Tag Archives: Maxim

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.

Sylvain Estadieu’s English Channel Butterfly – Part 5

Part 1Part 2Part 3. Part 4.

I wasn’t sure when I started this how long this series would be. Previous long series have run to five posts. This will take six. Given his achievement, I think it’s fair to say that Sylvain deserves a six-part series!

As I wrote in the previous post, almost immediately after Sylvain got sick Mike Oram started feeding him, with no discussion with crew. Between getting sick and Mike’s feeding the time lost was about five minutes.

Twenty minutes later was the next scheduled feed, at 16:45, and adhering to the plan wasn’t as important at this time, but Mike again fed Sylvain, this time with a watery porridge, water, and mouthwash to remove the vomit taste. Five minutes after this feed, Sylvain got sick again but reported feeling better afterwards. Less than ten minutes later again, just before 5 p.m. Mike fed Sylvain this time with a cheese spread on bread. We as crew were superfluous at this stage, and since this was Sylvain’s swim and his success the only important thing, it wasn’t about how we felt, so we bit our tongues. From Mike’s point of view about many things in the Channel with his 800 crossings, crew are mostly baggage, which will be not be a surprise to anyone who has read or heard his many  “swimmers are only my third and slowest engine” comments. The 5 p.m. feed was lengthy, taking Sylle over two and a half minutes.

Sylle in the sixth hour shortly before getting sick
Sylle in the sixth hour shortly before getting sick

So why did Sylvain get sick? As I’ve also said previously, this happens usually because swimmers take in more carbs than they can process as they mostly are in liquid form and happens many people.

Channel swimming burns about 800 calories per hour. The human body, regardless of size, can take in about 280 calories per hour. Earlier during that morning “discussion“, Mike had ridiculed me for not having a “T-form“, or for not knowing the term. Not needing Mike’s approval I’d asked what he meant, and I had mentioned I’d read all his emails to the Channel Chat group over the years, a repository of which articles Niek Kloots hosts on the Netherlands Channel Challenge site. They are worth reading if you are interested in Channel swimming, and being here, you may be interested, as Mike knows more about the Channel than most people, Fred Mardle and Reg Brickell being the only other pilots with similar experience.

The T-form, is essentially a calorific input/output balance sheet (my explanation). Mike explained to me all about calories and liquids and blood and liver etc, not really accepting that I, or indeed any swimmer, might have some or any knowledge of these matters. Mike explained how he had brought the idea from his sales training in the US, in between his extensive sailing and piloting etc and plotting swim routes from California to the North Channel. Apparently.

Mike’s T-form is the written form of the mental calculation that experienced swimmers do subconsciously or even occasionally consciously. Written down or not, there is the same net result: calories-in do not equal calories-out. Eventually a swimmer goes from having a positive glycogen amount in the liver and muscles to a deficit. Part of training is to get adapted to the transition from glycogen burning to fat burning, also known as ketosis. Writing it down adds nothing except work, unless you are so poorly organised or inexperienced as a crew that your swimmer is feeding too little or too much.

Lisa and Zoe and I continued to discuss with each other and to talk to both Mikes. Mike Oram’s primary assertion was “this year’s Maxim is bad“. He said that this Channel season had seen a significant increase in the number of swimmers getting sick.

Maxim is the most used carbohydrate by Channel swimmers and that used by Freda Streeter to feed swimmers on their Dover Harbour training swims, so it became the default. I’ve used it, Lisa and Zoe used it and many more. Maxim is a 99% maltodextrin carbohydrate and both Evan and I’ve written previously about different aspects of feeding. Evan’s posts on maltodextrin product comparisons and osmolality are particularly useful in this discussion if you want to understand some of the varying factors.

In 2012, Maxim became increasingly more difficult to source until it disappeared. Freda and the beach crew and many others, including myself for MIMS2012, and Lisa, sourced anther product, called Vyomax Maxi. Sylle was using a different product as Maxi wasn’t available in Sweden, but his was still just a generic 99% maltodextrin. I’ve also used Sponsor Competition Sponsor Long Energy, Hammer Perpetuum, Go Energy and others.

During the immediate hour subsequent to Sylle getting sick, Mike Ball looked at Sylle’s feed stuff and then asked why we hadn’t informed him that Sylle wasn’t using Maxim. Lisa and I tried to explain that 99% maltodextrin was 99% maltodextrin, regardless of label, we even still call it Maxim. I don’t think Mike Ball, whom I greatly like and respect, really believed us!

During this time Mike Oram spoke much about noted American Channel Swimmer, friend of his and one of the Channel greats, Marcy MacDonald, who only recently had completed another two-way swim, her third, with Mike, her regular pilot. Mike said she had been sick most of the way, and he’d reverted to the older English Channel feeds of porridge, tea and bread to keep her going.

I am of the opinion, as I’ve written about other swimming subjects, that simple explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones: Did Diana Nyad catch a magic unknown current and after over 30 hours swimming somehow start swimming faster than world-record pace? Or did she make it all up for money and fame, following a lifetime pattern of attention-seeking? Is all this year’s maltodextrin, regardless of  vendor, bad and causing illness, or are more swimmers overfeeding?

It is certainly the case that something had happened that I haven’t yet told you. When mixing the feeds the night before the swim, Sylle had mixed the feeds to quadruple strength, so that when diluted with our warm water supply that was used each feed, the concentration was reduced to double. There was … discussion … of this, shall we say. Lest you think this was a crazy ad-hoc last-minute decision by Sylvain, it wasn’t. Sylvain was already a Channel swimmer. He is a very experienced swimmer, a very experienced open water swimmer, and he was following the feeding regime he always used, including his first Channel swim and which he had used for his long training swims.

The last feed before getting sick IMG_8825.resized

During our discussion I mentioned how last year during his English Channel solo, Alan Clack had wanted a double strength feed, and how without telling him, I’d changed it to single strength. In that case I was completely in charge of looking after Alan, and with more experience than Alan, felt sufficiently certain to so do. But I never told Alan, because I knew he needed to believe that I was doing exactly what he wanted.

It’s also the case that I’ve seen a document circulating on email which outlines double-concentrate mixing of feeds. But this document states that this is intended to be mixed to achieve single concentration.

Papillion Francais
Papillion Francais

Without actual details of the swimmers affected I can’t categorically say, but in Sylvain’s case, we know for a fact that he was using double-concentrate and that was the cause of his illness, rather than some manufacturing defect.

I use Sylvain to explore further this whole problem and the challenges of gauging individual feed requirements, and situations that can arise, even for an experienced swimmer and crew, and it’s not meant to reflect poorly on Sylvain.

We all make decisions and the Channel finds us all out one way or another.

Keeping the communications open and being receptive to Mike over the next couple of hours, we continued to watch Sylle closely. The tension for us his friends and the concern for him, was high. Over the course of a couple of hours, between four p.m. and 6 p.m. Sylle’s stroke rate dropped from 28, to 26, to 24. Not a cause for panic but needing to be watched.

This series finishes in the next and final Part.

HOW TO: Marathon and Channel Swimming Swimmer and Crew Checklist (updated for 2013)

This list below was originally based on Freda Streeter’s English Channel check-list though it has evolved quite substantially.

I’ve reorganised the PDF by swimmer/crew/feeds/travel for ease of use. By the third version I added version numbers so you can keep track.

Major changes for June 2013 (Ver 3.0) include a new Travel section.

The list includes some things that Freda recommends and advises and is optimised for cool or cold water marathon swimming.

It also includes some optional but nonetheless useful items based on experience.

I’ve changed and added to it over the last couple of years and it’s now my personal check list and as such tends to evolve and change. (Items in blue are essential).

Some are very, very obvious but the dangerous things about check-list are forgetting to add the obvious and unspoken but essential, or not checking things off the check list.

Simplified PDF version without notes for direct printing.

Swimmer

  • Dry-bag for boat for swimmer clothes. (I use the large 44 litre one in the link).
  • Swimming Costumes.
  • Swimming Goggles and Spares: Minimum one pair each of clear and dark goggles (if you start in or swim into the dark you will need clear, you will need dark/tinted for bright sunlight).
  • Earplugs + spares.
  • Swim Cap and Spares. Use bright colours.
  • Towels. Apart from regular towels I’ve added both a travel micro-fibre towel and swimmer’s chamois towel for the many swims in Dover. I use a car-drying chamois, same product, quarter of the price!
  • Rain gear for swimmer.
  • Old warm, loose clothes for post-swim. (You will urinate heavily after the swim to eliminate intracellular fluids, so make your clothes are easy to open or lower. Remember if the boat is rough you may need to sit on a toilet).
  • Grease.
  • Light sticks - 4 or more (I use Adventure Lights, reusable, brighter and therefore safer and nothing difficult to dispose of afterwards). Test your batteries!
  • Safety pins for fixing lights.
  • Shoe organiser. Idea from Penny Palfrey, via English Channel Soloist Craig Morrison. Used to separate all the swimmer’s gear into individual compartments.

Crew

  • Foul weather gear for crew.
  • Blanket or Old Sleeping Bag.
  • Spare plastic Ziploc bags - I had some in my bag just in case I needed to take something last-minute out on the boat.
  • Food for your crew.
  • Latex gloves (or plastic bags) to apply grease.
  • String and/or Zip-ties because boats.
  • Duct-tape. Because you never know.
  • Make sure phones are set to auto select Networks before swim or they may lose cover and not know why.
  • Spare Carabiners – I got a bag of small mixed sizes for €5.
  • Bottled Water (Plenty) (Use only litre bottles; your crew cannot manage to pour from larger bottles in choppy water. (I used 1.5 litre bottles in MIMS and EC, no bother).
  • Chargers or extra batteries for phones and cameras on board. (Gábor uses a Power Monkey Solar charger).
  • (Underwater) Camera (with flash) to take on board. If conditions are right and you have a swimmer going to the beach with you they will need a waterproof camera.
  • Marker pens and masking tape. Masking tape makes a good base for writing on plastic bottles. Duct tape also works.
  • Wetsuit for support swimmers. It’s about the swimmer, not the crew. Best to stay warm to function best as crew.
  • SPOT GPS tracker. Visible to others. Test beforehand and get link. Most English Channel Pilots already have these but not all. They are now affordable and very valuable for engaging others in your swim.

Feeds and medical supplies

  • Feed schedule. I suggest you laminate it and bring copies and a pen to write on the laminate in case of rain.
  • Maxim (or whatever your choice of Carb is).
  • Measuring Scoop. I almost forgot this after putting my Maxim in plastic bags for ease of transportation.
  • Cups or Feeding Bottles. Mike Oram suggests plastic Milk Cartons as feed bottles. If using these, collect extra lids before you go as some will definitely get lost by the swimmer, and you want to keep salt water getting in the bottle.
  • Retractable Dog Leash or line, (as I previously suggested, the crew unspools it to feed the swimmer, easy and quick to retract). I’ve used it in the Channel in rough water, it works really well. Alternatively a Mason’s reel, fencing reel, kite reel. Anything to quickly spool out or reel in long lines. Make sure you have a spare backup line in case the first breaks (as happened to me). I’ve tested the dog-leash in the Channel and it  works really well with carabiners.
  • Fruit juice (Cordial, squash, whatever your choice of additive to feed is. I put my squash in a squeezy water bottle.)
  • Mouthwash (make sure your crew mix 50/50 or it will burn your delicate mouth. Delicate was on the original list, I imagine Freda (Streeter) writing that with a certain sense of humour about complaining swimmers. I use a 2:1 water/mouthwash mix, as 50/50 is too strong for me).
  • Tea Bags or Coffee.
  • Electrolyte. But with zero carbs. Maxim Electrolyte is zero carbs. I changed to Zyn with Caffeine for MIMS, it was better.
  • Chocolate Bar and Cadbury’s Chocolate Rolls, Milky ways go down a treat and do not stick to the roof of your mouth. (I didn’t use either of these – these are a real Freda thing. Some use Fry’s Turkish Delight or other for same reason.) Choice maybe peaches or Kendall Mint Cake etc instead.
  • Ibuprofen. (Anti-inflammatory).
  • Paracetamol (Solpadeine, Neurofen or similar stronger painkiller for the latter half of swim).
  • Anti-histamine (I’ve never tested nor used these during swims).
  • I also bring Colpermin Peppermint capsules to stop any potential pre-diarrhoea stomach spasms. They work really well and you don’t taste the peppermint.
  • Immodium or something to stop actual diarrhoea – Just in case.
  • Personal medication. Plan in advance. For example as an asthmatic, I discussed with my GP who prescribed a spare antibiotic to take just in case I got a chest infection since I can recognise the early symptoms.
  • Suntan lotion. Discussion on the marathonswimmers.org forum on this subject amongst people who have greater sun protection requirement than Irish & UK folk.
  • Masking tape and permanent markers – masking tape is useful for labelling bottles that won’t take ink easily.
  • Dryboard or chalkboard and enough dryboard markers. If they get in any way damp they stop working quickly. You’ll need dry paper towel or similar to wipe & dry the board. Never used chalkboard on a boat myself, could be even more difficult in wet weather?
  • Funnel for mixing feeds. Make sure it has a wide neck, you can cut the top off a plastic One Litre bottle. If doing so make sure the funnel is slightly smaller than the bottle it is going into!
  • Wet cloth with plenty of washing up liquid, tied into a plastic bag, just in case, you or crew might want it after swim, useful for getting any grease off hands.
  • Whiteboard and whiteboard markers.
  • Torch for signalling for night feeds. (Maglite Mini LED etc).
  • More water and Maxim than you think you need. My view is enough for at least 6 hours (one tide) extra swimming if doing a Channel swim , but I obviously have a specific reason, it’s what I took and we were almost at the end of it for the English Channel. Boats DO NOT carry excess water, contrary to what many landlubbers think.
  • Notebook and pen for your crew chief. Tell them to record everything. 

Travel (new section for 2013 – mostly optional)

  • Power strip/power adaptor (The single most valuable new addition to the list). Many places you stay with crew will not have enough power outlets.  One extra 4-socket power adaptor solved this problem.
  • Microfibre travel towels as outlined above. Essential if you are in Dover and the weather is rubbish, and you are trying to get towels dry.
  • Unlocked mobile phone. If you can borrow/get an unlocked phone you can just purchase credit for anywhere. Mobile phone bills can be a big problem returning home from a foreign swim. For English Channel / North Channel / Gibraltar you will need credit from both countries.
  • Unlocked wireless broadband adaptor OR Android smartphone with Hotspot adaptor.
  • National flag
  • Twitter / Google+ / blog / Facebook passwords
  • Thong sandals (Dover only, but essential for swimmers)
  • Country map. Don’t rely on GPS.
  • Parking permits / tickets (for duration of swim)
  • Keypod or SurfLock or similar (lockable safe for safely attaching keys to car during training swims)
  • Folding chair(s) & bungee. Some English Channel pilot boats don’t have anywhere to sit comfortably on deck. A folding chair might be essential for some crew members. Only useful of course in appropriate weather. Use the bungee to hold it place against the superstructure.

Related Articles:

Here’s a simplified PDF with all the extra notes removed for ease of use and direct printing.

MIMS 2012 – Part 2 – Race day

Part 1 -

Saturday indeed broke more bearable, with temperatures in the high twenties with an almost cloudless sky and no forecast of rain or thunderstorms.

I’d brought my bag of oatmeal for porridge which I microwaved in the hotel dining room, and as usual, forced it into myself. It was not the best bowl ever made, even by my appalling standards, resembling a rapidly hardening tiling grout. To follow this was a concoction consisting of more oatmeal, Greek yoghurt and mixed fruit juices from supplies purchased in one of the ubiquitous local pharmacy/markets, (which just confuse us poor Irish country people; where do New Yorkers do the weekly “Big Shop”?). Smoothie and porridge, breakfast of marathon swimmers, taste and enjoyment not essential.

Protip: bring your own big funnel

 Using another trick from Lisa, I’d applied suntan lotion the previous night, which never seemed to dry completely. But I’d slept moderately well, which I wasn’t worried about anyway, as I’d slept well on Thursday night, which I knew was sufficient for me for a big swim. A lesson leaned the hard way, as so many more. I never expect to sleep the night before a swim, but jet lag provided some assistance. We’d packed the swim and boat gear the previous evening, much of it in my large dry-bag and I’d sat on the floor of the shower mixing Maxim into 1.5 Litre bottles. Mixing Maxim is a sticky job, even when you manage to mix everything dry, which I didn’t. The bag included things that had seemed more necessary back in cold and wet Ireland; wet-gear for Dee for the boat, wet and warm gear for me in case I had exit the water for a period due to lightning, all utterly superfluous, even ridiculous as it turned out. Four hours after reaching New York I’d emailed Ciarán asking what kind of idiot I was that I’d brought two, two, hoodies AND a heavy merino wool top to this insane heat. I have become so conditioned to cold and wet.

As an aside, it’s usually easy to spot Irish people in an airport. They arrive at their destination wearing utterly inappropriate warm clothes looking like polar bears lost in the Caribbean oozing sweat from every pore, and arrive home to Ireland, rain and cold, wearing sandals and shorts and sombreros. In winter.

We headed for Pier 25 for Dee to meet the boat and load the gear. The taxi driver conned us and we found we’d overpaid him for being nice, quick and helpful, when instead he’d dropped us at Pier 66, well Uptown. Uptown is a technical New York term by which I demonstrate my suave well-travelled and cosmopolitan erudition. But as happened all week a friendly New Yorker helped us get a taxi across the highway. Yes, Manhattanites are on the whole friendly, and were so repeatedly, usually without asking. That’s some bad PR Manhattanites have been getting, someone should fix that.

Pier 25 was busy with Soloists loading the gear and the relay teams bustling about. If you knew what to look for you could tell the experienced Soloists. I saw one relay team sitting on the ground trying to mix feeds from scoops into narrow bottles, asking how much was needed and where was the suntan lotion. The Soloists who were around were ready to go.

We said out farewells and made for the Start Point of South Cove, at Battery Park on the west side just around the south tip of the island. The water in the Cove was looking pretty dirty, but experienced swimmers know this is just an effect of eddy currents gathering debris. Carol Cashell (from Sandycove) had told me that when she swam The Little Red Lighthouse 10k last September the water was so murky that she couldn’t see her hand. I’ve swim in conditions where my arms and hands are invisible to myself, so it wouldn’t be a surprise, but it does have some implications for trying to concentrate on your stroke for a long time if you can’t see where your forward hand is.

Ciarán and I met Thomas Kofler, English Channel Soloist and graduate of the first Cork Distance Camp; George Meenan from Derry, also an EC Soloist and our third compatriot, and others such as Graham Lowe from the Jersey crew, Genevieve from Canada, Kent Nicholas from Arizona, Jim Fitzpatrick, Yale swim star Abby Nunn and others, (and sorry I didn’t get to meet everyone). With Thomas there it was literally like having a bonus Sandycove Swimmer around.

{By the way, after Thursday’s Brighton swim, Friday’s Briefing, and the morning’s pre-swim chat, I was utterly astonished and gratified that so many marathon swimmers knew about loneswimmer.com, and that’s not false modesty, you know by now what I say; one average swimmers in the middle of nowhere, taking shite}.

But it was hot. Drinking and walking to the distant toilets to urinate, we waited and talked and chatted to the occasional bemused passers-by, roared at Shaggy as he ran past (Ciarán is from Leinster), and waited some more. And we put on more suntan lotion.

With no camera, I can only fail to describe George, who, even more worried about sunburn than Ciarán and I, resembled someone who’d emerged from a tub of pancake batter due to the layers of suntan lotion and lube applied. All over. All. Over.

The support kayakers arrived in South Cove, flocking and jostling about like a bizarrely coloured flock of new marine wildlife and where possible we grabbed an introduction, and I shouted an Hello to Brian Johnson, my essential paddler, safety, navigator, feeder and lifeline.

They assembled us on the board-walk in groups according to our start waves, with no shelter, and almost no water. Then they reassembled us in groups. Then they reversed the order of the groups. Meanwhile the sun bore down, we all ran out of water, and there was no shade.

And we dripped, indeed we veritably oozed. Suntan lotion, petroleum jelly, emulsifying ointment, Channel grease, whatever anyone’s lubricant of choice was, flowed in rivulets and the smell of slowly self-basting swimmers wafted gently along the board-walk, all desperate to be in the water and protected from the heat.

The last minutes, like my Channel Grease, seeped slowly away.

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.

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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.