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How Swimmer Kirsty Coventry Eats to Stay Fit

We are thrilled to ask Kirsty Coventry, one of the world’s highest achieving female swimmers and one of Africa’s most successful athletes, about all things food and fitness. Check out the Q and A below for Kirsty’s top tips on eating well and staying hydrated, and find out how she approaches pre- and post-workout nutrition. Kirsty hails from and swims for Zimbabwe and lives and trains in North Carolina.

Photo Credit: Mike Lewis

How important do you consider your diet in the overall mix of your training and regime?
My training keeps me fit but my eating keeps me healthy. Not many swimmers have sustained competitive careers as long as I have, and I’ve done it because of the positive lifestyle I have chosen to live and this, in a huge way, is attributed to what I eat. 

Tell us about what you eat when you’re training and competing.

A typical day would be:

  • Pre-Breakfast (before training): Oats with nuts and a cup of coffee
  • Mid morning (post AM training): Manitoba Hemp Protein (I am not sponsored by them so there is no bias here) and jerky and/or chocolate milk in the first 30 minutes after training
  • Brunch (favorite meal): scrambled/poached/fried eggs on some homemade sourdough or rye toast, or an omelet with arugula, tomatoes, chicken breast, avocado
  • Sleep: I build this in to every exercise plan, meal program and business calendar
  • Late lunch (pre training): Homemade bread with chicken/avocado
  • Snack (post PM training): Same as morning
  • Dinner: Steamed vegetables plus a small salad e.g. spinach, kale, arugula with fruit and radishes. I eat mainly fish and chicken but will always have a steak close to the end of the week.

About 80% of my meals are cooked at home so I know what is going into my food. This keeps me conscious about the amount of junk that goes into what I eat.

Do you approach competition like practices with respect to your pre- and post-workout nutrition?
I approach my practice like it’s a competition. Every practice is about being as good as I can be at that moment. For this to happen I have to fuel correctly and consistently so I have the same pre-and post workout nutrition in training that I do for competition. My pre-workout nutrition will include something light like a small bowl of cooked oats and honey or half a banana with some nuts or an apple. My post-workout nutrition is my highest priority when I’m training because as an older athlete, I recover slower than the younger ones. I have hemp protein (stirred into water) within 30 minutes after training, and I will usually have some jerky too, then my blueberries. The only noticeable difference between my competition and training nutrition is before my race I won’t eat that much because of nerves and I don’t want to feel “heavy.” But I eat a huge amount after my race for recovery, hunger and celebration.

What about hydrating during competition?
You might swim Heats in the morning, then Semi-Finals in the evening, and only the following evening will you swim Finals. Hydrating is so important that there are free bottled water stations everywhere.

Are there nutrition needs you especially look out for as a swimmer?
Continuously fueling our bodies with smaller nutritious meals. Our bodies (that includes non-swimmers) cannot digest large meals efficiently so eating 3 meals a day does not help with maintaining our weight or energy levels. By increasing the number of meals we eat and reducing the amount eaten per meal, we can create a more stable and energetic environment.

Did you discover what worked for you healthy eating wise through trial and error, or did you have some guidance as you learned about swimming and competing?

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen coaches make is to treat every athlete the same. Although we all have similarities, we are still individuals. We can follow general guidelines but we have to tinker a little to learn what works for us. This isn’t about right or wrong, it’s about what works the best for me as an individual because this can help put me into the top 1%.

Do you have the same routine now, or do you find yourself still tinkering a bit with your diet?
As competition approaches, I start following the same routine and eating the same foods. To change it up a little, I will tinker with my diet only by adding things to what I already eat.