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 WorldSportsFoodFight.com, 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 WorldSportsFoodFight.com website.

Swimming News Courtesy of Gurpreet Singh. 

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Sprintdude9000
6 years ago

The Ryan Lochte junk food diet may not be quite as bad as you might think. Check out some of the lectures by Professor Tim Noakes on YouTube, he describes how high fat (including saturated fat) diets can particularly be particularly helpful for endurance athletes (provided the carb intake is lowered considerably).

Joe
Reply to  Sprintdude9000
6 years ago

Lochte is not an endurance athlete, his longest race is 4 minutes long. That diet is more specific to marathon runners.

SprintDude9000
Reply to  Joe
6 years ago

In regards to racing you are correct, but what about training? I would argue that Lochte’s workouts have similar energy demands to marathon training.

swimmer5778589
Reply to  SprintDude9000
6 years ago

You can not compare swimming and marathon running because runners can not eat the same as swimmers because theyre workout is totally different and they do not burn the same amount of calories. In no way can marathon athletes eat the same as swimmers. Comparing the length of the race they swim to the amount of food they eat because for a four our race at max most swimmers train almost 5 hours a day even longer. where as runners, they do the same thing every time.

Aaron
Reply to  SprintDude9000
6 years ago

Then you have never trained as a swimmer or for a marathon.

Angi
Reply to  Aaron
6 years ago

You aren’t understanding the training regime difference and demands of swimming versus a marathon running. A marathon runner will run 8-15 miles max/day, and usually not 7 days/ week to race 26.2 miles. A swimmer will train 10+miles/day, run 2-5 miles/day, lift and core an hour/day… to race 200meters. The training demands are what is grueling, not the race. Most highly trained swimmers, actually cut back calories during rest periods when their training loads decrease. Its training and recovery from training that demands high caloric intake.

Admin
Reply to  Angi
6 years ago

Angi – you’re comparing average ‘joe-nobody from the suburbs’ marathon training with elite swimmer training. I see this mentality a lot in swimming. “I can play basketball, but I’d like to see Lebron James do a 400 IM” is pretty common. These comparisons ignore the fact that 400 IM’s, and 10 miles of swimming training, is not the equivalent of training to run a 4 hour marathon.

Elite marathon runners train significantly more than 8-15 miles a day, 5 days a week. Here’s an example of the training schedule used by an elite marathon runner, that would be on the same par as the swimming schedule you described:

http://runnersconnect.net/running-tips/elite-runner-training-schedule/

Now, there… Read more »

Bob
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

I don’t know any figures for males, but Rebecca Arlington covered the same distance in heavy training weeks as Paula Radcliffe. Becky would have land training on top of her pool work.

Hanna
Reply to  Braden Keith
3 years ago

I have trained and ran many races including a sub 4 hour marathon and now I am swimming at an elite level. I can hands down tell you that swimming requires MUCH more energy than running. Running has never sped up my metabolism as much as swimming, even when I was running 35+ miles per week in the mountains. It’s not only physically harder but also mentally harder. Both are tough sports, but swimming is tougher. You’re not only holding your breath constantly but also moving through a denser medium than air. If I ate the way I am eating now when I was marathon training, I would for sure become overweight.

Jamie
Reply to  Joe
5 years ago

May I say that even though his longest race is 4 minutes long, he is sprinting that whole race. That’s burning many calories in under 4 minutes. Best workout ever!

Gina Rhinestone
6 years ago

Think of the poor chickens . They have been bred 4 x bigger than in the 1950s – from 2lbs of flesh to 8 .

Swimmers might substitute beans & corn for every second serve of humiliated , antibiotic laden ‘chicken’ .

And thank you F – head nutritionists who told us eggs were bad for 30 years . At least the chicken lives to see another day- hopefully not in a torture chamber set up .

Eat responsibly .

Wot m8
Reply to  Gina Rhinestone
6 years ago

Boo

Gina Rhinestone
Reply to  Wot m8
6 years ago

Enjoy being stuffed full of freaked out , bloated , genetically monstered ex chickens .
Even the plastic wrap is contaminated by toxic bacteria .

A chickens revenge .

Love to Kill Chickens
Reply to  Gina Rhinestone
5 years ago

Are you really posting this on here? That is ridiculous swimmers need meat and a lot of it! That you can’t substitute beans for chicken and that’s a fact!

Admin
Reply to  Love to Kill Chickens
5 years ago

Chicken Killer – while I love meat as much as the next person, it’s probably important for you to understand that it is not a fact that “swimmers need meat.” There are a lot of examples of high level athletes (NFL players, ultramarathoners like Rich Roll who contributed here for a while) who are vegetarians or vegans. At any rate, it is worthy to point out that before switching diets, especially as an athlete, one should consult with a doctor and/or nutritionist.

Gabbie
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

yes while it is possible it would be extremely hard for a hard core swimmer to become a vegan or vegetarian because meat, eggs, and milk contain way more calories than protein rich fruits and vegetables. Could you imagine trying to get 10,000 calories from just non animal products, I can’t imagine how much more food that person would have to eat.

Alexia
Reply to  Love to Kill Chickens
5 years ago

Rebecca soni was and is a vegetarian

Axel
Reply to  Gina Rhinestone
5 years ago

Found the vegan

Marvin
Reply to  Gina Rhinestone
1 year ago

A whole rotisserie chicken weighs 2 pounds, 3 pounds max. The chicken we eat, broiler, weights on average 3 pounds. I would like you to tell me how a 3-pound bird yields 8 pounds of flesh. Also, your entire argument is messed up. First, you’re stating that the chicken is “humiliated” and you say “poor chickens”. Right after that, you say that eating eggs is worse because the chicken “lives to see another day”. Isn’t eating the egg good because the chicken from that egg will never see a “torture chamber?”

Dev
6 years ago

What items should a Footballer need every day ???

Admin
Reply to  Dev
6 years ago

Dev – basically the same. Afterall, it’s pretty much the same sport: a whole lot of kicking, and plenty of diving too.

Editor
Reply to  Braden Keith
6 years ago
Gabbie
Reply to  Braden Keith
4 years ago

Football and swimming are two very different sports, different parts of the body are being use and not to mention one in on land and the other is in water. For a footballer I would suggest eating around 3000-4000 depending on how much you are exercising, how tall you are, and how much you weigh. Also why ask a football question on a swimming website, you are not going to find a lot of your questions being answered.

TIM86
6 years ago

Oh I think this is true. When I train for open water swimming events I eat like a monster, I have 2 eggs with toast and a bowl of porridge for breakfast whole milk.

For lunch usually some kind of sandwich with a lot of chicken and apple/kiwi

For tea usually something with loads of carbs at the moment it is brown rice with homemade curry with loads of different vegetables included. I do use some recovery shakes as well.

Even then I am still hungry, like all the time!

Guy
6 years ago

So I’ve done consecutive weeks (about 3) of training in which I did 10 swims a week and each was between 8,500-10,500 yards. During that period I made myself eat 10,000 calories a day (it wasn’t hard, the appetite was alive and well), and all of the calories were from good foods. No junk food at all. I had a proper macronutrient balance, so I wasn’t taking in absurd amounts of just carbs or just fats or just protein… I made sure everything went well. At the start of that period I was 182 pounds, and by the end I was 196 and noticeably chubbier. Can anyone explain this to me? It was especially weird because my friend in the… Read more »

AFW
Reply to  Guy
6 years ago

I’m not a scientist but I think that may be due to differences in the metabolism between you and your friend.

Terry
Reply to  Guy
6 years ago

The difference could be age related, if you are older you may not metabolize what you are consuming at the same rate as someone younger. Intensity of your work out could also be a factor you may not be pushing your intensity levels in the same way. Rest and water consumption as well as both your fitness levels when you started. With swimmers that have not reached full growth they tend to fill out then grow which can make them feel they are not as in shape as they think they should be when it is their bodies storing up for the growth stage. There are many many factors that without careful monitoring it would be difficult to determine just… Read more »

Hanna
Reply to  Guy
3 years ago

Eating way too much bro, distance swimming is much different than sprinting on intervals. If you’re not training like Phelps you are eating way to much. Anyone can get in the pool and swim forever. But to sprint that is soooooooo much harder.

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.

vjvonn
6 years ago

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

Geetfried
Reply to  vjvonn
5 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 »

BBBBB
6 years ago

awww that’s why im fat hahahah just joking 🙂

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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