Wildly inconsistent nutritional information from USA Swimming

USA Swimming offers lots of odd, out-dated, and ill-informed nutritional advice to young swimmers. This series of posts are offered as a corrective.

“Tips for Consistent Nutrition” – By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD (Tuesday, March 21, 2017)

The author starts strong. Competitive swimmers need to focus on ‘eating to fuel training and competition every day.’ Absolutely.

And then says something mystifying.

“Your training will not be helped if you are under- or over-fueled.”

We know what ‘under-fueled’ means. But what is ‘over-fueled’? I mean, is the author giving hilariously obvious advice like ‘don’t walk up to the blocks with a stomach full of fettuccine alfredo?’ 

…too much food can divert blood from working muscles to the gut for digestion.

I guess so.

Plan to eat mini-meals or snacks before a long practice and replenish muscle fuel and fluids after practice.

That is useful advice.

A carton of low-fat chocolate milk after practice can provide key amino acids for muscle repair, carbohydrates for muscle glycogen synthesis, and fluids.

“Low-fat?” Why low-fat? Higher fat milk has more energy to help the athlete perform. There is no reason for teenage athletes to avoid fat.

Consistent Mindset: Do you think of nutrition as something that your parents nag you about? Or, do you take responsibility and seek healthful foods and beverages throughout the day?

Not bad, tells swimmers to take charge of eating more.

Healthy food doesn’t have to mean yucky! Even at your favorite quick service restaurants, healthy options abound.

Yucky? I mean, ‘healthy options abound,’ because fast food restaurants offer high calorie foods and teenage athletes need to ingest lots of calories (I don’t think that’s what the author meant though). Athletes need to know that quantity comes first, and if only fast food is available then just eat it.

And stop it with the ‘healthy food.’ People are healthy (or not), but calling some foods ‘healthy’ is creepy and counter-productive when your audience is young athletes. It is very hard for them to eat enough food to fuel their training, performance, growth, and normal biological functions. Fear-mongering about supposedly ‘unhealthy’ foods is harmful.

It is up to you to think about food as something that can elevate your swimming, and taste good at the same time.

That’s excellent advice.

Parents and coaches can guide a swimmer to healthy foods, but only you can eat the foods to get the benefits.

WAIT! No. Stop. Most parents have no clue what the athletes need to eat, and woe to any young athlete who tries to follow the same ‘diet’ as their parents. It is the author’s job to give good, simple advice about meeting the nutritional needs of adolescent swimmers.

Eating a variety of foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins, contribute nutrients that feed your brain, as well as your muscles.

Brains run on glucose. Fruits and vegetables are a terrible source of glucose (only about 25% of the carbohydrate in most fruits and vegetables is glucose). Whole grains – by definition – have less glucose per ounce than refined grains. ‘Healthy fats:’ no glucose. ‘Lean proteins:’ no glucose (unless broken down and repurposed).

But the really bad advice concerns fiber. The first three items on the list are high fiber foods. Fiber is implicated in ‘low energy availability’ and a host of serious metabolic problems for athletes, especially female endurance athletes. Adolescent swimmers need less fiber, not more. As for ‘lean meats,’ increasing the fat content of your diet, including fat from meat, is associated with greater energy availability, athletic performance, and overall health.

Lean meats and fiber are for middle-aged office workers on diets. Adolescent athletes need dense carbohydrate sources and complete proteins with plenty of fat.

Try eating 3 meals and 3 snacks every day during your hardest training periods and take note of how you feel. My bet is you will feel better, stronger, and more energized than when you are eating less food.

Good advice. Eat more and more often.

…there are times when bars or chews or shakes can add needed calories. 

Yes, sometimes you have to go with Gu packets or Gatorade or whatever because that’s just how it is.

Look for wholesome ingredients in these foods: whole grain carbohydrates, naturally occurring sugars from fruit or milk, and healthy fats from nuts or unsaturated oils.

That’s just nonsense.  If the goal is to get extra carbohydrate from a bar, avoid whole grain. Too much fiber. It makes you fuller without providing energy. Athletes need more, not less, energy. And forget the myth about ‘swings in blood sugar’. The 2016 ACSM consensus statement finds no evidence that a food’s glycemic index impacts athletic performance.

Also, there is no evidence that ‘sugars from fruit or milk’ are a better energy source or somehow more ‘wholesome’ than table sugar. Table sugar is half fructose, half glucose and is a measurably better energy source during exercise than either pure fruit sugar (fructose) or pure milk sugar (half glucose, half galactose – a sugar that the body has to convert into glucose). So why should an athlete prefer energy bars made with ‘naturally occuring sugars’? I have no idea, and I doubt the author does either.

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