Top Nutritional Challenges & Combat Strategies during an Open Water Swim

Many open swimming championships are around the corner and the organizations, I am sure, expect huge participation not just from higher age groups but also from swimmers below the age of 10.

The open water swims therefore, range anywhere from 1 Km for the younger lot to about 10-15 Km as the age group progresses. The training and nutritional needs are drastically different for each distance and every age group. The training demands a combination of endurance and strength for 1 Km races which are an all-out sprint, followed by larger distances such as 5 & 10 Km, that need larger endurance characteristics.

Almost all of open water races require a powerful core, higher body fat % than usual and a strong thermoregulatory mechanism. These are usually achieved with training, both on land and in the pool and with nutrition.

Following are crisp nutrition strategies for nutritional & physiological challenges during race days:

Challenges Strategy
  • All races from 1Km to 25Km and above will require adequate thermoregulatory functioning.
  • With winters, there is a fall in ocean temperatures and it progresses as you keep going deeper. The body’s mechanism to increase core body temperature is heightened when
  • Pre-race hydration is optimum
  • Pre-competition strategy to slightly increase the body fat% has been successful.
Glycogen depletion
  • For races such as 1 & 5 Km that are usually completed with ~10 min & ~1 hour respectively, may not need as aggressive glycogen loading as much as 10 Km and above.
  • Make sure to gradually supply carbohydrate-rich meals until event time such as rice, pasta, sandwiches, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fruits, dry fruits, sports drinks.
Poor feeding opportunities
  • This is a concern for races 10 Km and above which take 2.5h to > 5h to complete.
  • Periodic feeding at least every 20-30 min is crucial to combat fatigue and maintain mental focus.
  • Sports drinks, sports gels, granola bars, powdered nut & dry fruit laddoos, trail mixes, bread & jam, potato mash etc.
Gastrointestinal issues
  • Extremely common in 25Km and above distances, sometimes also in 10 Km races. About 4 hours into swimming can make the swimmer feel nauseous and giddy due to the motion of sea waves, salty water and limited blood supply to the gut.
  • In very cold environments, warm fluids can help support the gut, although, in warmer climates, they can make the gut worse. Fluids such as sports drinks, electrolyte drinks, coconut water, fast digesting gels, gummies, dry fruits, dry crackers, bread crumbles can be given to feed the gut and enhance blood supply for a limited span of time

Preparation is the key to a successful open water swim race. Make sure to be prepared with your combat strategies for all possible nutritional and physiological challenges.

Open Water Swimming Race: A Comprehensive Nutrition Guide for Swimmers

Author: Mihira A R Khopkar

B.Sc. Dietetics, M.Sc. Sports Nutrition


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SwimIndia does not guarantee results of any sort, before making any changes to your diet plans, please consult an expert.

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