During the Olympics (and in case you’re into tournaments taking place along the year) we were certainly amazed to see how far the athletes can go to achieve their goals. I can’t help but think how far human beings manage to go. It’s mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Specially if we consider all the medical and technological breakthroughs. Every day we hear about something new related to nutrition and other apparatuses that contribute to the performance of the athletes.
Well, let’s focus on swimming this time, shall we? Have you noticed their bodies? Their muscles and respiratory capacity are beyond me. But all that, of course, comes from a lot of training and strict diet plans.
So, can you guess what I did? I’ve talked with teachers, nutritionists and athletes in the world of swimming to get some info and explanation on this underwater backstage. If you feel like becoming a swimmer, this is your chance.
You have to be sure you really do like swimming and if it is your dream to be a part of it. “First of all, it’s essential that you’re into it and that you’re happy to attend your training lessons, which are hard and require good conditioning, both physically and psychologically”, is what Caio Leal Caneda, a swimming instructor at Cia Athletica, in São Paulo explains to me.
The swimmer’s biotype plays an important role too, since there is the best anthropometric profile for each style. “It’s also essential that the swimmer receives support, both financial and motivational. No matter if we’re talking about parents, friends, sponsors or coaches. A supporting structure to back the athlete up is nonnegotiable.
According to Alexandre Angelotti, a former athlete and water instructor at Reebok Sports Club, in São Paulo, there isn’t such a thing as a formula that will turn someone into a swimmer. “But I’d say that, if the candidate has the right biotype and love for the sport, he can go a long way and, especially if you put that and dedication and abdication together, chances are we’ll come across a champion”, he goes.
This is where it gets tough. A swimming athlete’s training involves several disciplines: water training, physical preparation, nutrition, physiotherapy, psychology, sports medicine and biomechanics.
“And specifically in the pool, along his/her years of preparation, it’s important that the athlete seeks not only aerobic conditioning, but also the strength capacity specific for swimming, speed and the appropriate pace for the competitions. And so that is possible, they’ll work on trainings that will combine those.
We’re talking about long hours in and out of water. And a few days off, since resting is necessary. “Depending on the periodization phase, you could be faced with double training. The called “dry trainings” include weight and functional training and stretching. Additionally, there are psychological, nutritional and physiotherapeutic follow-ups”, is what Marta Mitsui Izo, an athlete and physical educator at Academia Bodytech, in São Paulo tells me.
There are sprinters, middle-distance and long-distance athletes. Apart from those, each of them has their own specialty (specific styles). “Basically, the training is periodized according to certain objectives, which can be championships or attempt tournaments, but always following the physiological bases of the training in order to get the best results”, Angelotti adds.
But how about the meal plans?
This is another very interesting aspect of the swimmer’s routine. Because their meals must be balanced and include all the nutrients. “We recommend eating about every three hours, but that’s not a rule, it can vary from person to person in fact. The same way as the calories ingested and the training hours vary as well”, Marta explains.
I’ve talked to Liane Buchman, a nutritionist too. She told me that the daily calories are figured depending on a series of factors like: the athlete’s body mass, training intensity, objectives, and so on. “All in all, however, we could say something like 3000 to 5000 kcal or sometimes much more”, she adds.
Do’s and Don’ts
The meals of these athletes facing opponents in the pool must be specially balanced in order to provide all the nutrients necessary for their health and performance. “All the nutrients are equally important. The only thing that may vary is their amounts”, Renato Augusto Santos, who’s a sports nutritionist, explained to me.
These carbs, for instance, are crucial, since they provide the energy the swimmers need to work out and to recover. These carbs must come from whole cereals or tubers.
“Proteins are also super important, once they form your muscles. Animal proteins offer a great nutritional profile and must be included in your diet. White meats like chicken, eggs, fish and lean red meats are preferable. Plenty of fluids is also essential”, the nutritionist adds.
When it comes to don’ts, they all agree on the following: refined carbs, sweets and sugars, bad fats, fat meats, alcoholic beverages must be avoided. Because rich foods can damage your digestion and, consequently, your workout.
Then, when someone brought up alcohol, I outright questioned: “Is it really out of question? And the answer was: “It’s all up to your objectives really. The secret is balance and sensibility, no extremes. Naturally, alcohol isn’t recommended when it comes to athletes, but when they are off, it is okay to drink it moderately”, Santos points.
Some people are afraid to use them due to antidoping tests. Well, it may come as a surprise but, many times they’re quite necessary. “Sometimes the athletes can’t achieve their daily recommended amounts of certain nutrients and some of these products may safely contribute to their performance, as long as they’re under the supervision of a nutritionist. Some examples: liquid or gel carbs, whey protein, amino acids like BCAAs, caffeine, creatine, etc”, Liane clarifies.
Santos agrees: It all depends on the athlete’s demand. In his case, the liquid version of carbs is usually recommended for strengthening and replacement of energy.
“We use maltodextrin or waxy maize, not to mention protein supplements like whey protein. Isotonic drinks, aiming at rehydrating and replacing minerals and supplements when higher calorie consumption is necessary are also common and recommended”, she points.
The day before the competition
The athletes are edgy as it is, so it’s necessary to concentrate and eat well. So, on the day before the competition, it’s paramount that you fill your storage tank up to ensure its supply during the race. Carbs, here, are priority. Wholemeal rice, pasta, bread, sweet potato and manioc are good choices. A lot of fluids on this day is also imperative.
“Avoid eating different foods, foods you’re not used to eating, for example. Reduce your amounts as to avoid any intestinal problems and avoid fat under all circumstances. At night, pick something light to make sure you sleep well”, Liane wraps up.
So, you wanna be a swimmer?
After all this explanation, I’m sure you’re now more inclined to be selected for a team. Well, all you gotta do now is look for a team that can back you up. Good luck to you and I hope you’ll turn out to be a real champion.