Effect of low- and high-carbohydrate diets on swimming economy - a crossover study


Background: Swimming economy refers to the rate of energy expenditure relative to swimming speed of movement, is inversely related to the energetic cost of swimming, and is as a key factor influencing endurance swimming performance. The objective of this study was to determine if high-carbohydrate, low-fat (HCLF) and low-carbohydrate, high-fat (LCHF) diets affect energetic cost of submaximal swimming. Methods: Eight recreational swimmers consumed two 3-day isoenergetic diets in a crossover design. Diets were tailored to individual food preferences, and macronutrient consumption was 69–16-16% and 16–67-18% carbohydrate-fat-protein for the HCLF and LCHF diets, respectively. Following each 3-day dietary intervention, participants swam in a flume at velocities associated with 50, 60, and 70% of their maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max). Expired breath was collected and analyzed while they swam which enabled calculation of the energetic cost of swimming. A paired t-test compared macronutrient distribution between HCLF and LCHF diets, while repeated-measures ANOVA determined effects of diet and exercise intensity on physiological endpoints. Results: Respiratory exchange ratio was significantly higher in HCLF compared to LCHF (p = 0.003), but there were no significant differences in the rate of oxygen consumption (p = 0.499) or energetic cost of swimming (p = 0.324) between diets. Heart rate did not differ between diets (p = 0.712), but oxygen pulse, a non-invasive surrogate for stroke volume, was greater following the HCLF diet (p = 0.029). Conclusions: A 3-day high-carbohydrate diet increased carbohydrate utilization but did not affect swimming economy at 50–70% VO2max. As these intensities are applicable to ultramarathon swims, future studies should use higher intensities that would be more relevant to shorter duration events.

Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition