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!




Swimmers lunch box

Swimmers lunch box

– what should we pack during swim meets?

Swimmers lunch boxThe swimmers lunch box is normally the most important thing that goes into the cooler box with the water and the protein shake which the swimmer takes at the end of their events. The issue with a lunch box and a young swimmer (in our case 8 years old) is to keep it interesting and nutritious.

We are preparing for another 2-day swim meet and the issue surrounding the swimmers lunch box came up in discussion with my husband again. We know that there are food and snacks sold at the pool’s kiosk. It is normally takeaway food which does not fall withing the normal eating habits of our swimmer so we prefer to avoid it and stick to what we normally eat on race day.

Club galas versus age group galas

During club galas, the food on offer is normally a bit healthier but still revolves around hamburgers, chips, pancakes, sausage rolls and the likes thereof. We live on the East coast of South Africa, where a large Indian community resides and at some galas the aromatic smells of Biryani and rice, samosas, and other Indian cuisines, fills the air around the pool.  These foods are high in spices and for fear of an upset tummy which is not used to spicy food, we also avoid these delicious foods on offer.

It is times like these, that Google becomes swim mom’s best friend as let’s face it, none of us are qualified nutritionists, yet we are required to have the knowledge to pack swimmers lunch boxes for the ever-so-hungry swimmers.


To top all of that off, we also face issues with heat in our area – it occurred twice now that our swimmer suffered from dehydration – in 2014 during an extremely hot event over 2 days in Richards Bay and again this year in January at an age group gala. Following the galas at night time she woke up feeling nauseous, aching head and an unquenchable thirst.

We sorted these symptoms out with some Rehidrat, an oral electrolyte mixture. It is, however, not nice to go through these symptoms with your child and we now work towards preventing dehydration rather than fixing the problems.

At first, I was perplexed by this issue as we take more than 2 liters of water and a protein shake (she drinks this after the last event) to every gala. Then it struck me – our child only drinks water and milk. She recently started to add pure apple juice to the list, but in general, where other children get extra electrolytes from their energy drinks and cold drinks, Monica does not take anything else but water in during swim meets.

This resulted in a quick discussion with our GP and she confirmed my suspicion. We now go to the swim meets better prepared to avoid dehydration but it surely is a learning curve.

Besides the fluids, Monica cannot eat too much chocolate. We see some kids consume slabs of chocolate before races which always amaze me as with distance events you surely do not need sugar as the source of energy but rather longer term energy in the form of glycogen in the muscles. (I learned this from a dietician that worked out a diet for me to ensure sufficient long-term energy during my triathlon days in my twenties.)

Monica is asthmatic and the cocoa in chocolate stimulates phlegm production which leads to sinus, post nasal drip which then result in bronchitis and before we know it, we are back in the hospital with pneumonia. As a result, we keep the allergens at bay and we are very strict about it.

Pack the swimmers lunch box based on events

Back to the swimmers lunch box – I found this article quite useful which speaks about smart swimming for swimmers on race day. I was delighted when I read the article to find that we were on the right track. Our eating plan (it is actually a lifestyle rather than an eating plan) starts a couple of days before race day as we need to build energy up depending on the distances Monica will race. Coming back to this weekend’s racing, we look at the following:

I would like to give an example and will use this weekend’s racing. We look at the following:
On Saturday 6 February she will swim in the afternoon from 15:00 pm 200 back, 50 free, 100 Breast and 100 free.
On Sunday 7 February, the events will be in the morning from 8:00 am – 200 IM, 100 Back, 200 Free and 200 Breast.
Using this example, you will note that the food needs to be different on the two days.
To start off breakfast will be a wholesome meal on Saturday as she swims in the afternoon.  On Sunday, we will focus on a lighter meal as the swimming takes place in the morning.

Snacks and lunches – Saturday we can still do the 10 AM snack and fruit with a normal lunch but on Sunday snacks and lunches will have to be fast digesting food which gives immediate energy.  Doing distance will also require the use of muscle glycogen so the nutrition through the week will come into play – i.e. low gi foods which we eat as part of our normal daily allowance will start working when it is needed most.

In the photo of the swimmers lunch box, you will note that we picked some favorites which include salad items (cucumber, cherry tomato etc).  On this particular day, we did not pack a whole wheat roll as one has to be mindful of high fiber food so we took a normal white bread roll with protein on it.  Breakfast biscuits with white cheese after the race (recovery) and a home made muffin during race day.  We normally include some nuts and fruit in our cooler box and keep it all cold with ice packs.  To keep it interesting a peanut butter snack bar surprised our little swimmer.

Special eating plans and swimming

At one of the swim meets a mom asked me if Monica (Mica is her nickname) is on a special eating plan.  Initially, I thought she was joking as the child is eight and our pediatrician seriously warned us against diets for children under the age of 16.  To quote her:

Children under the age of 16 should eat and drink everything as they are growing.  Including full cream milk and the skin of chicken….

Fortunately, I just replied to the mom that she loves broccoli and spinach which is the truth.  The swim mom continued the discussion relating to how swimmers should eat and I did not comment as we have other issues at hand when I put together the week’s meal plan.  We follow a simple philosophy of two-thirds vegetable and one-third protein during non-racing weeks and when racing weekends are on the calendar we adjust as discussed above based on the distances set for race day.

Potato of any kind is a treat once in the week as we replace potato with sweet potato.  I am sure this article will elicit a lot of comments and would love to hear what other swim moms are doing and we are open to advice or suggestions.  We do not experiment with anything on race days but we will give it a try during the offseason to see if Monica likes it and during normal training to see if it has any effect on her.

What we do and the way we pack our swimmers lunch box seems to be working as our swimmer is never hungry, performs well over various distances and lately enjoyed extreme health regardless of the first 5 years where she was so sick and we spent endless days and nights in the hospital.  Enjoy the racing this weekend!!