USA Swimming gives bad advice directly to swim coaches, Part 1

If you Google ‘USA Swimming what should I eat?’ you’ll get this slideshow.

The slideshow was prepared and presented by a consultant hired by USA Swimming to provide nutritional advice to coaches at clinics held around the country.

This slideshow starts with uncontroversial and agreeable advice about nutrition and competition. Prepare Your Body Nutritionally for Training and Racing…Fueling must be similar to endurance athletes… the 24/7 Athlete.

But what follows is a series of statements that contradict established biological facts and basic consensus, nutritional advice for athletes like the 2016 statement by the American College of Sports Medicine, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (USA), and Dieticians of Canada (ACSM 2016) .

Let’s start on a positive note.

Swimmers’ training regimen is comparable to tri-athletes, long-distance runners and cyclists. High volume, with various intensities.

Sounds right. On the next slide we read:

Primary fuel source > Carbohydrates

Well, no. Carbohydrates are a larger part of the mix in high-intensity swimming. Most of swimming is warm-ups and training, and much of training is at a lower intensity where carbohydrates do not provide most of the fuel. Not to mention the rest of life. Two slides previous coaches were encouraged to tell swimmers to think of themselves as a “24/7 Athlete.” Over the course of any 24 hour period, where 2-4 hours are in the pool, athletes get about 70% of their energy from fat. Primary fuel source = fat.

At highest intensities, muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate) supplies most of the energy. At more moderate workout intensities, fat (muscle triglyceride and plasma free-fatty acids) contribute the bulk of energy. As is obvious from this chart, in any 24 hour period where a swimmer trains for 2-4 hours, fats are the primary fuel source.

The next slide claims that carbohydrates should be “60% of calories.” Says who? ACSM 2016 offers no such dietary percentage. It would be pointless. I mean, people do a terrible job tracking how much they eat, so 60% of an unknown number is an unknown number. Also, the presenter ought to give some evidence that such a high carbohydrate fraction is a good idea. Here, for example, is a chart from one studying showing that as the carbohydrate (CHO) fraction of the diet was reduced, both male and female endurance athletes consumed more and performed better.

CHO is carbohydrate. ’67’ refers to athlete diets where 67% of energy came from carbohydrate. ’55’ refers to 55% CHO, ’42’ refers to 42%. CHO reductions were offset with increased fat consumption. Top endurance performances for women were found at 42% carbohydrate, whereas men performed best at either 55% or 42% CHO.

More on this slideshow in Part 2.

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