If you are a recreational swimmer, we have one word for you: congratulations! You've made a fine choice for a fitness routine. As the Discovery Health and Fitness website explains, swimming offers a wide range of health benefits. A regular swimming routine makes your heart muscle larger and more efficient. The many other benefits of swimming include better muscle tone, more flexibility, enhanced brain function and perhaps a longer life span. Swimming also is one of the top calorie-burners around, and it's great for keeping weight under control. Couple swimming with a healthy diet, and you're on the road to good health and fitness.
Carbs constitute your main fuel for training and competition, but there is a sharp distinction between types of carbs. Complex carbs provide energy in the form of glycogen, as well as essential vitamins and minerals. Sources of healthy carbs include fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads and pasta, all of which can provide long-lasting energy. Simple carbs are laden with sugar and largely devoid of vitamins and minerals -- think donuts, candy bars and sodas. Such carbs give you a short energy burst by rapidly increasing your blood glucose level, but it's soon followed by a sharp drop that leaves you sluggish and fatigued -- just the opposite of what a swimmer needs to perform her best.
Muscle tissue is composed of protein, and you won't be strong enough to swim the length of the pool if you don't get a sufficient amount in your diet. Top protein sources include lean meat, fish, poultry, peas, beans and milk or other low-fat dairy. Although red meat is an excellent source of protein, it contains too much saturated fat to constitute a major part of a diet for a swimmer, according to the Asgard Swim Club, training ground for competitive swimmers in Florida. You can up your intake of other proteins to compensate. For example, a half-cup of peas or beans contains as much protein as 1 ounce of red meat.
To a certain extent, fat gets a bad name in nutritional circles. You need fats to rebuild cells, skin and nerve fibers. Fats provide essential hormones, transport essential vitamins and minerals and provide fuel for the body. As with carbs, consuming the right type of fats is the objective. Asgard Swim Club states that 15 to 20 percent of your daily caloric intake should come from fats, primarily unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil or avocados. Harmful fats -- saturated and trans-fats -- can be found consorting with unhealthy carbs in ice cream, candy and many other sweets.
After you swim, you'll need the right type of nutrition to lock-in all of the health benefits from your workout. The right choices also enable you to recover more quickly and reduce soreness. Within about 30 minutes of your workout, you need to down proteins, which rebuild muscles and repair any muscle damage from exercise, and carbs, which replenish your stores of energy-producing glycogen that are lost during vigorous exercise. Good choices for post-workout nutrition include sports drinks, which also replace lost electrolytes, and, believe it or not, low-fat chocolate milk. The childhood staple contains an ideal 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein
Jim Thomas has been a freelance writer since 1978. He wrote a book about professional golfers and has written magazine articles about sports, politics, legal issues, travel and business for national and Northwest publications. He received a Juris Doctor from Duke Law School and a Bachelor of Science in political science from Whitman College.