Swimmers - particularly long-distance swimmers - have a specific roadblock with respect to fueling: water. Sure, you can't swim without water, but you can't swim and DRINK water either. Since for most swimmers, stopping for a quick gulp isn't exactly an option, here are some tips to make sure you remain fueled and hydrated throughout the race.
1. Start early
It's important to sip fluids frequently not only during the day of the race, but also in the two days prior to race day. And don't make these fluids only water. Choosing low-fat milk, 100% juice, or even a sports drink will make sure that you're also taking in energy, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes in preparation for your heat.
2. Be choosy
The key to being a good swimmer is efficiency and speed. In order to avoid feeling sluggish in the water, stick to low-fiber food the day of the race. Not sure what foods are low in fiber? Try these options: white rice/bread/crackers & canned/cooked fruit; avoid beans and fresh fruits/veggies. Why? While fiber is GREAT for you, it adds bulk and takes quite some time to make it through your GI system, which can be quite uncomfortable in the pool. So just for the day of (and I do mean that - ONLY the day of) competition, go low-fiber so that you get the energy you need from your foods and then get rid of the extra waste quickly.
3. Don't give up too soon
Just because you're only two hours pre-race doesn't mean you can abandon all nutritional concerns. Because you can't stop mid-race (or sometimes even between events) to re-fuel/re-hydrate, it is imperative that you continue to fuel as close to the race as possible without causing GI distress.
Here is a sample fueling plan starting at two hours pre-race (assuming you ate a meal at 3 hrs pre-race):
-Drink 2 cups fluid (water or sports drink) 2 hours prior
-Drink 1 cup fluid + 1 banana + 2 Tbsp smooth nut butter 1 hour prior
-Drink 4 oz sports drink (if you can tolerate) or fluid 30 minutes prior
This is just an example - there are many snacks that would fit in that 1 hour time-slot. Think carbs + protein (and more carb than protein).
Many high school athletes have States quickly approaching, while collegiate athletes are prepping for Nationals in March with qualifiers in February. It's not too late to implement the tips above because these are meant for race day. However, if possible be sure to try race day nutrition in practice first.
Good luck swimmers!