Whether you are a seasoned competitive swimmer possibly training for the next Olympics, a serious collegiate or high school competitor or just swim regularly to keep fit, you can benefit from adding protein powder to your diet.
You may not currently use a pre- or post-workout protein supplement to help you have a longer, more effective training session with better effects on your muscles and stamina; but you might consider including one in your diet.
Here are a few tips for incorporating protein powder into your workout diet including reviews of the top five training supplements that can make your swim training and conditioning more effective.
Best Protein Powder For Swimmers
What are the benefits of swimmers using protein powder?
The benefits of swim training on your overall fitness and endurance are well documented.
But, how does your diet choice and use of supplements including protein powders support your long-term training plans?
Protein is an essential element in your dietary requirements to build muscle and possibly support weight loss.
Protein powder supplements can support a healthy diet and help you achieve your training, muscle development or weight-loss goals.
When you drink protein beverages, you make sure your body is getting the nutrition it needs to complete several important physiological tasks.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture study reports that protein builds and repairs bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood and keeps enzymes and hormones functioning efficiently; besides aiding a more complete workout and physiological recovery.
Recovery after a swimming workout
Protein powder is often consumed after weight training workouts.
It provides your body with amino acids which help build up muscle tissue broken down during exercise.
Because swimming is strenuous for muscles across your body, consuming protein after swimming is crucial, especially if you are training intensely or participating in multiple events the same day.
Neglecting to get enough protein can lead to fatigue, feelings of having ‘lead legs’ or an elevated resting heart rate.
Keeps you satiated during workouts
Swimming demands a lot from your body and you need enough fuel to perform at your best.
Being hungry can make you lose focus and leads to lower output.
Clinical studies show that protein can help keep you full and maintain stable blood sugar levels.
Additionally, research from the May 2016 "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" indicates that protein tends to be more filling than carbohydrates and fat, which keeps you feeling fuller without craving food and allows you to train with fewer calories.
The researchers also noted that a moderately high-protein diet can improve your overall metabolism.
Supports muscle growth for better swim performances
Pushing your body against water resistance requires significant muscular strength; the key to getting faster is developing your muscles.
According to the June 2016 article in "Nutrition and Metabolism", protein powder containing whey can be particularly beneficial for building strength because it stimulates considerable muscle protein synthesis, the process by which your body builds muscle, thus supporting better performance.
Also, consuming protein powders may help you reduce your body fat percentage thus, helping you develop a leaner body mass with mostly muscle and minimal fat for more effective workouts.
Studies have proven that consuming protein powder before exercise increases the number of calories participants burned throughout the day after exercise.
Convenient and time saving
Research has shown that protein powders are an easy and convenient source of complete, high-quality protein.
But they should not be used to replace sources of lean protein like meat, fish, chicken and dairy products.
Protein powder supplements provide an easy and convenient source of quality, clean and nutritionally supportive nutrients especially for athletes or those looking to supplement their diets both pre- and post-workout.
When is it most appropriate to use protein powder as a supplement?
When you are growing: A teenager needs more protein to fuel his workouts because his body is still growing.
When starting a new workout program: When starting out you will require more protein than normal.
When increasing your workouts: If you increase your workout reps and intensity your body will need more protein.
When recovering from an injury: Athletes with injuries frequently need more protein to help them heal.
When going vegan: People who pursue a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle eliminate a number of common protein sources from their diet, including meat and dairy.
Best times to use a protein powder as a swimmer
Swimming at your best requires a high level of focus so that you can maintain proper form and swim at an appropriate pace.
You can't afford to be distracted by low energy levels, digestive discomfort or hunger pangs.
This is true of both races and workouts, so following proper pre-swimming nutritional practices is a necessity whenever you plan to enter the pool.
Working out in the morning gives you an energy boost and ensures that you get your workout done before your schedule gets in the way.
However, fueling these workouts can be a challenge, particularly if you’re exercising right after you wake up.
Drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced dinner the night before, a small high-carbohydrate shake with additional protein before your morning workout and a lower carbohydrate and more protein-focused post-workout breakfast provides optimal nutrition for your morning workout.
The night before a workout
Since your dinner the night before may be the last full meal before your morning workout, it is important to have some carbohydrates to give your muscles stored energy.
Include plenty of complex carbohydrates, such as rice, whole-grain bread or a baked potato. A serving of lean protein and some vegetables provides nutrients and keeps you full throughout the night so that you don’t wake up hungry at 2 a.m.
Being well-hydrated throughout the day is essential for good health and optimal workout performance.
After a night’s sleep, your body is slightly dehydrated, so drinking fluids before your workout is important.
Drink at least 10 ounces of water before your workout and four to eight ounces every 15-20 minutes during your workout.
Drinking an electrolyte-replacement drink during your workouts is probably a good idea, especially if it’s hot or humid.
Drink about 16-24 ounces of water with your post-workout meal and drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to keep yourself hydrated.
If you’re an early morning exerciser, a full balanced breakfast three to four hours before your exercise session may not be a convenient option.
A high-carbohydrate, moderate protein shake taken before your workout provides fuel of between 100 to 200 calories an hour for your muscles and mind.
Some good pre-workout shakes include: easily digested protein; both branched-chain and essential amino acids; fiber and lecithin for a creamy taste.
You may need to experiment with different combinations of ingredients to see what works best for you.
However, if your workout is longer than 60 minutes or you have a late-morning workout planned, eating a carbohydrate and protein-focused meal two to three hours beforehand with a supplemental protein/carbohydrate mix provides all the energy you need for the duration of your training.
Post-workout / recovery
To provide the necessary recovery and rebuilding nutrients you should follow up with a meal focused on carbohydrates and protein within two hours of finishing your workout.
The protein will help repair and build muscle tissue, while the carbohydrates will replenish the energy stores depleted by your workout.
Including some fat in your post-workout meal will provide flavor and increase feelings of fullness, which will help control hunger later in the day.
Some examples of post-workout meals include cheese and crackers, eggs with toast and avocado or yogurt with berries and almonds.
If you can’t eat a full meal right away, this is where a post-training protein supplement mixed with a sports drink or chocolate milk to replenish carbohydrates will come in handy.
What are the downsides of using protein powder?
Research shows that too much protein - starting at about 35% of daily calories or over 120 grams for a 150 lb. person eaten regularly, can lead to health issues such as nausea, cramps, fatigue, headaches and bloating.
Some experts think it can cause the kidneys to have to work harder, leading to complications for those with existing kidney problems, or increased calcium excretion, causing bone loss.
Dehydration is also a risk for those consuming a lot of protein without taking care to hydrate well during training.
Also, many supplement products contain added oils, or sweeteners.
Sugars and oils can mean more calories, potentially leading to weight gain.
Product labels need to be checked and only good quality supplements considered from manufacturers that are transparent with the list of product ingredients, especially ‘extra fillers’.
A product containing brown rice syrup solids as a sweetener or other negative ingredients should be avoided.
Depending on the mix of supplement ingredients, some users especially teenagers or younger users might experience reaction such as acne due to higher fat content or a jittery feeling from higher levels of caffeine.
The side-effects of high-protein diets, coupled with a low carb intake, can cause some unpleasant side effects.
These may include headache, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, bad breath and nutrient deficiencies, according to research at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
A review published in a 2016 edition of the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” reports that eating too much protein can cause protein toxicity.
Regular use can get expensive
The benefits of a quality protein supplement for increasing the longer-term results of swim training are well-documented, but does this mean protein powders are for everyone?
Each athlete must weigh the pros/cons versus the additional costs of extra protein enhancement.
The average cost for a single serving from the reviewed protein supplements runs from $0.86 to $1.48 per serving; with most athletes using 2-4 servings per workout.
Obviously, a good diet of quality ingredients should provide all the necessary nutrients and minerals, but it is not always easy or convenient to eat the amount of good, well-prepared food required to support even a moderate workout schedule.
This is where a quality and effective workout supplement comes into consideration.
Some taste weird
One of the most common complaints about protein supplements is the taste.
This is the hardest element for any manufacturer to get right because everyone has their own personal tastes.
Most negative reviews downgrade a particular product for being either ‘too sweet’ or ‘not natural tasting’ as in strawberry flavor, or ‘chalky and bland’ for unsweetened variations.
Each user will need to experiment between products to determine the best taste for their taste buds and preferences.
Which type of protein powder is best for swimmers?
Recovery time is important to a swimmer's success.
The faster you can recover from a training session, the quicker you can train again.
When you consume insufficient protein, your recovery time lengthens, muscle weakness can occur and you can become susceptible to illness.
If you consistently consume inadequate protein, the effects worsen.
You can become prone to exhaustion or sports anemia or low iron stores.
According to "Iron and Performance," 2010 sports anemia is common among competitive female swimmers.
Casein for pre-workouts and muscle development
The two primary proteins found in milk are casein and whey.
Casein is a slow-digesting protein, whereas whey is fast-digesting.
Both have positive effects on workout recovery depending on how they are used.
Casein, which makes up the majority of milk protein, is known for its slow absorption and excellent amino acid content which also contributes to bone strength.
Whey, on the other hand, only makes up about 20% of milk protein; And it combines well with casein to create a synergistic effect for muscle development.
Benefits of using Casein
Casein “lasts” longer in your system - casein’s best attribute is timing.
Casein has the ability to provide your bloodstream with a slow and steady flow of amino acids that could last for hours.
Casein also yields greater gains in muscle development – According to a study at the University of Texas, athletes consuming a whey and casein combination significantly outperformed participants who were given a combination of whey, BCAAs and glutamine supplement.
Casein in addition helps improve metabolic rate – research has shown that by multiplying casein intake by two and a half times, participants were able to have a higher metabolic rate, a better overall fat balance AND satiety levels were 33% higher, reducing the need for midnight snacks.
Casein also yields greater strength – most training goals include increased strength and endurance.
At the University of Massachusetts, researchers found that casein actually doubled the effect that whey protein had on legs, chest and shoulder strength and endurance results.
And Casein beefs up your teeth – UK studies show that casein proteins have the potential to reduce or prevent the effects of enamel erosion.
Whey for post-workout recovery
The benefits of whey protein include quick absorption, supports immune function and has shown antioxidant properties.
This makes whey protein powder an excellent choice following resistance exercise or swimming practice.
According to "Fueling Swimmers," by the American Dietetic Association, when swimmers are strengthening the muscles through resistance exercise before the season, more protein is necessary to support muscle protein synthesis- muscle growth.
Aim for 0.55 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight.
How much to use
Consuming whey protein powder following a workout is beneficial, but how much?
In the case of consuming whey protein powder, more is not always better.
In a study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010 researchers found that 20 grams of whey protein powder was sufficient to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
This is equivalent to a single scoop of whey protein powder in a post-workout shake.
How to balance protein intake
Whey protein powders are a convenient tool for swimmers.
Balancing daily responsibilities and long training sessions can make it difficult to consume enough protein from the diet alone.
This makes whey protein powders ideal for meal replacements.
However, it is also recommended that athletes include other sources of protein such as lean meats, low-fat dairy and nuts in combination with a whey protein powder to meet daily protein needs.
Solution: Use them together
So, to get the maximum benefit from these high-powered proteins, use them together.
Since amino acid absorption is key to protein synthesis and muscle repair, having the fast-acting whey is ideal for right after an intense workout, but casein will assist in this process if used before your workout.
Knowing when to ingest your protein shakes is just as important as what type you are taking, so use a protein powder that has both sources for maximum benefits.
Which protein powder ingredients should swimmers be wary of?
Some protein powders may contain unlisted ingredients such as stimulants or even steroids.
Consumers are often not very discriminating in which ones they use, reports Dr. Larry Walker of the University of Mississippi.
Users really need to look carefully at the labels and understand the product and ingredients.
Certain plants can absorb heavy metals from the soil that are then passed along in protein powder if not screened well, he said.
Dr. Walker also relates that other listed ingredients are just often difficult to gauge and they may be just ineffective, just a waste of money, but could also be dangerous if not used properly.
Inexpensive fillers such as ash, water or fiber are used to ‘bulk’ up protein supplements without adding any real value for the athlete user.
Quality not quantity
Consider the source - not all protein is created equal and you definitely get what you pay for.
The food source that the protein comes from also makes a difference.
Most sports dieticians recommend the use of animal protein sources since they have a better amino acid profile.
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and the quantities of these types of amino acids in animal proteins for humans are more favorable than from plant sources.
There are non-animal sources of protein, although less effective, which you might consider if your body cannot tolerate whey and casein because of lactose allergies.
Try powders that derive their protein from plants like rice, pea and quinoa.
Many protein powders are just flavored whey, so be careful.
Instead of choosing brands that use lots of sugar, artificial flavors and colors, use natural sources of flavors like fruit, peanut butter, almond milk and spices.
Added sweeteners in various forms can add calories, which swimmers generally need to keep an eye on so as not to add extra weight.
Inspect your label and if your protein powder has more than 150 calories or 3 grams of simple sugars per serving, it could be doing you more harm than good and it is time to find a new supplement.
Pay attention to what's in your shake since any banned substances can derail your performance, a scholarship, or an award.
Always consult with your club nutritionist, coach, or other healthcare professional if you're in doubt. Or check out websites from ‘Banned Substances Control Group’, ‘Informed Choice’, or ‘NSF’ which are all organizations that certify products and brands and test them for banned substances and to ensure ingredient safety.
As always, protein shakes should not replace every meal.
They should be used throughout the day for recovery after a workout or before bedtime to facilitate muscle repair and as a healthy snack.
The whole foods in your balanced diet will contain naturally occurring fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and other protective substances that can’t be reproduced with a diet of only protein shakes.
Learn more about planning a well-rounded nutrition plan for your own optimal training results.
Popular protein workout powders for Swimmers
The following section will cover the benefits of five of the most often selected protein workout formulas for swimmers on the market.
SYNTHA-6 is an ultra-premium protein powder with 22g protein per serving and a great taste.
And it suits many active lifestyles and diet plans.
Users seem to like to milkshake taste in different flavors.
However, one long-time user reports recently that the product has a chemical after-taste.
Has 22g protein and 5 grams of fiber per serving and 10 grams of essential amino acids per serving including: Whey, casein, milk and egg proteins
Promotes muscle protein synthesis and recovery support.
Produces rich, creamy milkshake taste and texture - to increase your protein intake per serving use non-fat or low-fat milk.
SYNTHA-6 is a quality protein powder with a great taste and is suited for everyday users and athletes who are looking for a superior protein source with casein to help repair muscle tissue after workouts.
The ingredients also include: essential amino acids and fatty acids but is also an excellent source of fiber.
ON Gold Standard contains Whey Protein Isolates which are 90% pure protein by weight and are the purest highest quality form of whey protein.
Using Whey Protein Isolates provides 24 grams of quality muscle-building protein per serving, with less fat, cholesterol, lactose, or fillers.
One user reports that Optimum Nutrition has changed their original formula to a new version full of sweeteners.
Delivers 24g of whey protein, 5.5g BCAAs and 4g glutamine per serving. Gluten Free.
Has Whey isolate protein which helps support muscle recovery for men and women.
Comes in over 20 delicious flavors and in multiple sizes for any taste or preference.
Optimum Nutrition has a 30-year history of high quality products.
ON Gold is suitable for workout regulars who can use high quality whey protein in their supplements.
Any user should NOT be sensitive to artificial sweeteners like Sucralose or be Vegan.
MusclePharm Combat Sport protein powder maximizes lean muscle growth and recovery with a variety of proteins forms that digest at different rates which help to fuel muscles longer.
The university-developed formula helps create a muscle-building environment which results in greater muscle development, recovery and performance.
However, some users found the taste too sweet, with poor mixability and digestive issues.
Contains 25g of protein both fast and slow digesting from 5 sources; including added BCAAs, glutamine and digestive enzymes.
Banned-substance tested and certified by Informed-Choice to ensure that it is not contaminated with controlled substances and is safe to use.
University tested formula created for athletes to optimize recovery, build muscle and support strength
Award winning taste that mixes easily water, milk, almond milk or others.
MusclePharm Combat is made for use overnight since it has casein; also for users who don't want to eat or drink whey isolates mid-workout, with a lower calorie level that doesn’t cause weight gain.
Also, this product is not meant for vegan users (contains non-plant proteins).
ON Organic combines organic pea, brown rice and sacha-inchi proteins to form a complete profile of essential amino acids and support muscle recovery.
Along with 24g of protein, each serving delivers full vitamin C and vitamin B12 requirements that is gluten-free.
It also helps keep your diet on track with a USDA organic, non-GMO formula without artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners.
Some users report that this is the ‘worst tasting’ protein powder, likely due to an overuse of stevia or sweeteners.
24g of organic, plant-based protein sourced from a blend of organic pea, rice and sacha-inchi proteins – with a complete amino acid profile to support muscle recovery.
USDA Organic & non-GMO, vegan with no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners.
Gluten-free, all-grain complex made with ancient grains amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet and chia
Organic pomegranate powder flavoring.
GOLD STANDARD 100% Plant Protein formula is made for active adults who care about what they eat and where their nutrients come from; this is especially true for Vegan users interested in a non-GMO product that is USDA certified Organic without added colors or sweeteners.
Pure Native Whey Protein Isolate(WPI) is not derived from the by-products of cheese making, so it’s free from ingredients that tend to disrupt digestive health and interfere with protein absorption such as milk solids and powder, fats, bacteria, ferments/enzyme and rennet.
Contains only whey proteins and doesn’t include other muscle recovery ingredients such as Beta-alanine or Glutamine for faster muscle recovery. Non-vegan.
Made with native whey, the least-processed whey protein available today. No artificial ingredients or fillers. A rapidly digesting protein – perfect for after your workout.
Formula has: 25g protein per scoop; 5.7g naturally occurring BCAAs; and a minimal ingredient panel
Certified gluten free and ‘Informed Choice’ tested confirming no added chemicals or steroids.
For people who are sensitive to more processed forms of whey isolate or have stomach issues digesting protein supplements due to the extra fillers or additives.
SYNTHA-6 is well-suited for everyday users and athletes who are looking for a quality protein powder with a great taste and superior protein sources- whey, milk and egg proteins; plus casein to help repair muscle tissue after workouts.
The ingredients also include: essential amino acids and fatty acids but is also an excellent source of fiber, blended with a milk-shake like flavor.