Can Supplements Benefit Swimmers?
Can supplements really benefit you as an athlete, or are they just another money pit? The short answer is yes and yes. Allow me to explain.
As a young athlete, I had a horrible diet. Like, an “eat a Hostess cupcake and ice cream after every meal” kind of diet. Lucky for me I had a stellar metabolism and was able to build lean muscle quite easily. Even so, I wasn’t even CLOSE to tapping into my potential. And don’t get the wrong idea, I felt the effects of my poor eating decisions once I quit competitive sports in college. Even if you’re nothing like I was and eat grilled chicken and kale with every meal, no one has a perfect diet. Thus, no one has just the right balance of nutrients. That’s where supplements can come in to help our bodies function at their best.
Before we dig in, keep in mind that supplements are NOT meant to replace a nutrient dense, whole food diet. Always check with your doctor or registered dietician before starting a supplement routine, especially if you are currently taking any prescription medications.
There are a few supplements that could benefit you as a swimmer, and A LOT of supplements that are a waste of money. The ones we will discuss today that could be potentially beneficial are fish oil, protein powder, and multi-vitamins/greens powders.
Fish Oil contains EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), the two most beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can be obtained by eating things like fish (surprise!), walnuts, and chia seeds. So no, you don’t NEED to take fish oil, especially if you eat fish on a regular basis. However, a lot of people DON’T eat fish regularly, whether it be due to limited access, or they just plain don’t like the taste. Why are omega-3 fatty acids so important? They aid in brain development, nervous system function, cardiovascular function, and immune health. They help combat a higher inflammatory response post-exercise, prevent muscle loss during an injury, and reduce symptoms of depression/anxiety. It’s interesting to note that the average North American only gets about 1/3 of the recommended daily amount. If you don’t eat fish very often, this supplement may be one to consider. You can buy fish oil in capsule form so you won’t taste a thing – and the occasional fish burp is totally worth the benefit you’ll receive.
Protein aids muscle growth, repairs hormones and keeps the immune system healthy. It’s no secret that competitive swimming takes an extreme toll on the body. That’s why it’s absolutely essential that the young athlete get enough protein to repair the muscles as they are broken down. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends at minimum consuming 1.4-2.0 g of protein per kg of body mass (0.6-0.9 g per pound). So, for a 150 lb person that would equal 95-136 g of protein per day. Most swimmers are going to fall on the high end of that range, and many will even have a greater demand. Protein in the form of a powder or ready-to-drink shake is a quick pre or post-workout option when paired with the right foods. That last part is important — remember that protein shakes are not a meal! For a look at how to choose a QUALITY protein powder or ready-to-drink shake, check out Reading Labels Part 1 – Protein Powder and Supplement Suggestions by Brand.
As mentioned earlier, no one has the perfect diet. You CAN get all of your vitamins and minerals from food, the problem is most people don’t. Multi-vitamins or greens powders can help fill in where we fall short. These small but mighty nutrients keep our immune systems strong, aid with recovery, and prevent chronic health conditions as we age. For the competitive swimmer, getting sick is at the bottom of the docket. That’s why getting the right nutrients, in the right amounts is crucial. Not to mention, athletes require additional vitamins and minerals to make up for an increased energy demand. Work on eating habits first (for an extended period of time), and then talk to your doctor or RD about supplementing with a quality (more on that below) multi-vitamin. If you suspect a deficiency, request some bloodwork, and go from there. Moral of the story: the little things (like vitamins and minerals) matter when it comes time for competition.
This should go without saying. However, with the overwhelming amount of supplements on the market it’s something that can get lost in the shuffle. A product with killer marketing that looks good on the outside isn’t always good for your insides. It’s important to actually read the label and see what’s in the stuff.
Questions to ask yourself: Do I recognize OR can I pronounce the ingredients? Where did it come from/what’s the source? Is it minimally processed? What is the benefit of taking this? What is the negative of NOT taking this? Is this supplement NSF, Informed Sport, or Banned Substance Control Group certified?
If the answer to these questions is not overwhelmingly positive, *hint hint*. It’s probably a money pit of doom.
For the youth athlete, less is more when it comes to supplements. Do your research, read the labels, and go forth and supplement.
All nutrition information presented and written within SwimStrongDryland.com are intended for informational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional. Each individual’s dietary needs and restrictions are unique to the individual. The reader assumes full responsibility for consulting a qualified health professional regarding health conditions or concerns, and before starting a new diet or supplement.