In January this year, her training program stepped up in difficulty and distance.  Without us knowing it, we were in for another learning curve.  The first hurdle we hit was dehydration in combination with keeping our swimmers energy high so she could deliver quality training sessions.

Dealing with dehydration while keeping swimmers energy high

Pool where we train

Heated pool at the gym where we train

We live on the East coast of South Africa which is a tropical region.  Our summer months from December to March are extremely hot with high humidity.  The pool we train in is a heated indoor pool.  Our training conditions are not optimal for swimming as the pool is shared with gym members doing water exercise as recovery to injuries and accidents and the elderly fighting rheumatism.  The gym seems to keep the temperature for the above-mentioned purposes at approximately 26-29 degrees Celcius when the outside temperature is approximately 30 degrees.  It is a salt water pool which helps with prevention of asthma, but working out in such hot water leaves one lethargic and sweaty.  With the type of sessions we do, we feel the heat stress related to water temperature.

There is still a lot of controversy about water temperature and outside temperatures.  Fina recommends 31 Degree Celcius as maximum temperature but I am sure those that conducted research did not train under these conditions.   (Ref. open water article but as an old swimmer and someone that trains with our daughter, I speak from experience and if I, as an adult take strain how much strain does it place on the body of a child?)

Swimsuits old school racerbackMonica only drinks water and milk – during training sessions, we add loads of ice to our water and she gets out of the pool between sets to cool down.  Drinking iced water during sessions is not a bad thing until you wake up at midnight with a dehydrated child.  Headaches, nausea, slight fever.  Fortunately, we keep rehydration medication in our first aid kit so we could fix the problem immediately.

It was time to re-look the intake of fluids and choice of food again. I realized that other swimmers take energy supplements and eat a lot of fruit which Monica does not do.  This is most likely a reason why they do not dehydrate so easily as the natural sugars and in some fruits, (sodium in some apples, guava and passion fruit), assist in the prevention of dehydration.

We took the matter up with our GP who is also an athlete, so she always take the athletic part into consideration when looking at her patients.  She recommended half a banana and a spoonful of peanut butter before training to aid in longer-term energy for our swimmer.  If you eat bread with peanut butter, it will take longer to digest so best to just eat a spoon full of peanut butter approximately 20 minutes before training.  Marmite or Bovril on Low GI toast is also a good snack, but in our case, Monica just refuse to eat these two spreads.  So we opted for the peanut butter and banana.

Our next big swim meet was the Provincial championships in February.  Training was going well although very tough and Monica seemed to be doing better maintaining her swimmers energy throughout the sessions by eating a banana and spoon full of peanut butter before training.  We re-instated an afternoon nap  as we could see training was taking its toll, especially as we were doing tough sessions in hot water.

Keeping a swimmers energy high during challenging championships

At Provincial champs, during the 100-meter butterfly, Monica’s chest closed and she finished the race battling to breathe.  We thought it was asthma / bronchial spasm. Fortunately, it was the last event of the day so we came home and I gave our GP a call.  Monica really could not breathe and we had to administer some steroids to open her airways.

We had another day of racing so the morning before the meet started, I had to run around submitting a drug declaration form.  We were fortunate that the meet was held in the afternoon so we could see how she reacted to the steroids before we went to the pool – if it did not work, we would have had to withdraw from racing and that would have been disastrous, as she loves racing and it is not easy to explain to a committed athlete that sometimes rest is the best.


Swimmers energy We were quite stressed after this asthmatic incident as the prevention we do was working so well – we have not had an asthmatic incident in nearly a year.  We could not ignore that the seasons were changing and Monica traditionally spent March in the hospital for the first 5 years of her life getting additional oxygen to assist her breathing.  So it was back to the drawing board.  Monica was not getting better after Provincial champs.  She described the condition as follow: “It feels as if something is cutting my airways off and I cannot breathe.”  Back to the GP.  Monica had to go on a course of steroids and rest for 5 days to get this sorted out.

We had to withdraw from the NDSA gala which was held over the weekend that she was booked off.  It was hard for her to rest and change her routine. As swim mom, I just put my foot down as health comes first.

During discussions, (and I think our GP did some research on this topic), she suggested that it might not be asthma but a condition called Stridor.  During the doctors’ visit, there was just a slight sign of a tight chest but a strong wheezing sound in her upper airways.  I asked the doctor if an allergy could possibly cause her airways to swell leading to this condition.  I also advised her that the only element in Monica’s diet which changed was the spoon full of peanut butter before swimming.  We decided to rather take it away as peanuts are not really nuts.  It is part of the pea family which could contain allergens.

As a result, we kept to banana before training.  We are 3 weeks away from SSA Level 1 champs (the most important swim meet of every swimming year) and we really need to overcome this condition before the big championships.  Once the championships are done, we will take Monica for an allergy and some follow-up tests.

A week after we stopped the peanut butter her breathing was back to normal.  We are avoiding all seeds and nuts just to be safe.

Swimmer’s energy – which alternative could we use?

Tapering started so the sessions are not so intense anymore.  We are still doing distance and I noticed once again that our swimmers energy ran low during the training sessions.  Another conversation with our GP.  Some late night reading about honey as a source of energy.  I ran into this article about the use of honey  to boost swimmers energy during training.

Energy and swimmingIt was like a lightbulb that went on.  100% natural honey is a great source of carbohydrates – 75 gram per tablespoon to be exact!  So a spoon full of honey instead of peanut butter before training is a great source of energy.  We also use it now as a recovery aid after training.  Honey will also help to prevent dehydration if mixed with water.  That is something we will have to experiment with as Monica just drink water and milk.  While writing this article, I just remember that she took to the taste of 100% fresh apple juice lately.  We will pack some into the cooler box for SSA L1 champs.

In conclusion, not many swim parents fight the same battle as we do.  The positive out of all of this is that we never give up and always find an alternative to ensure that she keep her swimmers energy sustainable in order to deliver quality training sessions.  Honey as a source of energy has more than just dietary value as it also contains many vitamins, minerals, and enzymes every growing kid needs.

It took some shopping around as it is imperative that we use 100% pure honey and not radiated products.  We found some at our local nursery and paid way less than what we do at the supermarkets.  Our alternative was to start looking for a honey farmer to supply us with raw honey.

The championships take place from 1-3 April after which we will take Monica for some follow-up testing.  In the meantime, we are happy to report that honey is working well as a source of our swimmers energy.  Might be worth giving honey a try but as always discuss it with your team first.  For us, training is going down very well with a spoon full of honey!




Swimsuit : skins : tech suit or old school?

Which swimsuit: does it matter?

Swimsuit: skins or old school swimsuit for racing?

Swimsuit – old school or skins? Does it make any difference?

November 2016 – Update regarding this article which we wrote in June.  Southern California (USA) prohibit the wearing of tech suits at all age group swim meets.  Please comment below whether you believe tech suits should be allowed for swimmers in the 10 & under age group.  Would love to hear your opinion.

We spend most of our weekends next to the pool as our swimmer is racing.  Slowly but surely, we notice how the kids exchange their old school swimsuits for skins.  The kids we talk about are just starting at the basic level of age group swimming (Level 1).  Age groups ranging from 7-12-years-old, therefore still swimming as Juniors.  The question here is whether it is justified for parents to go through the expense for their children to race in skins, or should junior swimmers still swim with old-school racer-back swimsuits that leave the arms and legs bare.

Swimsuit technology:

I recently read this swimsuit article, discussing how swimming technology is shaping, changing and even developing in the swimming industry.  There is no doubt that the focus is on reducing drag allowing easier movement through the water which will give the swimmer an advantage.  With all the technological developments, as parents, we should ask whether it is justified to spend the money and does the swimmer benefit from the technology at such a young age?

As old swimmers and old-school parents coaching our swimmer, we think that it is more important at a young age to focus on swimming correctly than swimming with a better suit.  The hundredths of a second difference a swimmer gains from swimming with skins is not going to make a difference when someone is a body length ahead of you.

There are times at swim meets when swimmers older than Monica touched before her and yes, they did wear skins while Monica swam in an old-school racerback suit.  Do we think the suit made the difference?  No, because we teach Monica that speed and strength are not in the cap, the goggles or the suit – it is in the arms, legs, lungs and most of all, in the mind.

Swimming and speaking from experience:

Swimsuits -race with mind and soul

Is it more important to be strong mentally and physically or to wear the latest in technology when swimming?

Speaking from experience – if there was an award for the most unlikely person to advance due to equipment in triathlons, I would have won it.  I placed fourth at the Olympic Distance National championships with an old-school racerback swimsuit and a borrowed wetsuit which was too big for me vs my counterparts that swam with drag-reducing materials.

My bicycle was a steel frame Bridgestone fitted with Shimano parts which I and my cycling buddy replaced ourselves.  It was not easy racing against counterparts using carbon frame bicycles, which you could lift with one finger.

Running shoes: mine did not have all the wedges needed to compensate for pronation.  Racing required mental strength, a conditioned body, and a high pain threshold.  Granted, today I pay the price as my knees might have lasted a lot longer if I had the wedges in my shoes but back then it was not something I could afford so we did our best with what we had.


Old school racer-back swimsuits
Swimsuits old school racerback

Old school racer-back swimsuits are still more affordable thanks, skins.

Our swimmer uses old-school swimsuits and we cannot really say that at this stage that it is leading to a disadvantage.  We have something else to consider which other swimmers do not have to deal with.  As an asthmatic, our pediatrician recommended that we keep her dry.  That sounds much easier than what we initially thought.  In the first year of competitive swimming, we only had 3 suits.  Before we knew it, Monica swam between 4-6 events on a given day.  That meant changing into a dry suit every second event.  We started to face an issue keeping her dry between events especially when it was raining or it is winter when nothing dries quickly.

Over time, we ended up buying a suit for every race.  We do not use these suits for training, exclusively used for racing.  Since we kept the chest dry during events, we noticed a difference in the chest infections and asthmatic incidences.  Please note that it works for us which might not be the case with every asthmatic out there.  Best to speak to your medical professional before you spend a bucket full of money on swimsuits.

We were quite amused when the swimmers thought changing swimsuits between events was a fashion statement.  It is impossible to get 6 swimsuits that look the same so inevitably each color or style became a suit for an event at the swim meets.  It just added a fun element to changing swimsuits all day which is a tedious and frustrating task when the swimmer is tired.

Using tech suits as motivation – earn your keep!

Use pretty swimsuits and skins as motivationSwimsuits - full body

In our case, we use swimsuits as motivation.   Girls always want pretty things.  If she wants a pretty swimsuit she needs to earn it, i.e. swim for it.  Might sound a bit harsh but that is part of growing up and as a mom, I believe that kids should learn at a young age to earn what they want, not just “get it”. Trust me, when I tell you that our 9-year-old also wants a full body swimsuit, but it is very expensive and we clearly set a goal for her to earn her suit.  In our case, we set Level 3 qualifying times as the standard.

Another part of this motivation is that, at level 3, the difference a technical swimsuit will provide to her swimming might become important.  Who knows how the rules will change and where the technology will go in 3-5 years from now. According to FINA rules, a swimsuit should not provide any swimmer with an advantage.  Proving that swimmer have an advantage wearing skins is, however, another story so every swimmer uses their skins if they have it whether there is an advantage or not.  I sometimes wonder whether the swimmers understand the technology behind the materials and the suits.

Skins, tech suit or racer back? Our conclusion

In conclusion, when you have a young swimmer, do not feel pressured to spend vast amounts of money on skins, caps, and goggles.  Teach your swimmer that it is their hard work and talent which will make the difference.  The clock does not lie and at the end of the day, it is the swimmer that touches the wall first in the fastest time that wins, regardless of the swimsuit they wear.  Monica has proven this point at many swim meets as the most swimmers that she shares the pool with already wearing skins versus the old school racerback swimsuit she uses.

Drug-free sport and swimming

Drug-free sport, TUE what does it all mean?

swimming and drug free sport

Drug-free Sport South Africa made an user-friendly online tool and app available which will indicate whether medication is allowed or not.

Drug-free sport is becoming more and more important as athletes grow stronger posting faster times, setting new records and just overall playing a better game.  The officials and governing bodies are extremely strict and it is the responsibility of the athlete to ensure that nothing on the prohibited lists are taken or traces are found during testing.

We started our week on an upsetting note when we learned that one of the world’s best tennis players failed a drug test.  In her press conference, she admitted that she did not read an e-mail sent by WADA in January 2016 when the list of banned drugs.

Being a swim-mom is a huge job as you do not just have to make sure the swimmer eats correct and enough, gets enough rest and, in general, stay healthy, you also have to know about TUE’s and medication on the banned list and drug-free sport.

Asthma and drug-free sport.

This brings me to our own experience with a swimmer that suffers from asthma.  Yes, we all know at least one swimmer with asthma and it is more common than most people think.  Reason being, that swimming is still one of the best sports to play when you have a breathing condition as it is safe, improves heart and lung function and enhances the quality of life.

Drug free sport and asthmaAsthma is a completely controllable and preventable condition, not a death sentence.  Asthmatics in simple terms have a sensitivity to cold, dry air, any irritants in the air and pollution.  Asthmatics are encouraged to breathe through their nose and not their mouth as breathing through the nose will filter the air before it reaches the lungs and in the process most likely filter out any elements that will trigger an asthmatic response.

Swimming is a good sport as it strengthens the muscles used for breathing.  Inhaling warm, moist air is also good for the lungs as it will most likely decrease the chances of asthma. On the other side of the coin, exercise sometimes could also trigger an asthmatic reaction.  This brings us to the use of an asthma pump which contains chemicals preventing wheezing, tightness in the chest and in worst case scenario a bronchiolar spasm also known as an asthma attack.

The drug-free sport or safe list: how do we check?

In January 2016, we received an email from the SA Institute of drug-free sport indicating a change in the list of banned drugs by the World anti-doping agency.  The institute of drug-free sports South Africa launched an app and they updated their website with a tool anybody could use to check their medication status online.  It is really a simple and user-friendly online medication checking tool – you simply type the name of the medication into the search field and a color-coded response will tell you whether the medication is allowed or not.

Monica has 2 treatment regimes.  The one is preventative and the other when she is actually sick or her chest close up.  All the preventative medication is on the allowed list.  Two substances on the sick list are not allowed during competition (I was surprised with this as I thought the two cortisones will be completely banned).  We simply do not allow her to compete when she is sick.  This happened once in the past two years since she registered as a swimmer with SSA (NDSA gala in March 2016 and we withdrew from the event due to a closed chest).

TUE – Just another hint, swim-moms.  We carry a copy of the TUE completed by Monica’s GP with us at all times, regardless of the fact that the preventative medication is on the green or approved list.  A TUE is also submitted with entries as we like to be prepared in case of an emergency.

Drug-free sport

The online medication tool tells exactly what is allowed or not – click on this picture to go to the tool.

There is basically no excuse anymore with these user-friendly apps and tools which will ensure the athlete plays a fair and just drug-free sport.  It is not just the medical practitioner’s responsibility to stay up-to-date with the prohibited substances – they have most likely enough work as it is and it will take a specialist to stay up to date on the prohibited substances list.  It is also the responsibility of parents, swimmers, coaches and for that matter everybody else to ensure that we all are educated and knows what is going on in the business.

Last, but not least, when in doubt have the TUE completed and submit it.  Your GP and or Pediatrician will advise and they normally deal with a lot of cases similar to yours.  It is better to be safe than sorry as testing can be done at any time, any place.  Play fair, play drug-free sport!