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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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).


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


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.


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.


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


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.

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: Now, there is still a difference in caloric needs. The biggest… Read more »


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.


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.


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

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


Gina Rhinestone

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

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!

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.


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.


Rebecca soni was and is a vegetarian


Found the vegan


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?”


What items should a Footballer need every day ???

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


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.

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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