Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Post-Season Plumping

As a naturalized citizen and not a native in the swim world, there are plenty of things I’ve always found unusual about this culture. For example, the whole team cheer thing. I’m not sure there’s any other sport that devotes as much time and energy to composing and executing such elaborate screaming rituals. In track for example, you’d be lucky to get a “g’luck” out of a teammate on your way to the starting line at nationals. With swimming, a simple dual meet is going to yield a five-minute, 140-decibel group meditation on potato chips, strawberry jam and the necessity of achieving one’s athletic goals.

But of the many unusual characteristics of the swim world I have encountered, the one that still blows my mind is the post-season plumping. I don’t think I have ever seen so many perfectly healthy and athletically gifted individuals gain weight as fast as swimmers do once their season is over.

And we’re not talking good or necessary weight gain either. A few weeks after one season had ended, I came home from my daily swim and told my husband I had just seen one of his college kids show up to swim, too.

“Huh,” said my husband. “I wonder why he’s getting back in already. That’s not like him.”

“Well, it might have something to do with the fact that he looks like he’s about five months pregnant,” I said.

“Ahh,” Mr. Coach nodded. “Yeah, he gains it in the belly.”

With some of them, the weight gain goes right to the cheeks and jowls. With some, it goes all over, yielding a nice, doughy look. But with some, it goes right to the gut (there are often, but not always, fluid-consumption choices at play there.).

Mr. Coach has explained that the rapid weight gain has something to do with appetite lag. Swimmers really do consume an extraordinary number of calories when they’re in-season. I’d bet, if you did a statistical study, you’d find that most swimmers consume about the same number of calories per day as yards that they swim.

And when a swim season is done, it’s done. Swimmers don’t leave skid marks when they leave the natatorium for a few weeks (months, years or decades) of rest from swimming. But they do take the appetite with them unless they make a concerted effort to crank it down.

Or, as in the case of many male swimmers we have known, they maintain the caloric intake with diligence until they get to their winter training trip. That’s when the yards swum will exceed the calories consumed and then, just like crocuses in spring, their abdominal muscles once again emerge.


  1. hahaa this is soooo true. and so unfortunate. I suffered from this problem every year, and now that I'm officially done with my swimming career I'm trying to learn how to eat like a normal person--it's not going well...

  2. 13 years out and the appetite hasn't slowed down a bit. I think now, the yardage isn't matched by calories in a week... It's more like the number of beers in a week. :)

  3. Yeah, remember that time I went from 165lbs in the end of February to 205 by May. Yeah, good times.

  4. Is that with or without clothes?

    Oh, and Mr. Coach says you gained weight impressively, John, but you were no Lincoln. He was and still is the gold standard in post-season plumping.


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