A 125-pound person swimming laps vigorously burns 600 calories in an hour. Train for several hours per day and your total daily calorie burn rate soars. If your goal is to gain weight, you'll have to replace these calories or it won't be possible. Eating must become a priority for swimmers who want to develop a strong, muscular build.
You can't skip meals and expect to gain weight. You may not feel like eating right after a hard workout, but to gain weight you need to replace the calories you burned, ingest carbohydrates to help with energy replacement and add protein to assist in muscle recovery. Aim for at least three main meals per day and three or four snacks. Space these meals out every two to three hours. A bedtime snack is a good way to top off your day's calorie intake.
Choose Nutritious Carbohydrates
Focus on whole, natural foods that are high in calories. As a swimmer, you need adequate carbohydrates for energy. Choose nutritious carbohydrate options such as dense, whole-wheat bread, potatoes, whole grains such as brown rice and oatmeal, and fresh fruit. Skip carbohydrates rich in added sugars and refined flours. Although these contain calories, they offer little in the way of nutrients. Even if you are underweight and highly active, you can still suffer the adverse health effects of eating a nutrient-poor diet. Add an extra serving of these carbs to meals -- for example, add brown rice to soup, have a slice of bread with your dinner and increase your breakfast serving size of oats to from 1 to 2 cooked cups.
Snack on Nutrient-Dense Foods
Nuts, granola bars, dried fruit and peanut butter and banana sandwiches on whole-wheat bread are options for snack time. These pack easily into your swim bag so you don't have to resort to a vending-machine meal. If you don't feel like eating, have a glass of milk or 100-percent fruit juice.
Muscle, Not Fat
As an athlete, you want to gain muscle rather than fat. To gain muscle, you'll need to hit the weight room at least two times per week. Do three to six sets of eight to 12 repetitions of an exercise for every major muscle group, and aim for 80 to 85 percent of your one-repetition maximum. Consult your coach for the muscle groups you specifically need to emphasize to improve your performance. After swimming and strength-training workouts, focus on refueling with a protein-rich snack. Have something with 10 to 20 grams of protein after these workouts, as well as carbohydrates. Examples of nutritious, protein-rich options include a smoothie made with fresh fruit and whey protein or yogurt with trail mix. The protein provides your muscles with the amino acids they need to repair and grow.
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.