Nutrition for a hard days work or a distance swim

Good nutrition is integral for optimal performance, whether your event is a hard days work or a 2.8km ocean swim. Nutrition is interlinked with performance as it provides the fuel, fluid and nutrients you require when training for the Harbour Crossing, but nutrition practices on the day of the crossing are just as important to ensure you are in top form.

Two essential elements of nutrition should be considered, training diet and competition diet.

Training diet is important for optimal health (nutrition is directly related to many lifestyle diseases which can negatively impact health and therefore performance). It is also important with higher levels of training, both to get the most from the sessions and to recover appropriately to perform in the next session. With inappropriate nutrition choices, you may experience tiredness or fluctuating energy levels, undesired body weight changes, bloating, shortness of breath or exercise intolerance, cramping or stitches, or many other conditions or symptoms.

Therefore, first and foremost, it is important to enjoy a balanced diet. Enjoying a diet centered around fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy products, breads, cereals, and lean meats and other protein sources. Two important components of diet to consider in greater depth are Carbohydrate and Protein, some thought should be put into the types, timing and amounts of these nutrients.

Carbohydrate is important as it provides fuel for every day functioning. Additional carbohydrate is required to fuel exercise. If you are not having enough carbohydrate you can become fatigued on a day to day basis. Carbohydrate containing foods include breads and cereals, fruit and dairy products and anything containing sugar! These types of foods have gained some negative publicity in line with the wide-spreading enthusiasm for high protein, low carbohydrate diets. Indeed, to the extent that some products now use “low carbohydrate” as a selling point. However, carbohydrates will play an important part of preparation for the Harbour Crossing, they are important for topping up glycogen stores (kind of like filling up your fuel tank after every session) and as the bodies preferred fuel source. It is important to ensure that you enjoy a form of Carbohydrate at every meal, and even to take this a step further and to choose carbohydrate containing foods according to the the Glycaemic Index (GI). This will help ensure that blood sugar levels remain constant for performance. For more information on GI and the ranking of foods according to GI see

Protein is also important at every meal. It has many roles in the body including muscle growth and repair. The most concentrated Protein containing foods include meat, legumes, nuts and dairy foods, but most foods give a small amount of protein. Although protein requirements are slightly higher for people doing regular exercise or wanting to build muscle or strength, most new Zealanders have more than enough protein through their meat consumption. Although it is quite common for people to take protein powders or supplements, for most people these should be taken sparingly as there is no benefit to having protein in excess of the bodies requirements. It is most likely to be converted to fat and stored. Talk to an expert such as a sports dietitian if you require more information on what your protein requirements are and the place of supplements in your diet.

So how do we put these guidelines into practice? The following is an example meal plan, it is important to consider however that you may have very different nutrition requirements to another person so this should be tailored to your individual needs and requirements. For individualised advice consult a sports dietitian.

BF –Breakfast cereal; eg. Porridge, Muesli, Special K with trim milk and fruit. OR grainy toast with spread, yoghurt, and fruit.

MT- Small sweet bun and piece of fruit and handful of nuts

Lunch- Purchased or homemade sandwiches, rolls or wraps with lean meat, cheese, and salad or leftovers. Healthy takeaway or easy options may include sushi, tin soups and toast or sub

AT – Muesli Bar and yoghurt

Dinner: Lean meat, potato and starchy vegetables with lots of vegetables OR Carbohydrate based dishes with vegetables and meat.

Snack: Hot chocolate or Herbal tea.

*enjoy some Carbohydrate and protein containing foods around your training, including dairy foods, fruit or juices, convenience foods such as muesli bars or simple foods such as toast and jam.

The essential elements of an appropriate training diet are included in the meal plan. If you are aiming for weight loss, it is important that you still fuel your body with adequate protein and carbohydrate. However, address and lower the fat content of your diet. There may also be other factors that should be addressed such as the sugar content or type of Carbohydrate in your diet, meal frequency and portion sizes. Safe weight loss is no more than .5-1kg a week, a Sports Dietitian can help you meet your weight loss goals in conjunction with your exercise requirements.

Another important factor to consider for your training diet is your eating plan for before and after your daily training sessions. This is critically important to maintain energy levels and also if you are aiming for strength or muscle gain. The importance of the choices you make before or after exercise is determined by elements of your individual training program such as the time, type, intensity and length of exercise. It also should be considered within your overall nutrition goals (eg. weight loss or muscle gain) and can be a good chance to top up on important nutrients or food groups. It is always important to eat a carbohydrate containing meal in the few hours leading up to exercise (especially for morning training sessions, if you can not tolerate larger meals enjoy a carbohydrate containing drink or light snack such as yoghurt or milk drinks, a piece of fruit or juice, toast or a muesli bar). Similar foods should be enjoyed post exercise to replenish your fuel stores, or ensure your next meal is based around Carbohydrate foods.

Make sure in your daily diet you consume sufficient fluids. This will be a minimum of 1.5 litres per day depending on your requirements. This guideline not only includes water, but other fluids such as juices, milk, and any beverage not containing caffeine. A good guide to whether you are drinking enough is that your urine is pale in colour. More fluids should be consumed with exercise, if you are doing laps in a pool you may not feel thirsty but you are sweating and dehydrating as you train. A good practice is to keep a water bottle at the end of the pool and take some fluid every fewlaps.

There are no quick fixes when it comes to nutrition. With the time you put into your training to perform and participate in the Harbour Swim, it is also important to put some thought into your nutrition on a daily basis. Training diet can not be overlooked as one of the key factors for performance.

Competition diet: This includes nutrition strategies leading up to, during and after and event. For most people, a diet close in composition to their training diet is optimal, as it is important to avoid side-effects of inappropriate food choices such as a sick-feeling in the stomach or cramps (which lets face it are not optimal when you are halfway across the Harbour!). If you build up your training load in the weeks leading up to the Harbour Swim, you should correspondingly raise your protein
and carbohydrate intake. The following foods provide Carbohydrate:

Bread and bread products
Dry biscuits and sweet biscuits
Sweet buns
Muesli Bars and Cereal Bars
Breakfast Cereal
Rice, pasta and noodles
Starchy vegetables including potato, kumara, taro, corn or parsnip
Fruit (including juice, tinned and dry)
Dairy products
Sugars, confectionery and sugar drinks

Note that meat contains no carbohydrate and all labels list the Carbohydrate content of foods.

In the few days leading up to your Harbour Crossing, lower your training load and on the last day you should not do any strenuous exercise. Maintain a good carbohydrate similar to your training intake to optimise fuel stores for your swim (see CHO containing foods for options). Ensure you have a comfortable size meal based around carbohydrate the night before your Harbour Crossing. Pasta, Rice, or potato based dishes are a good choice.

On competition day, ensure that you stick as closely as possible to your training diet. As the swim starts at 9.45am, it is important to have a small breakfast. Stick with something tried and true! It should be preferably something high in carbohydrate, low in fat and low in fibre. A larger breakfast will be tolerated if you have three hours or so until the race (6.45am), after that it may need to be slightly smaller. If you can’t tolerate much pre-race, you can use liquid meal supplements such as Sustagen Sport, an Up and Go or light breakfast such as fruit or toast and jam. Make sure you practice your plan with training! Ensure you have some fluids, but don’t overdo it, and abstain from fluids in the hour or so leading up to the race and make time for a toilet stop.

Post race, it’s time to celebrate, and ensure you enjoy some carbohydrate containing foods andm fluids for recovery. It might be time for a treat to congratulate yourself for your hard work. Luckily the Viaduct Harbour will most likely have a lot of good choices for you to choose from!

By Kristen MacKenzie

Kristen is an Australian-trained Dietitian/nutritionist, who has also completed a degree in Human Movement Studies, thus bringing a mix of knowledge and skills in nutrition, health and exercise to her practice. She practices at the Healthzone, based at the Millennium Institute of Sport & Health both in the management of medical conditions and in sports nutrition. She also provides group or team services such as presentations or menu planning. She has an extensive interest in nutrition and it’s link to health and performance, and has worked with athletes and the general public in both Australia and New Zealand. She is a New Zealand Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist, and is a current sport nutrition provider for the New Zealand Academy of Sport.