Gala Nutritional Guide

Swimming Gala Preparation and Nutrition

The difference between winning and losing can be of the smallest of margins. Diet affects performance and can make all the difference to the overall result so here are some important tips to help.


When competition time comes round, you’ll have plenty on your mind already. So the day before the event, keep exercise to a minimum – if anything at all – and eat meals and snacks high in complex carbohydrates. You need to keep those glycogen stores topped up.

    • Drink fluids little and often to stay properly hydrated.

    • Eat little and often – every two to four hours to keep your blood sugar levels steady and fuel your muscles in preparation for your event.

    • Avoid big meals or over-eating in the evening – this will almost certainly make you feel uncomfortable and lethargic the next day.

    • Do eat a carbohydrate rich evening meal like pasta.

    • Try to stick to familiar foods. Curries, spicy foods, baked beans and pulses (unless you are used to eating them) can cause gas and bloating, so avoid eating anything that may cause stomach discomfort the next day. It’s best to stick to foods that you are familiar and compatible with!

Be Prepared! Preparing ahead for food and hydration choices should be as much a part of an athlete’s preparation routine as packing towels, goggles and suits. Advance preparation for food and fluid intake throughout competition will prevent reliance on canteen foods which may be inappropriate recovery choices. Good nutrition during competition sets athletes up not only for their next race but also for a good night’s sleep and the next day’s racing.


    • Don’t swim on empty. Even if you feel nervous, make breakfast happen. Stick to easily digested foods – cereal (ideally high fibre) with milk and fruit, porridge, banana with yoghurt, some fruit or toast with jam.

    • If you’re really struggling, try liquid meals such as milkshakes, yoghurt drinks or a smoothie.

    • It’s a good idea to rehearse your competition meal routine in training so you know exactly what agrees with you.


Competition schedules can be hectic and for athletes competing in multiple events, refuelling and rehydrating between races is essential to optimise performance.

Below are some examples of suitable choices for between races during competition.

1 hour or less - Easily digested foods and liquids: Sports drinks and bars, Cordial, fruit juice, banana

1 – 2 hours - Milk Shakes, Smoothies, sports bars & cereal bars, Breakfast cereal, Fruit, Yoghurt

    • Try to eat as soon as possible after your swim to give yourself as long as possible to recover if you have to swim again.

    • High fat and simple sugar foods will do you no favours in competition!

    • If you can’t stomach anything solid try sports drinks, flavoured milk or diluted juice that will help replenish your energy supplies and assist the recovery of aching muscles.


The list below offers great food options for lunch. Remember to keep eating healthy foods from your regular diet though, such as fresh vegetables, nuts and fruits.

    • Pasta salad with tuna or chicken

    • Plain sandwiches e.g. chicken, tuna, cheese with salad, banana, peanut butter

    • Bananas, grapes, apples, plums, pears

    • Dried fruit e.g. raisins, apricots, mango

    • Crackers and rice cakes with bananas and/or honey

    • Mini-pancakes, fruit buns

    • Cereal bars, fruit bars, sesame snaps

    • Yoghurt and yoghurt drinks

    • Small bags of unsalted nuts e.g. peanuts, cashews, almonds

    • Prepared vegetable crudités’ e.g. carrots, peppers, cucumber and celery


A snack should be eaten ideally within one hour after swimming. After a hard session your body needs essential nutrients to kick start the growth and repair process. Both protein and carbohydrate are needed to build and repair muscle tissues and restore energy. Suggestions are:

    • Flavoured Milk drink and a cereal bar

    • White bread sandwich with ham, jam or peanut butter

    • Yoghurt drink and a banana

    • Large yoghurt and handful of raisins or sultanas

    • Drink plenty of fluids!

Also see Swim England's website for meal ideas for young competitive swimmers.