Diet and Hydration
Eating a healthy balanced diet will help to ensure your body has all the nutrition it needs for completing regular exercise. In general, your muscles require carbohydrates as fuel for exercise. That's why it is important to make sure you have a full store of carbohydrates in your muscles and other parts of the body. If you want to swim a longer distance, (e.g. it might take over an hour or you are in a competition) you may need to consider consuming carbs before, during and after your swim. But this really depends on how long you want to swim for and how intense the swim will be. If you only plan to swim for 30 minutes, or you are quite new to swimming, you shouldn’t need any additional carbs.
If you have diabetes you may require additional carbs to help you manage your blood glucose levels as swimming can cause an increased risk of hypos depending on your ability, how long you swim for, when you last took insulin and when you last ate. It is very individual as exercise can also make blood glucose levels higher. Speak to your diabetes healthcare team about the best way to manage your diabetes while swimming.
It always seems a little bizarre to be concerned about hydration when you are submerged in water. You could still get dehydrated if you are swimming. Swimming requires a lot of energy and in keeping up with your body’s energy demands you produce heat that you have to lose in order to keep your body temperature within a safe range. The best way to lose heats is by sweating – yes, believe it or not, you sweat when you are swimming. That is why it is important to ensure you are fully hydrated before you swim, take a bottle to the poolside during your session and have a drink for when you get out.
Have your last meal at least 1–2 hours before swimming. You can have a small snack such as, fruit, cereal bar or natural yogurt at any point before a swim. Whether or not you need a snack before swimming depends on how long you want to swim for (anything less than an hour and you shouldn’t need a snack) and how intense the swim will be. If you have diabetes you may need a snack to help manage your blood glucose levels and prevent them going to lo while you are swimming.
For those of you planning to complete longer swimming sessions, unfortunately it can be difficult to eat while swimming – not only is there little time to chew, but mixing food with chlorinated water makes it taste terrible! If you plan to swim for over an hour or at high intensity, sports drinks (or gels) can be a useful source of carbs. But you may find you prefer to jump out of the pool for a short time to have a snack (bananas, malt loaf, cereal bars can all be easily transported). For people with diabetes remember that sports drinks and gels will have an effect on your blood glucose and they may be something you don’t usually have. Also you should try to keep things you use as hypo treatments just for hypos.
If you have diabetes make sure you have hypo treatments nearby and test blood glucose levels as often as possible, particularly if swimming is a new type of exercise for you.
Try to consume carbohydrates within thirty minutes of finishing a swim (this is likely to be at your next meal) – this period after exercise is the most effective time for your body to store carbs. Replenishing your carbs after swimming is an investment in your next session: if you don't fully replete your energy stores after exercise your next swim will suffer. By having a balanced meal after exercise which includes some wholegrain carbs, vegetables or salad and lean protein like fish, chicken or even beans or pulses you will make sure your body has all the nutrition it needs to recover and keep you on track with a having a healthy diet.
As a whole-body exercise, swimming gives you a great workout and tones all of your muscles, thereby improving fitness levels. It also leads to improved health that can positively affect your physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing
Greg Whyte, Olympic Pentathlete and swim trainer to the stars
Warm up and down
It is essential to look after your muscles and joints. If you haven't swum before, are returning to swimming or are swimming a large number of sessions, you may pick up minor niggles that can develop into more problematic injuries. Don't ignore soreness and pain that is localised in a certain muscle or joint – act early and you can often avoid injury. Take a couple of days off swimming before returning to the pool and build your swimming up gradually. Prevention is the best cure so make sure you stretch before and after each session to increase flexibility.
People with diabetes should check their feet every day for any changes in colour, temperature and shape. This includes looking for new injuries like blisters and cuts. While you are less likely to get this type of injury while swimming, it’s always important to look after yourself and get help from your healthcare team if something isn’t healing. It’s a good idea to wear flip flops or similar footwear around the pool to avoid injuries and reduce chance of things like verrucas.
How often do I hear this? And there is no doubt about it, swimming can be boring if you do the same thing every time you get in the water. However, there are a variety of different ways in which you can eliminate boredom and enjoy swimming every time you go.
Having a target to aim for is one of the best ways to eliminate boredom and motivate yourself. Clearly identifying a goal you want to achieve, whether it's to lose weight, to swim a mile, or in this case to swim the channel, will be invaluable in making swimming more enjoyable.
When setting goals, you should have both short term and long term targets. A sensible short term goal, for example, would be to swim a certain number of lengths or meters in a set time. The more physical targets such us weight loss should form part of your longer-term goals. So make sure your goals are achievable yet challenging and don't forget your overall target, to swim the distance of the English Channel.
Reward yourself once you reach your goals. Make sure it is something you really want, but do not allow yourself to have it until you have reached your goal.
Swim with others
Swimming on your own can sometimes be a lonely experience. A great way to enhance your enjoyment is to swim with others, because although you do spend much of the time with your head submerged in the water, there are still lots of opportunities to chat.
Having a swimming buddy can help you maintain your programme, encourage you on days when you don't feel like swimming and visa-versa, meaning you are much more likely to achieve your short- and long-term goals.
Swimming the same stroke for the same number of lengths is the quickest route to boredom! To increase interest, use all of the strokes. Don't be afraid of trying a new stroke for the first time – you may find it difficult but you will soon get the hang of it.
Research has shown that swimming benefits your mind by improving your mood, reducing anxiety and increasing self-confidence. So swimming works from head to toe, and from inside to outside, helping you to look great and feel even better.
Greg Whyte, Olympic Pentathlete and swim trainer to the stars
Taking care of yourself
Swimming is a great form of exercise because it uses all of your muscles and gives you whole-body toning. That said, it is worth taking some time to look after yourself when you are not in the water too. Ensuring you take good care of your skin, hair and equipment will mean that you look great as well as feel great. And having a healthy balanced diet (one with beneficial foods including vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, dairy, seafood, pulses, and nuts) will ensure your body gets all the nutrition it needs to help you feel great while swimming. Check out our recipes to help you be the healthiest you.
If you use insulin to treat your diabetes you may need to adjust the dose of your basal (long acting) or bolus (short acting) insulin when you swim. For example the closer to your swim is to your last meal or snack, the more likely it is you will need to reduce your bolus (or meal time) insulin dose. This is different for everyone and you should get advice from your diabetes healthcare team. Also your insulin sensitivity can be increased for several after exercise, so may sure to continue monitoring blood glucose levels after you swim.
For people who use an insulin pump, but get advice from your diabetes healthcare team and check with your manufacturer first as you may be able to disconnect for a short time.
Manufacturers will have information on whether kit like continuous glucose monitors or flash glucose monitors are water resistant. Each model is different so it is best to check with the company.
If you have diabetes and take medications that increase the risk of hypos, like sulphonylureas, as you do more exercise speak to your diabetes healthcare team about the dose. It’s important to always speak to a healthcare professional before making changes to your medication.
Chlorine causes fabrics to fade quickly when not rinsed off immediately after swimming. It can also affect the elasticity of your costume, resulting in a sad, faded, saggy costume – not your most attractive look! Rinse your costume in fresh water and dry after every swim.
Swimming can really take its toll on your skin because of the chemicals used to keep the pool free of bacteria. Chlorine strips the moisture from your skin; it is therefore not unusual for it to become dry, itchy and irritated. Shower immediately after you have swum and wash your skin with soap, towel-dry whole body thoroughly and then moisturise your skin.