Some Georgia swimmers will consume more than 4,000 calories a day. In Walker Higgins’ case, he takes his nutrition very seriously.
“Nutrition is very important, especially for someone like me,” Higgins said. “I’m tall and skinny, so my metabolism is pretty high. The races I do require really high heart rate and swimming. My heart rate gets really high.”
Higgins elaborated that Georgia athletics and the team’s sports nutritionist, Sarah Renaghan, enforces the ladder of nutrition. Renaghan will send out messages in the team’s GroupMe every day reminding them to stay hydrated and daily nutrition suggestions.
The individual team members are able to meet with Renaghan by appointment. Higgins has worked with her several times to discuss any specific problems he may be having. One problem for Higgins is not getting enough calories before practice.
“They are really great at helping with direct and specific questions,” Higgins said.
Ian Grum agreed with Higgins that the team is well fueled before, during and after practices.
“I know my body,” Grum said. “I know when I’m hungry and what my body needs. If I don’t feel full, I will go to the snack room and have something before. Before [this practice], I had yogurt and a protein bar. I didn’t want to eat too much before practice.”
Georgia athletics provides resources to the athletes and immediate snacks for the swimmers. One station is Grab and Go, a service provided by the athletic department. The swimmers get morning snacks and evening snacks. There are also fueling stations in the team room and weight room that provide snacks for something quick to grab before practice.
“We try to fuel on the front end and during practice,” Renaghan said. “We also try to get recovery fuel after practice or training.”
Georgia swim and dive athletes use the dining halls, including the Village Summit, which is especially convenient for those who live in East Campus Village and practice in Ramsey Student Center.
Using the dining hall also allows for flexibility in their busy schedules. Swimmers have rigorous training schedules that include early morning swims, afternoon swims, weight workouts and conditioning. The dining hall services allow them to eat any time they are free and hungry.
Renaghan said carbohydrates are the most important thing nutritionists stress to the athletes. Nutritionists get the swimmers quick carbs before practice in the form of bars, fruit and chews. During training, Powerade is prominent, and after training, there’s a focus on more carbs and protein for their muscles.
“A quick recovery snack is helpful, but meals are the thing we push for,” Renaghan said.
Renaghan also introduced the concept of the “athlete’s plate.” Before and after a swim and dive meet, the athlete’s plate is going to be higher in starches and carbs than the average person but still includes many proteins and added fruits and vegetables.
As far as calorie-counting, there are no specific numbers Renaghan gives to the swimmers.
“We look for more of a balance and if they’re getting the fuel they need,” Renaghan said.
Instead, they try to enforce what their plate looks like, and this concept is the athlete's plate. There are three different plates, and Georgia swim and dive chooses to use the moderate training plate for day to day.
A moderate plate would consist of a protein, a color and a starch. For breakfast, an example would be oatmeal, toast or bagel for starch. For color, strawberries or berries are the go-to. As for protein, eggs are usually the first choice.
Nutrition is another element swimmers and all athletes must balance. In order to compete well, they must also eat well.
“Being a student athlete in general is hard,” Higgins said. “It’s a lot, it really is. So much of our time is booked up. Swimmers, in general, really do struggle with time management, but it comes with the territory. It definitely is grind, but the university has given a lot to us, so it’s hard to complain.”