Swimming’s Incredibly Backward Approach to Sports Nutrition

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I’ll start off right away by saying that I’m not a nutritionist, dietician or an expert in food in any sense other than I’ve been eating my whole life. Clearly that is NOT enough to make my nutrition opinions count. That’s why we have a team sports nutritionist. And to tell the truth, our team appears to pay far more attention to sports nutrition than most other swim teams I know.

But what intrigues me about swimming specific sports nutrition is that it is almost completely ignored in the world of swimming. We pride ourselves on our scientific approach to training, ensuring that teams use periodization, minimize energy system interference, debate USRPT, and use massive quantities of technology to analyze every aspect of swimming. But when it comes to nutrition, swimming is like a rotary phone in a smart phone world.

Why is this? It’s not like the knowledge isn’t out there. Cyclists have nutrition more or less down to a rigorous science. Athletes in any weight classification sport can drop tremendous weight in a week without losing muscle mass, all due to their knowledge of nutrition. High intensity sports such as weight lifting also seem to have the knowledge. But not swimming.

I can hear some of you out there questioning my sanity. We DO know all about sports nutrition – drink Gatorade at practice, and eat pasta before meets. Well, it’s obviously far more complex than that. But then why is it that our national swim organizations have almost no useful information out there for us?

  • Swimming Canada provides one news release about promoting healthy eating, in which the Chicken Farmers of Canada are sponsoring a Team Kitchen page encouraging generic nutrition advice and providing recipes. Vancouver’s Canadian Sports Council has a Powerpoint Presentation that provides a broad and general overview, and …read more

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What is a Swim Team?

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Every year, usually once or twice, I have to sit one of our groups of swimmers down and explain to them what it means to be on a swim team. Many times it’s because the aggressive and cliquish attitudes from school migrate over to the pool, but often it’s just that swimmers don’t understand what it means to be on a swim team.

The confusion comes because swimming overwhelmingly looks like an individual sport. We compete in our own lanes, following that black line up and down the pool, unable to hear or see our team mates, coaches or parents. It’s hard to get much more individual than that. But behind those competitive venues there is a thriving team-oriented training environment. We rely on our teammates in so many ways.

If you haven’t been on multiple swim teams, it’s hard to imagine how different swim team can be. You can see it in the way the swimmers interact with each other, and how the coaches interact with the swimmers. You can feel it in the air, whether it’s all business or fun or adventure, or a place designed only to help the fast ones get faster. It’s the coaches who set the environment, but its both coaches AND swimmers who determine what being on that team means. It’s something to think about the next time you go to practice.

So what are the main benefits of being on a team?

  1. A swim team is not like school.

This point always seems to take the longest for young swimmers to get use to. You don’t have to be friends with everybody on the team, but you have to acknowledge them and treat them with respect as team mates. Cliques, while inevitable at school, can’t be tolerated on a team. In fact, the …read more

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Michael Phelps, and the Star – Role Model Problem

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Everybody inside and outside of the swimming world will have probably heard of Michael Phelps’ latest DUI problem. I’m not going to talk about that other than point out that Phelps is just another example of a star who is also a flawed human. And now, a dangerously flawed one.

This raises the whole issue of stars and role models. There’s nothing wrong in admiring the stars. They are the ones who in order to excel have often had to work extraordinarily hard to get there. They’ve need an unstoppable drive to succeed in the face of the inevitable setbacks. And in their superlative feats we can see the potential within us all – that with dedication and perseverance we can all achieve something to be proud of. Our stars can be the shining beacons that push us to try harder when we want to quit. And this is a very good thing.

But there is a downside to stardom that we often ignore. In the drive to succeed, most stars or wannabe-stars become truly self centered, or even selfish. They have no time for those who can’t help them in their goals. Anybody who lectures or points out inappropriate behaviour is often pushed aside, to be replaced by enablers who are ready to fulfill the star’s every desire. And that’s when the real problems start. We all need people who will tell us ‘NO” when we really need to hear it. Many stars no longer have those people around them. Apparently Phelps didn’t a few days ago.

At some point, the normal rules don’t apply to stars. Although to be fair, you can’t throw unlimited money, fame and adulation at somebody and expect them to stay normal. Look at Michael Jackson, who went from a child star, to a superstar, to a …read more

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6 Rules For Becoming a Better Swimming Parent

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The start of a season is a good time to review some of the basics. And the first one is the role of a swimming parent. I should warn you here that I’ll be repeating some points I made in a similar post almost exactly one year ago.

Before I start, I should point out that swim parents are actually pretty good when it comes to interacting their kid’s competitors, officials and coaches, at least in comparison with other sports. In fact, swimming didn’t show up in any of the top 10 list I could find for worst sports parents. And this makes sense. Swimmers can’t hear parents during competitions, when the worst behaviours come out. And we don’t have an official that controls the course of the competition the way so many other sports do.

But just because we don’t see baseball/hockey parent type physical attacks in the stands, or hear vicious verbal abuse of officials, coaches and opposition, doesn’t mean that swimming parents aren’t a problem. Ask pretty much any coach and they’ll tell you that parents are the worst part of their job.

Here are 6 basic rules / suggestions that can help a parent become an asset to their team, and a positive force in their child’s life. The first two are directly from USA Swimming.

1) Be your child’s biggest fan, no matter what. Be positive and supportive, and help them feel better about themselves, especially after a poor swim.

Your swimmer will feel enough pressure from their coach, their peers, and especially themselves that they don’t need more pressure from their parents. In fact, swimmers perform best when they are relaxed. The perfect scenario is when they know that they can mess up in a race, and they will still be loved, supported and encouraged afterwards.

2) Don’t coach.

Coaching …read more

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