Category Archives: Swimming nutrition

Various aspects of diet, nutrition & feeding

The Swimming Smoothie – food for swimmers

(This is a repost and update, due to a resurgence in interest in this post. As it’s a few years since the original post, I’ve played with other variations of ingredients since.)

Swimming generally and open water swimming especially is a sport of high energy demand. Many swimmers struggle to keep weight stable let alone increase it. The demands of cold water training are extraordinary and can project an average person’s appetite into the realms normally associated with power lifters and Olympian swimmers.

A favourite of endurance athletes of all disciplines for its slow release of energy, porridge (oats) is the quintessential breakfast to fuel any high energy effort.

Though I dislike it, I can force myself to eat it. I think the only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was in the middle of the night of the 24 hour swim.

One solution was a homemade Oat, honey or syrup & peanut butter bar,  which is very useful for a travelling breakfast or high carb snack, and has some real advantages, high carbs since it’s also made from oats and protein. With honey as a binder.

I played around some more and hit on the Swimming Smoothie. I’ve actually been eating this for about two years, and completely forgot to mention it.

This makes a really quick and tasty meal, whether breakfast or otherwise. It contains plenty of slow release calories from oats, but also has quicker release carbs from berries and juice, with protein for better carbohydrate metabolisation.

Ingredients before mixing
Ingredients before mixing
  • Apple juice or milk* (grape juice may need to be avoided**)
  • Smoothie IMG_9949.resized.rotatedLow fat natural yoghurt
  • Small banana or pineapple (optional)
  • Berries including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries (frozen berries work fine and have the advantage of cooling the smoothie).
  • Half mug of uncooked porridge flakes (oats). (That’s about the amount you’d use to make a bowl of porridge. You won’t even taste them in the smoothie).
  • Depending on mood, requirement and what’s in the fridge, I might add pineapple, creme fraiche or even full cream if I have it.
Finished smoothie. Yum.
Finished smoothie. Yum.

*Apple juice is chosen because it has lower G.I, (slower release and thus effect on insulin) and higher fibre BUT it has higher fructose than glucose and tastes sweet. Orange juice also works of course is less sweet than apple but any fructose has a lower G.I. than sucrose. Milk works well as a liquid alternative to juice, and for lactose intolerant people soya or almond milk would also work well.

**For swimmers in very heavy training who are concerned about becoming anemic, they can easily add an iron-rich water like Spatone. When taking any iron supplementation though, it’s important to avoid grapes or grape juice as this binds iron and stops absorption.

A nutritionist make suggest other substitutes, but I’m all for convenient and easy. And I know this works after using it for many years.  

It’s possible, and might even be necessary, for you to tinker with this, especially if you have any Irritable Bowel Syndrome caused by fruit, or fructose mal-absorption problems.

The fruit chosen should have the fructose balanced with glucose, meaning ripe bananas, berries, pineapple, kiwi, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, plum.

Remember this started as, and still is primarily, a morning meal, specifically to fuel long swims, and I’ve been happy with the use and results over years. 

You could add whey and/or Maxim also, I’ve never felt the need.

A half litre (about a pint) of this Smoothie will give plenty of energy to last for hours. I’ve often made it for lunch on the go, and it works great to have as breakfast in the car. It’s flexible both in making and consumption.

A smoothie doesn’t stay fresh for long. It’ll start to ferment within a few hours because of the fructose, so if you make it the night before for the morning,  you’ll obviously have to keep it refrigerated.

I’ve gone through a new blender about every two years. Last year my sister gave me a gift of a Kenwood Smoothie2Go which makes the smoothie directly inside a large plastic smoothie cup. It comes with two cups and lids and is a great improvement over a larger blender, with less waste, quieter, quicker and it’s easier to clean. Recommended.

HOW TO: Sample marathon swim feed schedule (MIMS)

(Apologies to the subscribers who got three unfinished versions of this on Saturday. I was sick for a few days and should have stayed away from the computer, especially after the first mistaken post).

Feed schedules for long swims are often discussed amongst swimmers, but for some reason we are reticent to show them, possibly for fear of criticism.

I can’t claim that any one schedule is definitely the best, only that there are schedules that work and schedules that don’t work and those may be different for different people. Schedules will also be different depending on expected event duration and water and air temperature.

The important questions you must decide are:

  • Do you need hot or cold feeds?
  • What is your feed interval? (Is it the same the whole way through from the start?)
  • Are you planning to take an electrolyte or other break from carb feeds?
  • Do you need painkillers or any medication on the schedule?
  • Do you need or want irregular solid foods or liquids (soup, fruit, tee, coffee, chocolate etc)?
I was asked what I meant by irregular foods. I mean the treats that swimmers often take to reduce salt build up in the mouth, as a comfort food, as something to look forward to in x number of feed’s time, or simply as a break from carbs. Freda Streeter, as you saw in the swim checklist, recommends Milky Ways and Cadbury’s Chocolate Rolls. Finbarr likes Fry’s Turkish Delight, I like tinned peaches, etc.

Here’s my pretty straightforward MIMS feed schedule though, where I was keeping it simple, not even a 2:1 mouthwash.

________________________________

Let feeds sit in sun for an hour. (This was an instruction to Dee beforehand. In reality it was too warm, and cold feeds, a novelty to me, would have been best for the day)

End of 1st hour     Maxim       700ml

End of 2nd hour    Maxim       700ml

2:30                       Maxim       350ml from here

3:00                       Maxim

3:30                       Maxim

4:00 Dissolved Electrolyte with Ibuprofen, 700 ml.  Mix in advance, let settle

Feed every 20 minutes from here

4:20    Maxim

4:40    Maxim

5.00    Maxim

5:20    Maxim

5:40    Maxim

6:00    Electrolyte dissolved, Mix in advance, let settle

6:20    Maxim

6:40    Maxim with Ibuprofen

7:00    Maxim

7:20    Maxim

7:40    Maxim

8:00    Electrolyte dissolved, Mix in advance, let settle

8:20    Maxim

8:40    Maxim

9:00    Maxim

9:20    Maxim, only if more than 10 mins from end

____________________________________________

So the pattern is five Maxim feeds before taking a break and having an electrolyte, with prophylactic painkillers taken twice, just in case, especially since I’d been having shoulder pains for three weeks beforehand. The electrolytes were a larger volume, 750ml and on the third I was only able to take half, despite ongoing dehydration problems, (more details on that in the MIMS swim report). As usual I’d been off caffeine for months beforehand and the Zyn electrolyte was one with added caffeine (20mg), not enough as it turned out as I felt no coffee kick at all, especially at the total amount of caffeine ingested was only about 50mg, about half a cup of standard coffee, which I hadn’t calculated properly beforehand, another lesson. We had actually taken a flask of coffee but with the heat decided against it. A bottle of cold coffee with the electrolyte added would have been the solution, but I didn’t think of this during the swim.

Related articles

On-the-go homemade oat bar

Okay, I posted a version of this two years, back when the site was mainly text only. I used thought back then the Solo Bar would a good idea because of the all the training and eating I was doing. This is easy to make and requires zero cooking, I guess you say it’s a type of flapjack.

 

  • One cup of porridge oats
  • 2 tablespoons each of honey or maple syrup, and peanut butter
  • You could also add sultanas or raisins or flaked almonds

  • Mix the peanut butter and honey to a paste
  • Add the oats and continue mixing

  • Place on grease-proof paper and flatten to make a bar, cut into slices
  • Place in freezer for 5 minutes (just to firm up)

 

It’s also about 1100 calories total, so 350 calories per bar when cut into three, useful for travelling to early morning swims or airports. Also I dislike both Maple Syrup and honey, but when mixed with oats and peanut butter, neither are obvious to taste.  I did try it during a long swim a couple of years ago and it took a bit too much chewing.

I’d guess that you could extend it even further, no reason you couldn’t try Nutella for example. Or flax oil or goji berries, etc..

I’ve considered flattening the bar right down, adding a line of jam and adding a second layer on top, like a nicer version of those highly processed Breakfast Bar things.

St Patrick’s Day swimming nutrition. Not really. How to make a great Irish Coffee

I make a great Irish Coffee. Follow this and you will too. First, make sure you have the ingredients and requirements. You will need:

Irish whiskey. Note the correct spelling of whiskey, spelled without the e is Scotch. Paddy or Power’s Whiskey is preferable for this.

Freshly whipped cream (if I see you with aerosol spray cream, which is an abomination, I’ll hunt you down and humiliate you). Whip it yourself. In fact, whip yourself if you feel like it. We’re all adults here.

You don’t want the cream too thin or stiff. Soft peaks, just able to flow.

Brown or muscovado sugar.

Glasses, (I really do prefer the Irish coffee type of glass, there’s a reason they are generally used but a long stem glass is also good), teaspoons, dessert spoons. (If you use something opaque it’ll be harder to judge levels).

A shot glass for the whiskey measure.

Good coffee. No instant. You can use decaf if it’s late at night and you are off coffee for training.

(I also use a Cadbury’s Flake for sprinkling the chocolate).

Steps:

  • Make the coffee.
  • Use the boiling water and warm BOTH shot glass and Irish Coffee glass, keeping a small spoon in the Irish Coffee glass to keep it from cracking.
  • Pour a measure of whiskey into the warm shot glass to warm the whiskey. Otherwise cool or cold whiskey will cool the final product. Not that I have anything against extra whiskey, but don’t use too much as it will affect the final shape.
  • Pour the warmed whiskey into the coffee glass and add the coffee.
  • You have to leave room for cream AND sugar so there will less coffee than you think. Sugar really does take up space in the glass. Some Irish coffee glass will have lines for the whiskey and the coffee.
  • Add 3 teaspoons of sugar. YES, 3. I don’t care if you are on a diet or don’t like sugar. Stir.Then use your spoon to stop the liquid rotation.
  • Pour the fresh cream over the back of a dessert spoon onto the top of the coffee or, if it’s too stiff, use the spoon to add it to the top. The 3 spoons of sugar and stopping the rotation is to stop the cream mixing with the coffee/whiskey. Using less than 3 spoons will cause the final product to mix and be too bitter.
  • Add flaked chocolate on top.
  • Despite precautions this drink won’t hold heat very long.
  • The solution therefore is to make lots of it.
  • Happy St. Patrick’s Day

English: Irish Coffee glass

The Irish (or Scots Gaelic) term Uisce beatha, “the water of life” is where the word comes from.

(I also like this with brandy, to make French Coffee).

6097177718_72f6e168e6_b

HOW TO: Important factors in marathon swim feeding

Evan did a great 4-part series on open water marathon feeding and nutrition. I’ve covered the possible use of Choline supplementation and I’ve a long-standing request in with a friend for a guest post on the subject of further supplementation.

Given some questions that have arisen though, it seems we haven’t covered enough of the subject. It struck me that we hadn’t covered mechanics and some of the complicating factors.

Let’s start with a reminder:

The most important thing is: Feeding is different for everyone.

Feeding is not diet or general nutrition, but the process of taking in nutrition/food for energy during a long swim. It’s a long and complex subject which entertains and causes endless discussion amongst marathon swimmers.

The next most thing, the marathon swimming motto: Practice everything.

  • First, when do you have to feed?

You can generally assume that you have enough glycogen in your body to last from two to three hours. (Contingent on not having depleted it in training or recent exercise).

So for a swim or race under two hours, you probably don’t need to feed.

Swims where feeding is necessary dictate practice and experience.

FINA marathoners will probably feed small amount every 10 minutes from a plastic cup. This technique was pioneered by Peggy Dean and the US team in the 80’s. The rest of us tend to feed at intervals from 15 minutes to 45 minutes. (I feed at thirty minutes). But this MUST be tested, everyone’s requirements are different.

Also, you may not need or want to start on intervals right from the start of a marathon swim. it’s quite common that swimmers will feed hourly for the first two OR three hours and then switch to their shorter interval. Once again, I cannot tell you what those times will be for you. The four to eight-hour swims that we do in Sandycove give us the advantage to test these factors. It is another reason faking a qualifying swim makes someone a fool to a more experienced swimmer.

  • Second – what do you feed on?

For most swimmers, the primary fuel is maltodextrin, pure carbs,, as Evan has covered in detail. (Not however glucose). The product name isn’t important though Maxim is by far the most popular for distance swimmers as it has no taste and can be added to any food or drink. It’s a 100% maltodextrin. High5 or similar are carbs with a protein mix in a 4:1 ration, scientifically shown to be more effective in metabolization but has proven to be a problem for many swimmers (e.g. me) in distance sea swimming for a few reasons: (salt intake, prone position, soya protein metabolization).

Again, there are many exceptions. Some swimmers like gel pack (like GU) others won’t touch them, as they can be useless because they require a separate liquid intake, and the salt intake during a swim can make them useless or cause exceptional bloating or vomiting. Some English Channel Pilots only believe in/use Maxim.  Many swimmers have no problem with a 4:1 protein/carb mix, (I am not one, like a lot of swimmers, I found after about four to five hours with it I am no longer able to digest). Some swimmers forego these methods and swim on solid food (Penny Palfrey used dilute porridge).

  • How do you feed?

For myself for swims, I attach a D-clip to the bottle itself (whether by tape, string or lid attachment), and then the line attached to the clip, rather than tying a line to a bottle directly, as having multiple changeable bottles allows more flexibility.

Alan Clack’s feed pole

Feed (dolly) poles (typically a wooden brush handle … ) have a hook or holder on the end, which hand a cup or bottle to the swimmer. The one on the left is one used by Alan Clack on a 10k Lac d’Archambeau swim last year.  Poles are good in flat water but they are less flexible in bad weather as they require a fixed distance to the swimmer. If using a pole the swimmer must not grab the pole itself. I’ve also seen (and used) a telescopic fishing pole but the line is too light and too easily tangled.

Or simply a bottle dropped on a rope. The problem with this is knots and retracting the line (this was a mistake I hadn’t considered in the Channel).  A solution I’ve seen and really liked is a simple traditional-type kite reel (usually made of plastic).

My subsequent solution … A retractable dog-leash, my choice for future swims. So much easier for the crew.

Retractable Dog leash


  • Feed containers

Many experienced swimmers will often only use a container or bottle with particular features. I’ve written before about the God Bottle. This is not necessarily a minor concern as using a wrong bottle type for a swimmer can lead to salt water or air ingestion, both significant is you are swimming for more than 6 or 8 hours. Gábor used a narrow neck squeezy sports bottle, as that was what he used in training and practised with. (I must have a wide neck bottle… However some swimmers just don’t care or don’t have an issue).

Mike Oram, famous English Channel pilot, prefers plastic milk cartons, which have a wide neck and a handle to attack the line, and are easily replaced. Liam Maher added the point that it might be good idea to collect your milk lids for a week before hand, so the crew have more lids than bottles, that way the swimmer isn’t focused on trying to replace the lid.

Stephen Redmond feeding in Catalina

Stephen Redmond  uses a twin bottle approach to swimming: A standard squeezy bottle and a shaker bottle, taped together but in opposite directions for easier access!


  • Is it a cold water swim?

You must consider the water temperature: Should the food be warm or cold? Most Channel swims are cold or cool water so warm feeds are essential. But that can require  a lot of warm water. Your pilot may have a galley where water can be heated, but in rough weather this isn’t easy. One solution to this, just in case, is to bring a thermos (or many) of hot water. Pre-mix the feed to double concentration (half volume) and top up with hot water. The crew MUST be careful not to burn the swimmer, which can happen easily as the swimmer’s mouth will cool down during a swim. Bringing a thermos also frees up the crew to look after you.

  • Will you need/use electrolytes?

In a sea swim, the best swimmers will still ingest salt from the air. So the actual salt requirement is low. One misconception I run with swimmers into all the time, is the bodies need for potassium. How many times have you seen/heard someone have a cramp while pool swimming and someone tells them to eat a banana beforehand “for the potassium”? But usually that’s just simple dehydration. Bananas also provide magnesium, another essential salt, used for ATP synthesis, but we do not need huge amounts of either and deficiencies are rare, and in fact too much potassium in a 24 hours period will slow digestion and cause vomiting. That said, scheduling in an electrolyte is not uncommon for long swims, and allows the body a respite from the carbs.

  • Do you have a feed plan?
An hourly feed plan give a swimmer confidence their requirements are being met. Just as importantly, if the primary crew person goes down with sea-sickness, a feed plan that can be handed onto the next person means continuity in feeding. Feed plans can include extras. For example mine includes an asthma inhaler drop on four hourly breaks, just in case. The plan can also be used to schedule in special treats or prophylactic pain-killers.
  • How long do you expect the swim to last?

Do you have enough supplies if your swim runs over expected time? If you are Lisa or Stephen and are out in the water for 24 to 36 hours, do you have enough water and carb to keep going, all other things being equal? Are there enough supplies … for the crew? Better to take 40 litres and throw out 20, than take 10 litres and need 12. (I know this is not environmentally sound, but there is no way around it).

Finally, do not assume that knowledge of feeding in other endurance events will transfer to sea-swimming. It most likely will not, for example the gel packs beloved of tri-athletes, the extra salt intake and the prone position, are all complicating factors in sea-swimming.

Remember, practice everything. Which means consider and think about everything.

Important: Updated post on Stephen Redmond’s Molokai finish

It’s been a stressful two days for Stephen (and his supporters). A question was raised over the completion of his Molokai swim, which Stephen addresses below. The assertion was that Stephen might not have cleared the water and hence might not have completed the Molokai Channel swim.

I could write a whole post on this issue, (and probably will) but essentially the rules specify that generally the swimmer must stand clear of the water (there are exceptions for possibility and safety in different Channels and locations).

For those not familiar with the rules, the rule exists primarily to make sure the swimmer swims the full distance, as Evan Morrison succinctly put it in a private discussion, “The reason for the “clear the water” rule is so swimmers don’t do a shorter swim than the official distance. [...] while swimmers can always choose where they start, they can’t always choose where they finish.”

 In Stephen’s case, he swam further than the minimum distance, and there is NO doubt he swam Molokai Channel.

Stephen’s initial report was written after the swim to get a quick report out so he could get to bed. He wants to give some fuller details. I just received the report below from him, and he’s asked me to put it out as soon as possible and I am delighted to do so to address the concerns.

[T]his is my exact account of finish.
  Skipper Ivan Segaki directed me to swim with tide towards a point around 2 miles away. I Followed [the] boat all the way to the China Walls where a large group of people who had been following the swim had gathered to see the finish.
These included my wife Ann and the Hawaii channel swimmer Linda Kaiser who observed that i completed the swim properly.
  I approached the wall and asked how i was to finish the swim . I was told i needed to come right up out the water on the ledge which I did three times with my complete  body out of the water.to finish  
I asked them both was this ok as  i intended to swim back to the boat as the walkaround china wall to change was too far and uphill. I have 20 witness to this effect .
I swam back to the boat and got on steamed back to  the landing slip to change . hope this clear things up sorry about the description I sent out. I  followed the rules and did what was required of me to finish I was hardly going to make a mistake like that after that swim sorry about this I do not want any one saying I did not complete properly I am not in this to cheat strange world we live in.
If you can put this out I would appreciate it thanks for all your help
kind regards Steve Redmond

I’ll finish with the same thing I said to Steve:

NO-ONE is in any doubt that he swam the Molokai Channel. Stephen Redmond is a swimmer of the highest integrity and he has the full support of every Channel swimmer that I know. This should be the end of the matter.

Please give him as much support as you can, in any way. 

GO STEPHEN! We are all behind you and proud of you.

Snakeoil Supplements

A great infographic of nutritional supplementation benefit

An infographic is a visual representation of data, mostly overused on the ‘net, but this is my favourite and most useful one. If I am to add supplementation to my diet, my usual step is to do the research rather than relying on “bro science”. But this chart is a good rule of thumb quick check.

I recommend you have a look at the original interactive version.

Snakeoil Supplements

Stephen at Fastnet

“I Know Nothing” – Amazing Stephen Redmond talks about 2011

Stephen Leaving Baltimore for Fastnet

There are swimming legends around the world. Little known outside our sport.  Some past, some current. In a country with a very small population of only four million, Ireland is only occasionally successful in International Sport, and we celebrate our sporting heroes as a consequence.

But in Open Water Marathon swimming, we excel.

World Open Water Woman Swimmer of the Year for 2010 was Anne-Marie Ward. Lisa Cummins was nominated for the same for 2009 for her astonishing Double English Channel. Julie Galloway-Farrell, whom we’re happy to claim as our own, is nominated for Performance of the Year and Ned Denison, (Irish to all intents and purposes, don’t let the accent fool you), is a 2011 Inductee of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

And in this group is Stephen Redmond, from West Cork, currently pursuing the Ocean’s Seven, with the Gibraltar, Catalina, English and North Channel’s already behind him and an unsuccessful Molokai also. (Irish Open Water swimmers respect the North Channel above all others). This year Stephen ALSO soloed Fastnet Rock, never previously done, (Ireland’s Teardrop, so-called because it was the last shred of Ireland so many emigrants saw as they left for the shores of America).

Sailors the world over know of Fastnet, notorious for its winds and rough water, the turning point in one of the world’s toughest yacht races. (This year, a group of us, all serious and experienced open water swimmers, were to attempt a Fastnet relay, and in four periods of waiting, we never got weather that would a relay could swim, which can tolerate much rougher water).

Stephen writes below about his incredible year. I feel humbled and proud to just be able to read this and share it with you.

Remember, if you are live in Ireland, visited here, want to visit here, are one of the 70 million Irish around the world, have ever heard of Ireland, or have ever even worn green, click here to vote for Stephen Redmond, for World Open Water Male Swimmer of the Year.

I Know Nothing, 2011 – Gibraltar

2011 has been a serious and busy year. Looking back, I have met some incredible people who have helped me get this far. I have worked with and sought the advice of people around me who have shared, encouraged and kept me going when I really thought I could not go on. My wife Ann, my kids Steve and Siadbh, Ann’s mother Delia, my brother Anthony and my family, are the rock where it all starts. These are things we all rely on and fall back on when we have nothing left and they have gotten me through to the other side every time.

My first swim of the year came suddenly in May when a slot opened in Gibraltar. A friend of mine had a slot for early May and the Gibraltar swim association had agreed that I could also swim the same weekend. Doubts whether we had enough training put in and very little open water swimming done, all had to be put aside as we entered the water in Tarifa in Spain.

Dave Williams was Feeder/animator for this swim. With one swimmer of either side of the Rib we only had a five or six-hour window of opportunity for this swim. The wind had blown a steady Force 4/5 since we set foot in Tarifa.

You all know the drill. Being so early in the season we were the first to attempt Gibraltar this year.

Factors that made it a really tough swim were that this was Ivan Holloway’s (also from Stephen’s home town of Castledermot, Co. Kildare) first Channel swim, time was short, we both stroked at different rates, and every time we stopped for feeds the boat asks us to go faster. These all eat into you until you think you are swimming like a beginner, sighting constantly for the point boat, and a false sense of security, with the water being so calm.

We soon realize that the reason we are being forced to swim hard is the mental (Editor’s note: crazy) tide and currents that greet us when we get closer to Africa. I seriously think we are going to have to get out, as we cannot see the point boat or Ribs for long periods, and tanker traffic is constant. Miraculously we get in in five hours. Dave joins us for the swim into the shore and we all realize how lucky we are to have made it.

I KNOW NOTHING – Home & Fastnet

Lough Ine, Stephen’s home training location in West Cork

We regroup at home. Friends Dave Williams and Noel Brown are incredible, shouldering the organisation of the next swims. The logistics of getting to these distant swims weighs heavily, and much of my time lapping Lough Ine (above) is taken up with this.

Steve Munatones has a lot to answer for, putting this mad crazy idea into my head after we completed the North Channel. A lot of work goes into trying to make the swimming effortless and efficient as possible. Time is also given to the mental aspect of the swims as I find this a huge part of the swims. If I allow doubts into my head they tend to block out the positives and build momentum like a chemical reaction. I try to put my head in a freezer, locking down all ideas except; the finish of the swims, what will it be like?; what will be the taste and temperature of the water?; what kind of beach?; making the last stroke that propels your hand into the land; and the blinding clarity that it all makes sense for a second before you realize that it’s over.

A lot of experimenting with kicking, feeds, gels, and kit. All take time, and training is like a war as much as possible when I have time then work, and home, FAMILY. Then start again.

We decide to go for Catalina in October if I can get a slot. So the summer is very busy. I need to get a decent build-up swim and my old obsession swim come back to me of swimming around the Fastnet Lighthouse, either from Schull or Baltimore.

We eventually decide to try Baltimore around the Fastnet and into Schull. Taking advice from Denis Griffin, a local fishermen who tells me I am crazy. But we already know that his knowledge is beyond belief, advising that it can only be attempted on slack tides and that we have to reach the Rock at a certain time or we can forget about completing, the tides being so strong and weather so quick to change out there. The shortest distance for the swim being 24 miles, it is a monster. But I need to test myself so we know we can face Catalina. Questions about whether it is to close to the swim are there always.

As I train another insane idea come to mind and I wish they would stop but it seems to be the way.

Could we ever go onto Hawaii and Molokai and attempt it if we are successful in Catalina?

I know forcing swims is a recipe for disaster but having discussed with my doctor and support team and looking at the possibility of completing the Seven Channels and making it a Irish and World First and competing with some of the best elite swimmers in the world is bloody daunting but worth a try. (I will have to stop listening to the voices, I think they are trying to kill me).

We attempt the Fastnet swim on the morning of the 17th of October 2011. Calm  weather and sun greets me and seeing as this is the fourth attempt since July, just to get in the water, I thank the gods. The Fastnet Yacht race is still in full swing, it being only two days since a multi-million yacht lost its keel and over-turned at the rock, so we have to be careful to keep out of the way of traffic out there, as if there was not enough problems.

My support team are friends who have all completed Ironman Triathlons but as we have the briefing for the swim and I describe what is going to occur, and what they may have to do, they all realize this is a daunting task. When I tell them that they cannot let me back onto the boat unless I am dead, they realize that it is going to be a long day.

Stephen at Fastnet

Long eventful puking, sick stomach, begging to stop, but they never once panicked and were brilliant in the extreme. We ended up swimming 26.5 miles in thirtenn hours and thirty minutes in water temps of 12 to 14 Degrees Celsius, (53.6 to 57 Degrees Fahrenheit). Never had so many prayers and deals been made to never swim again if we got this swim. And utter disbelief as I rounded the pier in Schull  to see Denis Griffin on the pier.

Through the tears in my bloody mask we had both waited a long time for this moment and still I wonder how we did it.

I KNOW NOTHING – Catalina

Training goes on as we approach Catalina with great fear. Getting to these places is the hardest thing of all.

And as we finally get into LA. we realise we are on the edge. The hotel is right on the water, near our boat so meal and bed. In Los Angeles another Irish contact Brian Carmody helps with the hotel and our recovery strategy if we intend to go onto Hawaii.

One day’s rest and prepping and it’s onto the boat for a steam over to Catalina Island, to start the swim at 1.00 am. I am in denial as this is the first time I have ever got on a boat to swim at the time booked for swim. Normally the wind follows me wherever I go and we are always hanging around waiting. I’m shocked. So little time to rest after flight, preparing kit and gathering stores for the boat.

We have an engine starter problem which is fixed and we are not delayed too long, nerves jangling jangling, thoughts of “have we taken on too much, so far away from home?”. Enough. We try to sleep going out. It  seems a long way. Jesus, nerves. Given a shout up by Anthony, my brother and my traveling companion. The poor bugger is suffering with sea sickness. A long delay at the start trying to get us in close to shore. It’s really really dark. At last we are in.

I got pretty cold standing around and try to swim in over a kelp forest. In the end I swim/roll over them. After jarring my shoulders in the kelp I reach land exhausted and this is only the start! Not a good feeling.

I swim with a paddle-boarder next to me from the Catalina Swimming Association, which is new to me, and awkward and hard to see and avoid the board. Gracie is talking to me which I am not used to and I feel she is trying to tell me something or I should stop. Stroking at about 54 strokes per minute but the phosphorescence is like a welding arc under the water. Jesus, bad news. First feed down is a bit slow as it’s done off the board, I’m not enjoying this. The doubts, the doubts. This is their golden time. After hours Forrest Nelson (Editor: another Nominee for World Open Water Male Swimmer of the Year) comes in. I am amazed by the care taken by the Catalina Swimming Association. It is humbling to come half way around the world and meet strangers who will do anything  to see you succeed and indeed Forrest, and Marta my observer got me through the monster.

I can only assume the journey and the quick lead into the swim affected me but my stomach locked up and six hours in, I treaded water for 15 minutes pleading to stop….

Two miles to go on Catalina

Never a ladder down, nothing. In the end Anthony pushed the one button that he knew would stir anger and a refusal to quit in me. He explained to Forrest to come out to me and quietly tell me that my kids had just called to see how we were and they had said that I should not give up. The tipping point of the swim. How did Forest know this?? Middle of the channel cursing them all, abuse flying, it was such a surreal moment that I had no other choice. A Milky Way was flung to me and I just put my head back in the water and got going again.

Utter joy and humility are what we should all feel . This swim bought them. We finished in twelve hours and thirty minutes to cheers and much laughter. At this point I did not want to see water again for a long long time. No way was I going to Hawaii!!

We had a great meal with my support team, enjoyed talking, also met the smiling man Steve Munatones, who caught me for a sound bite of how tough the swim was.

Great to meet the man who was a huge help to us in LA and with the rest of trip and future swims as well. We stagger back to room and collapse to black sleep for six hours.

I KNOW NOTHING – Molokai

Waken early to texts and calls from home. I feel neither here nor there. A call from home tells me to try one day of recovery before deciding to come home. After all we are so close and have our deposit paid on boat. Discussions with Anthony and Steve Munatones and support team at home. By the end of the day I feel pretty good. The warmer water has not taken as much as the cold water does out of my shoulders. Next morning we decide to go onto Hawaii and arrange flights and accommodation. I have to cancel Catalina thoughts for the time being and begin a blank page for Hawaii. It’s pretty hot here. We get into the hotel very tired from flights but realizing we have three good days to prepare for the swim.

These days go well and I feel strong and recovered. I swim in the sea every day. It’s very salty and the waves have incredible power. The Skipper is okay for Wednesday so off to Molokai on Tuesday. Nerves in overdrive again. You are even further from all we know  and are the phones are not really working here, so little contact with home. I tell you the hardest jobs are the support team. Remaining positive and getting me through swims and airports is an unenviable task. We get to Molokai  Island and the hotel. We are in the wilds now, that’s for sure.

We meet the skipper and steam around the island around five thirty A.M.. I start greasing up. Dark, dark, dark again. Into the water after a briefing and into the island over reefs. I get taken by waves and slammed. Spear tackled and scratched badly. A disaster, I lose my goggles and cap. Violent stuff,a bad start. On the beach, I scout around to see if there was anyone up. Nothing, so I signal boat and start to swim out to get spare goggles and cap. The first two hours go in a flash, the water great and warm as a bath, the feeds are great, this is good. My left eye got a fair doing from the water and is closing up. But time to get on. I swim just under eight miles in the first two hours. Great.

Then gradually the water and swell starts to get a lot rougher. Anthony tells me on the next feed that we are getting hit by a strong head current and large waves. Molokai was having fun with us. This swim was different again. Jesus, I shorten strokes to deal with swell and increase rate. The boat is a fair distance away looking for better water to see if we can get away from  this awful current. The first shark wander into view. Nice clear water, I can see them a long way off. Bugger. What is it? Why it is that it is smiling? Bloody film’s bloody music. In the end it has no interest and wanders off. Lots of small jellies, stinging away. Amazing clarity in the water but the waves are like being caught and thrown like a stick and we are up to our necks in it this time. Feeds continue great, I feel much better than Catalina and full of energy. After around nine hours, which I judge by the sun on my left, the skipper is having problems holding the boat as I feed with waves coming over the side of the boat. Poor Anthony is soaked. He tells me we are nearly half way but making very  slow progress against this current. More sharks and tuna all day. I’m long getting used to it now.

We carry on, constantly sighting the boat. You are on your own with your own thoughts but my head is very positive. We know nothing about pain really or how far we can really go any way. On to darkness now and still in huge swells. The next feed and the Skipper delivers an ultimatum that we are just over half way. Eleven hours into the swim and have another fifteen hours to complete , he is not happy that they are losing sight of me on the boat for long periods of time, which I did not realise.  I decide to swim on, to see if we can get out of this cursed current.

At the next feed, we talk again and he tells me that he has never seen a current like this in the Channel. Anthony is distraught, knowing that we must come out on safety grounds. There have also been a lot of sharks scouting around for the last few hours or so.

Terrible to be honest , the Skipper tells me he cannot guarantee that I will not be lost, even with a shot of glow sticks on, and advises me to come out after eighteen miles and eleven hours and thirty minutes.  The steam back is very long and very quiet. We clean up and chat and realise the water beat us and we could have gone on for many hours.

A steep learning curve indeed and we have learned so much for when we come back. Which we will.

I KNOW NOTHING – 2011

The whole year has gone so quickly and we have met great people and learned so much.  I am delighted to be nominated for the WOWSA swim award I hope you will vote for me and we will complete the remaining Channels next year. I hope for your continued support and  realize how lucky I have been. Great people, great water, great swims and so many great swimmers . We have all come too far to fail. Thank you for your support.

Kind regards,

Stephen Redmond

Click here to vote for Stephen Redmond, for World Open Water Male Swimmer of the Year

Nutrition for marathon swimming Webinar Monday 13th

FINIS and Open Water Source  are holding a webinar for marathon swimming nutrition next Monday evening GMT, (10 AM PST, whatever that is) with Doctor and Endurance Athlete Peter Attia.

I signed up for it last week (fingers crossed I can get it to work for Linux! since it says Windows and Mac).

I often say we need more scientific study of open water swimming, especially in the area of nutrition for ultra events in extreme conditions (i.e. cold water).  I’m looking forward to it. Evan and I need to think of some questions… Please pitch in with any questions you have.

My general areas of interest:

  • Recommended supplementation? (E.g following my Choline post and some future posts, and Evan’s great Three Part series). especially. choline, Vitamins B Complex, D & E, any additional supplementation like Choline, EHA/DHA, CoQ10.
  • What about supplementation BEFORE and DURING an event/swim?
  • Carbohydrate metabolisation in cold water. Are there studies on this of which we aren’t aware?
  • How to work with limitations of the medium (generally liquid feeds, in salt water)?
  • Carb loading necessity and strategies (I’ve also written about this before)
  • Fat requirements (WAT & BAT) in cold water swimming, AND the impact of BAT on calorie consumption (esp, if Presenter is talking about low body fat)
  • What further information resources are available to us that we are not are of, like US military testing, as Steve once pointed out to me.
  • Remembering it’s ALL ABOUT THE COLD, THE SALT AND THE TIME.

My favourite post big swim recovery dinner recipe

Bottle of Dave's Gourmet Insanity Sauce
Image via Wikipedia

Marathon swimmers will happily talk endlessly about food and feeding. The first is what happens outside the swim, the second is during a swim. Do enough long swims and you may develop  a particular fondness for a specific “recovery meal”. After a six hour swim last Sunday week, on the last day of the Cork Distance Week, on Monday I had my favourite recovery meal. Lamb’s liver. I’m an average cook. Somethings I do well, others not so well. The recipes I often like best have a bit of flexibility in them. So you don’t like liver. OK, that’s understandable. And I’ll make a fair guess why; you’ve had the wrong liver or you’ve had poorly cooked liver. I’ve seen beef liver served. It’s tough, coarse and unpalatable and too strongly flavoured. In fact I’d only serve beef liver to dogs. You may have had pork liver. Pork liver is acceptable. But without being properly cooked it also is tough. Chicken liver is tender and usually used for pate. Duck liver becomes fois gras. My favourite is lamb’s liver. Correctly cooked it’s tender and flavoursome. From 200 to 400 gm per person. Make sure it’s fresh and a dark deep colour. Older liver has a slightly bitter taste. Cut off any white or veiny external parts. No need to dig into the liver to cut anything internal out.

  • Sear the liver on a higher heat for 30 seconds and reduce heat to low/very low
  • Add a large sliced onion, sliced peppers and mushrooms
  • Add a good splash of both balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce
  • Add salt and pepper
  • Half cover with stock (vegetable, chicken)
  • Add a finely-chopped chilli or a single drop of Dave’s Insanity Sauce
  • Throw in a handful of frozen peas if you like
  • Maybe a clove of garlic
  • How about some broccoli on top?
  • Cover and cook slowly for 20/25 minutes
  • Add a chopped garlic 5 minutes before you turn it off, if you remember
Serve with new season British Queens potatoes. Or mashed potatoes. Should work very

Energy storage in the body

Ok, I think I’ll talk about the bodies energy systems. From where does our energy come , what energy system does the body use for various activities, how is it stored?

This is going to be another thumbnail sketch of my understanding of it.

Swimming movement comes from muscle contraction. All energy for muscle comes from inputted energy that is derived from food.

Energy is the body is stored in five different ways:

ATP (Adenosine triphosphate)
CP (Creatine phosphate)
Glycogen
Fat
Protein

ATP synthase
ATP synthase

ATP is actually used for muscle contraction. It’s stored in the muscles (and liver) and once it’s used it has to be reconstituted or replaced, but there is a large store and it is readily replaced.

CP’s main function is the repair of the used ATP. There’s only enough in the body to last for a few seconds of all-out effort such as a sprint.

Once the CP is used ATP has to be repaired or replaced from other sources. The main sources are carbohydrates.

Glycogen is also called blood sugar but is stored in both the blood and liver and used in the muscles. It is derived from glucose which in turn is derived from carbohydrates (sugars/starch) and to be used it turns back to glucose .

If you have a pretty good diet, you should have sufficient muscle glycogen to provide energy for two to three hours. However regular heavy training depletes this store, which is why serious training, like Channel training requires a serious increase in food intake. (for example jumping my normal  approximately 2 and a half thousand Calories per day to anywhere from 6 to 8 thousand daily last year, as for most Channel swimmers. Blood and liver glycogen takes time to get into the muscles, so endurance athletes have to keep the store up by a constant supply of glucose. For cyclists, running out of glycogen is called the bonk (or the knock in my racing days).

Fat also supplies ATP. (White) fat is a very dense energy store. It’s the bodies emergency energy store. However it requires oxygen to be converted and it’s slower than carbohydrates (which can be converted both with and without oxygen, aerobic and anaerobic). It’s not useful for sudden energy demands so can only be used for lower energy rate requirements. (This is one of the reasons why swimming often isn’t a good exercise for losing weight, since even poor swimmers will get a high cardiac rate due to poor breathing or technique). Fat is used by endurance athletes by staying well below the anaerobic threshold.

A primary reason of the developed world weight issue is because humans have excess food for the first time ever. Extra food metabolised is stored as fat against an emergency future requirement.

So Channel and marathon swimmers will start to metabolise fat once the glycogen is used, and since the body can only metabolise a certain amount of carbohydrates per hour. This the reason we lose a lot of weight over a short period (4 kgs for me in 2 days). Carbohydrate metabolism is improved by a 4:1 carb:protein ratio.

Protein however isn’t stored as a free resource in the body but is all used (in muscles etc). Protein is used mainly therefore as a muscle repair energy source. But if someone trains with low glycogen stores too often, muscle is used leading to muscle loss.

Any corrections delightedly accepted.

Heart rate training zones

Feeding for long swims

I thought I’d revisit this subject, with the benefit of some few longs swims done in the past few months.

On the first six hour lake swim, I crashed (ran out of energy) on the last mile.

On the first six hour SandyCove swim this year I crashed at about four & a half hours, for twenty-five minutes, until I got some more food into me.

The next 6 hour sea went well, as have the various four and five hour sea swims.

The eight hour sea swim went fine, as did last weekend’s six hour. some more tweaking will be done for next weekend’s eight hour swim again.

The pattern we’re using is hourly food breaks. However for myself, I’ve decided I need one extra food break (at least) in a six hour swim, so after four hours I may need to move to half-hourly feeds.

I’ll use a plain isotonic mix for the first hour, moving to Maxim later on.

I had been using Hi-5 (4:1) carbohydrate to protein mix for a while but discovered at the TBBC swim that the higher sodium in it made it difficult for me to get enough in, so I changed to Maxim after that which is fine.

Depending on the day, I’ll also have some tomato or minestrone soup, with added Maxim. Using the soup alone won’t give me enough energy (that’s why I crashed on the first SandyCove six-hour, nothing extra in the soup).

I’m taking plenty of fruit also, especially in the first three or four hours. Maybe half a banana, and plenty of strawberries and blackberries, which are easy to get in quick.

Good old Kendall Mint Cake comes out at the five or six hour point. I try not to use it until the last hour or two. At that stage, I’ve reduced the fruit intake mostly. I stocked on the Mint Cake early in the year when ALDI had it on sale. I think most of the guys are converts to it also. Some of them are also using one of Finbarr’s recommendations, Fry’s Turkish Delight.

Each feed I’m getting about 400 to 500 ml of liquid in (Maxim plus soup). I have generally discarded the fresh smoothie in the sea that I was using for long pool swims, as it’s too viscous (the way I make it). I’ve removed coffee from my diet, as I mentioned before, using it only on the day of a long swim, to get the benefits. I believe one needs to be off coffee for ten days to get those benefits. I plan to hold off on it in the Channel until the last few hours.

Pre-swims of course involves plenty of carbohydrate and liquid intake. Pasta and fruit and oatmeal for me.

Endurance food and diet

Carbohydrates have been attacked due to causing sudden blood glucose spikes for the past 15 years.

However, the bottom line is endurance athletes like Open Water swimmers need carbs to function. And you don’t have to doing a 5 mile swim for this to be relevant. You need to fuel your body.

So what do we want to achieve?

Constant fuel available to be converted to glucose, to be converted to ATP, which the molecule that drives the metabolic process.

What we don’t want is to have insufficient food or run out of sources that can be converted to glucose, nor do we want sudden blood glucose spikes followed by deficits, nor insufficient glycogen stores in the body that can be converted to glucose.

When we digest, food is converted to glucose in the blood. Insulin levels rise and we use some and as insulin levels drop after we use this amount, we also store some in the liver, for later use. We also store some in the muscles for immediate demand by those muscles.

The average adult male glucogen load is about 400grams in the liver, muscles and cells, enough to fuel about 2 to 3 hours effort.

All this is a preamble to deciding what’s good and bad.

We all fall into patterns of eating and I am no paragon of diet. With all the training I do have a high caloric intake averaging 4 to 6 thousand calories a day, I’d guess, for Channel training.

Foods with a low glycemic index (GI) are better because the glucose is derived at a fairly constant rate. There’s also Glcemic Load, but let’s keep it simple.

I’ve been thinking about changing a few aspects of my diet.

Breakfast is always a freshly made fruit smoothie, about half a litre, now also always containing natural yoghurt AND a half cup of oats. This is a pretty high glucose load meal but at a mid level glycogen load, so no high glucose spikes. The addition of the oats reduces the nice taste though but is easier for me than eating bloody porridge,as mentioned previously. DON’T substitute processed oats like ReadyBrek as they are a much higher GI.
Natural yoghurt is a low GI food and a great additive. Low fat natural yoghurt is even better. (Low-fat cottage cheese is quite similar.)

Here’s one I hadn’t realised. Apples are better than bananas for fuelling. As a former cyclist, I’m addicted to the idea of bananas as a wonder fuel providing both potassium and carbs. Both are true. But an apple provides better carbsas they are lower GI. So a mix of both is better than either/or.

The biggest problem in my diet is overuse of potatoes. Potatoes are one of the very few exceptions to using fruit and vegetables as a source of good carbs. Pasta, even plain white, is a better choice, as is rice. I also tend to steam my spuds whereas baking is actually better (though I haven’t looked at the WHY of this yet). Actually making home-made chips is probably better than making mash. But it also dependent on the potato variety. Sweet potatoes however are a very good good, not at all like the ordinary potato generally used in Ireland.

White bread is essentially worse than potatoes , whole wheat bread is better than white and whole grain bread is better again. Multi-seed bagels are also a reasonable choice.

Finally a tasty alternative to porridge

Ok, this is thanks to the Hive Mind – food for breakfast, endurance sport or the Channel. I’m going to use this on our next long swim.

  • One cup of porridge oats (not pinhead)
  • 2 tablespoons each of honey and peanut butter
  • You can also add sultanas or raisins
  • Mix the peanut butter and honey to a paste
  • Add the oats and mix
  • Leave in the bowl or use greaseproof paper to make a bar
  • Place in freezer for 5 minutes (just to firm up)

It’s god-dammed delicious, even if like me you find honey too sweet. It’s also about 560 calories! Yes I guess it’s essentially a kind of flapjack. (Hopefully the dog who has been clearing my porridge bowls can lose a bit of weight now).

Porridge

I hate porridge.
I’ve always hated porridge.

When I was a kid, my mother used to insist that I eat porridge for breakfast. So I used to get up early every morning, before my mother got up, make the porridge in the saucepan, put it in the bowl, add the milk, and scrape it down an outside drain in the yard. The messy saucepan, bowl & spoon would convince my mother I’d eaten the porridge. Of course, I was rarely late for school as a consequence, which is how much I hated porridge. There is nothing that can added to porridge that actually makes it nice.

So the fact I now eat porridge 6 mornings a week for energy for swimming, does not fill me with joy.

Evidence-based Carb loading plans- possible strategies for a marathon swim

“The No-Depletion Carbo-Loading Method

1. Perform a long workout (but not an exhaustive workout) one week before race day.
2. Eat normally (55-60% carbohydrate) until three days before a longer race.
3. Eat a high-carb diet (70%) the final three days before racing while training very lightly.

Note that you should increase your carbohydrate intake not by increasing your total caloric intake, but rather by reducing fat and protein intake in an amount that equals or slightly exceeds the amount of carbohydrate you add. Combining less training with more total calories could result in last-minute weight gain that will only slow you down.

Be aware, too, that for every gram of carbohydrate the body stores, it also stores 3 to 5 grams of water, which leads many athletes to feel bloated by the end of a three-day loading period. The water weight will be long gone by the time you finish your race, however

The Western Australia Carbo-Loading Method

1. During the pre-race week, eat normally while training lightly until the day before a longer race.
2. On the morning of the day before the race, perform a very brief, very high-intensity workout.

The creators of this innovative protocol recognized that a single, short workout performed at extremely high intensity creates a powerful demand for glycogen storage in both the slow-twitch and fast-twitch fibers of the muscles. They hypothesized that following such a workout with heavy carbohydrate intake could result in a high level of glycogen supercompensation without a lot of fuss.

In an experiment, the researchers asked athletes to perform a short-duration, high-intensity workout consisting of two and a half minutes at 130 percent of VO2max (about one-mile race pace) followed by a 30-second sprint. During the next 24 hours, the athletes consumed 12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of lean muscle mass. This resulted in a 90-percent increase in muscle glycogen storage.

The Western Australia carbo-loading strategy works best if preceded by a proper taper–that is, by several days of reduced training whose purpose is to render your body rested, regenerated, and race-ready. In fact, several days of reduced training combined with your normal diet will substantially increase your glycogen storage level even before the final day’s workout and carbohydrate binge.

Having said all of this, [.] note finally that carbo-loading in general has been shown to enhance race performance only when athletes consume little or no carbohydrate during the race itself. If you do use a sports drink or sports gels to fuel your race effort–as you should–prior carbo-loading probably will have no effect. But it doesn’t hurt to do it anyway, as insurance.”

Excerpted from Active.com.
(There was another plan, that really wasn’t of any use for long-distance swimmers. All three did have a focus on runners. I don’t think any of this considers anything longer than marathon running event.)

Calories

For me, a 3 hour 40 minute swim, consumes close to 3,500 calories. I think the standard rate quoted for swimming is about 830 per hour for “moderate” swimming. I consume about 900 per hour with slightly higher intensity. For longer swims like this morning, obviously, speed is fairly constant, (except I increase it for the last 10 minutes).

Thoughts on feeding for the 8 hour swim

So I consumed the full 2 litres fruit smoothie and maybe another 2 ½ litres of isotonic. I also ate two bananas and a few handfuls of grapes during breaks. My liquid intake looks a bit low, but I think that’s kind of normal for me as well. Certainly for the first three hours I felt bloated from the carb. loading. Later on I would have loved some solid food (other than fruit). But that’s one of the swimmer’s dilemmas. What you can eat while swimming is a tiny subset of your normal diet. Some of the guys went for cold pasta as sold food during the break, but I can’t stand cold pasta, another limiting factor.

If only we could find a way of making a waterproof sandwich! All told though, the fruit smoothie worked from an energy and liquid point of view. Of course, there were, shall we say, repercussions, from 8 hours of a liquid fruit diet and two hour drive home. :-[