How Much Food Do Swimmers Really Need To Eat?

Are Swimmers really eating the equivalent of 19 Big Macs everyday?

Championship swimmers are among the best-conditioned athletes around and offer a good example of the important relationship between diet and performance.

The daily caloric intake of Olympic swimmers is somewhat staggering.  Both Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte claim to consume about 10,000 calories a day. According to a recent insight piece from, that’s the equivalent of 83 protein shakes or 8 whole chickens every day. The team there calculated the calorie intake for 12 global sports and it’s no surprise with the above figures that swimmers came out on top with the highest average calorie intake.

The average person will burn between 400 and 600 calories per hour while swimming, depending on the intensity of the workout. However, considering that Olympic swimmers are not doing the same workout as the average person, they can burn much more than that during intense workouts. With two to three workouts per day, Olympic swimmers can burn about 3,000 calories-10,000 per day working out.  When you consider how many calories they burn off per day, their intake is understandable. What is more important than simply eating a lot, however, is what they eat.

Michael Phelps told Bob Costas that his normal breakfast consisted of three fried egg sandwiches with cheese, tomato, lettuce, fried onions and mayonnaise, an omelette, a bowl of grits, three chocolate-chip pancakes, and three slices of French toast.

Ryan Lochte, who confesses to being a former junk food addict, says that his preferred recovery meal is whole grain spaghetti, three grilled chicken breasts with Alfredo sauce, and a salad with olive oil and lemon juice.

US Olympian Peter Vanderkaay shared his daily food diary in an interview, which shows how he balances building energy and repairing muscle:

  • Pre-workout: PowerBar and a banana
  • Workout: 32-ounces of PowerBar Restore drink
  • Post-workout: 8-ounces of chocolate milk
  • Breakfast: A 5-egg omelette with 2 ounces of salsa; 2 cups of yogurt with 1/2 cup of blueberries and 1/2 cup of granola; 16 ounces of water
  • Lunch: 1 peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 1 apple, 16 ounces of water
  • Workout: 32 ounces of PowerBar Restore drink
  • Post-workout: 8 ounces of chocolate milk
  • Dinner: 2 grilled marinated chicken breasts, 1 cup of brown rice, 10 spears of grilled asparagus, 16 of ounces water

What are the best Energy Packed Foods for swimmers?

Not all foods are equal in terms of nutritional value. Here are some that are not only excellent at supplying ready energy, but are also loaded with natural vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

  • Brown Rice – Whenever you have the choice between whole grains and processed, always take the whole grain option.
  • Nuts – Walnuts and almonds are especially good. Many nutritionists recommend that you eat about an ounce of nuts per day.
  • Broccoli – Rich in vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Sprouted Seeds – Sprouted seeds from fruits and vegetables (watermelon, lentils, mung beans, and adzuki) are easy to prepare and can be used in soups, on salads, or as a side dish.
  • Beetroot – another antioxidant rich food
  • Unsweetened chocolate – Chocolate is rich in flavonoids and is good for your heart, circulatory system and even mental health.
  • Apricots – Tasty and really good for you. Apricots are the broccoli of the fruit world.

You can learn more about other sports and how they match up with swimmers at the website.

Swimming News Courtesy of Gurpreet Singh. 

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Sam cortes
2 years ago

Is a cheat day something good or bad ?

3 years ago

Really lame and sad that what could have been an opportunity to share swimmer’s diets and give healthy food suggestions turned into a nasty argument. Learned totally nothing from the comments.

4 years ago

I LUV watching the Olympics! GO PHELPS!

5 years ago

I have been a competitive swimmer since age 5. Within the last 10 months I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My A1C levels have dropped and are in range. Prior to this season I was the Conference 2 Fly Champion two years in a row. Even though my training habits have not changed I am off my best times by 5+ seconds. I am extremely disappointed and frustrated. Any suggestions?

6 years ago

Pastas are also very helpful for swimmers! I’ve been swimming for quite some time now and I know for a fact eating bowtie pasta the night before a big swim meet helps a ton. All swimmers really need for eatings is tons of carbs for a big race from what I’ve experienced. Tell me if I’m wrong, I just want to improve myself and my swims for practice and meets. Thanks!

6 years ago

awww that’s why im fat hahahah just joking 🙂

6 years ago

Hey I’ve been not training for a 9mos. What training should I do as a swimmer?Thanks:)

Reply to  vjvonn
6 years ago

Depends on how old you are. 10 and under should just practice on techniques and see if you’re actually meant for swimming or not. Also, do tons of long workouts for technique. 11-13 should do tons of IMs and running/track and weights. It’ll improve techniques and legs and arms. 14-18 should do pretty much the same thing but way more intensified. Also, do tons of more workouts and different types and swim 400s all the time every week since high school swim is tough as heck! Plus, it’ll help you get into college swimming for scholarships. That’s as much as I know. If you’re going far enough for college swimming and olympics even, you’re gonna need to go look on… Read more »

Steffi stone
6 years ago

I have learned nothing i can apply to my training in these comments. Most of us are not elite male athletes and also, the needs of women and men vary in terms of nutrition and recovery. I am a 59 yr old woman still wondering what is the best way to eat and recover without weight gain.

About Tony Carroll

Tony Carroll

The writer formerly known as "Troy Gennaro", better known as Tony Carroll, has been working with SwimSwam since April of 2013. Tony grew up in northern Indiana and started swimming in 2003 when his dad forced him to join the local swim team. Reluctantly, he joined on the condition that …

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