Top Tips for Meal Planning

Top Tips for Meal Planning

By Chris Rosenbloom, PhD, RDN, CSSD  | Friday, January 27, 2017

Last month I wrote about ketogenic diets for performance and cited the work of Dr. John Hawley showing that high fat, low carbohydrates were not performance enhancing. And, promised to show a general meal plan on how much carbohydrate swimmers should consume on heavy training days. Before we get to that, Dr. Hawley (along with his colleague, Dr. Louise Burke) have published their research and here is the citation, published in the Journal of Physiology

When planning meals for swimmers it is important to consider many factors; to name a few…age (younger swimmers have higher calorie and nutrient needs than older swimmers, training intensity and duration, gender, and food preferences. I mention food preferences because if a swimmer doesn’t like a food he or she just won’t eat it!

Here is a sample meal plan for Ashley, a 16-year old high school student who trains 1 hour in the morning before school and 2 hours after school four days a week. She describes her training as moderately intense. Ashley is 5’6” and weighs 59 kg or 130 pounds. She tries to eat right to support her training but complains of being tired and stale in her training. Let’s take a look at what Ashley is eating and what she could do to improve her nutrition.

First, here is a table on carbohydrate recommendations from the 2016 position paper on nutrition and athletic performance published jointly by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, The American College of Sports Medicine, and the Dietitians of Canada. For those who want to read the entire paper, it can be found at 

Carbohydrate Recommendations

(kg=kilograms; lb=pounds; g=grams; bw=body weight; d=day; h=hour)

Daily Needs



Light Activity

Low intensity or skill-based

3-5 g/kg/bw/d or

1.3-2.3 g/lb/bw/d


~1 hour/day

5-7 g/kg/bw/d or

2.3-3.2 g/lb/bw/d


Endurance (1-3 h/d) moderate to high-intensity

6-10 g/kg/bw/d or

2.7-4.5 g/lb/bw/d

Very High

Extreme (>4-5 h/d) moderate to high-intensity

8-12 g/kg/bw/d or

3.6-5.5 g/lb/bw/d


First, a quick assessment: Ashley needs 350-415 grams of carbohydrate on heavy training days.  Her usual intake provides about 285 grams of carbohydrate or about 70% of what she needs. Ashley is on the right track, but needs to add more fuel to each meal and snack. With a few fixes, she can enjoy the foods she likes while boosting nutrition.

Ashley’s Usual Food Intake

Nutrition Fix


Before Practice

1 cinnamon-brown sugar toaster pastry


Add 8-ounces of low-fat milk

Substitute 2 slices of whole grain toast and peanut butter for pastry

Increases carbohydrate, protein, calcium, and B-vitamins. Also, increases fluids and dietary fiber.

After Practice

16-ounces sports drink

Sausage, egg & cheese biscuit

If a grab & go meal is her choice, substitute the biscuit for an egg, cheese, and Canadian bacon sandwich on toasted English muffin

Boosts carbohydrate while decreasing fat.


Macaroni & cheese

Green beans

Burger, without the bun


Don’t avoid the bun; add lettuce and tomato (if available) and add 8-ounces of low-fat milk

Increases carbohydrate in lunch meal with the burger bun and milk

Before Practice

Bottle of water

Handful of cheese crackers

Keep the water and cheese crackers, but add 6-ounces of yogurt and keep a snack of trail mix pool-side to keep energy up during practice

Yogurt adds some protein, as well as carbohydrate to fuel practice


Spaghetti with marinara sauce

2 pieces of garlic bread

Apple juice

Add a large green salad with plenty of veggies; sprinkle Parmesan cheese on pasta; try a protein-enriched whole grain pasta and add turkey meatballs to marinara sauce

Adds carbohydrate and protein for recovery

Before-Bed Snack

Bowl of ice cream

Make a smoothie with vanilla yogurt or ice cream, milk, and frozen berries

A smoothie not only increases carbohydrate, but adds another serving of fruit and more protein to help muscle refuel during sleep


Chris Rosenbloom is a registered dietitian, certified specialist in sports nutrition, and professor emerita of nutrition at Georgia State University. She welcomes questions from swimmers, parents and coaches. Email her at; follow her on Twitter @chrisrosenbloom.



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