What Carbohydrates Should You Eat For Performance In Your Diet?

By P2Life Performance Nutrition

Your dietary choices as a swimmer can give you an edge, or sabotage all of the hours you spent training. So it’s important to pay attention to what you eat and when you eat. This is especially true with carbohydrates because they make up the bulk of a swimmer’s diet and fuel. From no-carb diets, to carbo-loading strategies, it’s hard to know what is most beneficial to your performance diet. Take a look at our recommendations below:

Simple vs Complex Carbohydrates

So here is the trick. First you need to know the difference between these two types of carbs, as this will really help you determine which carbohydrates you should be eating and when.

  • Simple Carbs: Are sugars. They are made up of 1 or 2 sugar molecules and are broken down and absorbed really quickly by the body.
    • There are great for the following:
      Great for short training sessions or when you need a quick energy boost.
    • Kinds of simple sugars that make up simple carbs:
      Glucose, Fructose, Galactose, Sucrose (table sugar), and Lactose (from milk).
    • Examples of foods that have a good amount of simple carbohydrates   Table sugars, honey, candy, soft drinks (sodas), jams/jellies, syrups and many sports drinks (although some also have complex carbs, too, which we will get to now).
  • Complex Carbs: are made up of many sugar molecules. Think of them as a bundle of grapes or a necklace made of sugars. They are also known as dietary starch and usually contain good amounts of fibre. Complex carbs are broken down and absorbed by the body at a slower rate than simple carbs, so they provide the body a constant source of energy for a longer period of time.

shutterstock_387192031They are great for the following:
Medium to long periods of training. Unlike simple carbohydrates, they are not good for a fast energy boost, but rather for a slow, constant
energy supply.

    • Examples of complex carbohydrates:
      Green vegetables, potatoes, pasta, beans, lentils, and some sports drinks.


Let’s dive into each main meal, giving you an idea of what to eat when.

At Breakfast

This first meal of your day is important to start you off on the right foot. You need a constant supply of energy throughout the day so we need to focus, ideally, on more complex carbohydrates. Eat a healthy mix of whole grains like whole wheat toast, or oatmeal. By starting with this substantial carb foundation, you can add in some healthy protein choices like a hard boiled egg, peanut butter or a little scoop of a protein shake (not too much as it might make you feel heavy in the water).

At Lunch

Lunch is also ideally a complex carb meal, maybe with some simple carbs thrown in (if you are feeling super tired and need some quick energy). If you’re pressed for time, grab a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread. Change up the meats to get your protein intake, but stay away from empty carbs like white bread. If you’ve got more time, enjoy a piece of grilled chicken with your favorite whole wheat pasta or a side of brown rice.

For Dinner

Just because you’re finished with the day, it doesn’t mean you can load up on unhealthy carb choices like enriched (refined) pasta, or ice cream. Continue making healthy choices for dinner and your body will thank you the next morning. This is especially crucial if you have a meet the following day. Choose a plate of whole wheat pasta with lean protein. Another option is brown rice and salmon. Add in a baked potato for added carbs and some vegetables for a healthy, nutritious side.

And Snacks?

You’re going to need a constant supply of carbs throughout the day if you’re doing more than 90 minutes of exercise at a time. This is the amount of time most swimmers can go before depleting their glycogen stores and need to refuel. Examples of a snack could be eggs with whole grain toast, or whole wheat crackers with cheese is also a good quick snack that won’t weigh you down.

During a Workout

This is where you need a mix of both complex and simple carbohydrates. Great examples are some sports drinks out there that have a mixture of both, and a little bit of protein (before and during a workout are great times).

To Conclude

For most meals we recommend that you mainly focus on complex carbs. Keep your simple carbs for those times when you are super low on energy or your trainings are very short during the day.



  1. http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/recipes/complex-carbohydrates-vs-simple-carbohydrates
  2. https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Swimming%20Sports%20Nutrition%20WEB.pdf
  3. http://www.usaswimming.org/ViewNewsArticle.aspx?TabId=1&itemid=7690&mid=14491
  4. http://www.livestrong.com/article/415921-what-happens-when-your-body-runs-out-of-glycogen-during-a-long-workout/
  5. Kerksic, C., Harvey T., Stout J., et al. “International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Nutrient timing.” J Intl Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;17.


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