Top Tips for Fueling a Teenage Swimmer

  Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD USA Swimming

Many parents ask how they can help their teen swimmer optimize training when practicing two hours a day, six days a week. They want to know how a teen swimmer can keep his or her energy level up while making sure to get needed nutrients. Here are some tips to get 2016 off to a good start.

A good nutrition plan starts with an assessment. Set aside a few minutes with your teen swimmer and ask these questions. You might think you know the answers, but you might be surprised.

  • What are your favorite foods, the ones you just couldn’t live without?
  • What foods will you absolutely not eat?
  • What food tasks are you willing to take on to help fuel your swimming? (Finding new recipes to try? Preparing a shopping list? Shopping for groceries? Cooking? Packing school lunch or snacks?)
  • Will you try a fitness/nutrition app (like My Fitness Pal) to track your food intake?

When you have the answers, narrow it down to food groups. Each day, a growing, active teen needs at a minimum:

  • 6 ounces of grains (with half the grains being whole grains)
  • 2 ½ cups of vegetables (choose a variety of colorful veggies)
  • 2 cups of fruit
  • 3 cups of dairy (it doesn’t have to be milk, try other forms of dairy like cottage cheese, yogurt, soups or hot chocolate make with milk)
  • 5-6 ounces of protein
  • 5-6 teaspoons of healthy fats (choose olive or canola oil, vegetable oil-based spreads, nuts and seeds)


Here is what this might look like in a food plan:

Early morning pre-swim: 2 tablespoons peanut butter on slice of whole grain toast.


Post-Swim Breakfast: Scrambled egg with 1-ounce of lean ham, ½ cup diced bell pepper cooked in 1 teaspoon of vegetable-based spread, like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, rolled in a flour tortilla and 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice.

Lunch: Cheese, tomato and greens (try arugula, kale or Romaine lettuce) sandwich on whole grain bagel thins or pita pockets, 2 small tangerines and 6-ounces of yogurt.

Snack: Small sandwich bag with ½ cup trail mix containing dried fruit, nuts and whole grain cereal and 8 ounces 100% fruit juice.

Post- swimming snack: 8 ounces low-fat chocolate milk or milk-or soy-based fruit smoothie.

Dinner: 3-4 ounces grilled salmon or almond-crusted baked cod, medium baked potato with Greek yogurt and sprinkled with cheese, 2 cups roasted broccoli and cauliflower, small serving of ice cream topped with frozen berries.

Eveninshutterstock_75213463g snack: Bowl of cereal (skip the sugary kind) and milk.

Aim for mini-meals throughout the day. As swimmer Nick Thoman (@Nick_Thoman) tweeted, “Wake up. Eat. Swim, Eat. Nap. Eat. Swim. Eat. Chill. Sleep. Rinse and repeat.” That is a good summation of a swimmer’s life!

There are many excellent sources of information on food choices and meal planning tips at

Thanks to all those parents who believe that good nutrition plays a crucial role in a swimmer’s success and their child’s good health. Happy New Year!

Chris Rosenbloom is a professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University and a registered dietitian. She provides sports nutrition consulting services to sports teams, athletes and coaches. To learn more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @chrisrosenbloom.  She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches at

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