Should You Swim On An Empty Stomach?
Charlie Brown avatar
Written by Charlie Brown
Updated over a week ago

If you swim first thing in the morning, you probably do it before eating a full breakfast.

“Going into the workout well fueled will allow you to work at a high intensity, which equates to a better quality workout,” says Kelly Pritchett, a board certified specialist in sports dietetics. She says while it’s not strictly necessary, eating before exercise can help top up your glycogen, or stored carbohydrates, which is what fuels your workouts.

If you don’t have enough glycogen in your body from a good night’s rest, your body burns other energy sources including fat. This is not ideal, because it can also make you lose muscle also.

Early morning pre-workout meals set the day’s eating cycle in motion. Jill Castle, a childhood nutrition expert sites three main reasons to eat before early morning practice:

  1. Prevents symptoms of low blood sugar, such as light-headedness, blurry vision and fatigue.

  2. Settles the stomach, absorbing the gastric juices associated with an empty stomach, and reduces hunger.

  3. Offers up fuel for the muscles and brain

Pre-workout meals are crucial for optimizing performance in the water. It’s recommended that these pre-workout meals be high in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat. Avoid nutrient-poor foods like candy, donuts, soda and other sugary breakfast items. Keep the portion small to prevent cramping and eat 30-60 minutes prior to starting a swim.

If eating an early morning pre-exercise snack isn’t working, try to eat well the day before and plan a nutritious pre-bedtime snack and experiment with both liquid and solid foods. Below are some ideas to consider:

Solid foods

  • Banana, with or without a small swipe of peanut butter

  • Small package of trail mix

  • 4-6 ounces of fruited yogurt, or plain with added fruit

  • Granola bar

  • Fig Newtons

  • Toasted waffle

  • ¾ cup of cereal, with or without 1/3 to ½ cup of low fat milk

  • Whole wheat toast with jam


  • Plain low fat or skim milk, or soymilk

  • Homemade fruit smoothie (1 cup frozen fruit, ½ cup yogurt, 4-6 ounces 100% juice)

  • Ovaltine or Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed with skim milk

  • Homemade dairy-based smoothie (1 cup low fat milk (or non-dairy substitute), 1 small banana, 3 strawberries, dollop of yogurt, and ice)

A proper eating program is just as important to an elite athlete’s success as their training program. Think of your body as a car. The food and drink you consume are fuel. High-level athletes are like finely tuned cars that require high quality fuel to achieve optimal performance.

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