The Fourth Meal: Feeding the younger swimmer


About 3 years ago when my son participated in the city recreational swim league and placed first in every event he swam in the city finals, I realized I may have a swimmer on my hands.  So after a couple of years in the rec league he showed interest in swimming for a competitive team in the winter.  I want to state that I am not a supporter of sport specialization at young ages.  I allow my kids to participate in 1 sport per season and the year my son decided to swim he had to make the choice between basketball or swimming.  Swimming was appealing to me as a parent because I did not see it as a sport that resulted in a lot of impact on the joints and it is a sport that someone can participate in for a life time.  However, as a dietitian specializing in child nutrition I was nervous because swimming is a high calorie burning sport and I worried about how that would impact my son’s growth.  I really wanted to make sure I was refueling him after every practice so he could replace the calories lost so the increased activity would not impact his growth.

The fourth meal was a concept I learned from other swim moms.  On the days of swim practice dinner was served early and the fourth meal refueled the swimmer after practice. The timing of the practice made providing the 4th meal a little challenging as practice ended about 30 minutes before it was time to get ready for bed, but I felt since dinner was served early the 4th meal was important.  Therefore, I could not make a large meal for him because I did not want him to go to bed too late.  My solution was to pack a meal/snack that he could eat on the way home so when he got home he could put the final touches on homework and then go to bed.

Ideas for the portable 4th meal:

  • Fruit smoothie (frozen fruit, water, and orange juice or lemonade), ½ of ham and cheese sandwich, and Pretzels

  • Yogurt, Fruit, Whole grain crackers, and Water

  • 8 ounces of milk mixed with chocolate instant breakfast powder and Banana

  • Ham, cheese and mushroom whole wheat quesadilla, Apple slices, and Water

  • Milk, Cherry Tomatoes, Clementine Orange, and Pretzels

Typically, I serve something from at least 2-3 food groups.  I usually do not offer a sport electrolyte beverage, but try to offer foods that will offer electrolyte replacement.  Offering fruits and vegetables will help provide potassium.  Offering pretzels, crackers, nuts, or deli meat will provide some sodium.  Offering dairy, meats, nuts, or legumes will provide protein to help with muscle recovery.  I also try to make fluid part of the meal as a smoothie or milk, but if not then water is offered with the snack/meal to encourage fluid replacement.

If you have a young and growing athlete at home I encourage you to check out Eat like a Champion by Jill Castle at the Nourished Child.  Most sports nutrition information is about elite competitive athletes and this book is geared toward the unique needs of the young athlete.