Tag Archives: Swim feeding

Review: The “god bottle” & other bottles

Rob Dumouchel does a great series of high-tech reviews for open water swimming, so, never being too proud to steal an idea, I’m concentrating on the low tech stuff, like lights, goggles, ear-plugs and more to come.

I read a question online: “I need a water bottle. Not just any water bottle – the King of Bottles“.

The King of Bottles? I’ll show you a bottle. This bottle. The god of bottles. The god-bottle!

The god bottle

Let me tell about that bottle:

It survived an English Channel solo when its mate was lost (the whole getting run over by the boat extended episode thing).

It has been used for two years training that included a 24 hour pool swim, all my pool training and numerous open water swims and has outlasted and outperformed all other bottles.

This summer, it was my only assistance on my longest ever unsupported  swim, of 3 hours and 5 minutes, in Force 3 onshore, when I towed it behind me on that string and a d-clip, on a completely new never-swum-before 10k. Just me, the Atlantic and the bottle. That bottle was a literal lifeline.

It’s an OTG (On-The-Go) 750ml Nalgene (but of the newer safe unleeching variety of Nalgene) that Ned Denison found in the States originally now available in the UK from Amazon. It has a wide screw off top so you can add anything in easily, including messy Maxim/maltodextrin. It has a wide flip-top. This means no sucking the liquid and adding air into your stomach, really important for endurance sports, especially distance swimming, for some people anyway, of whom I’m one. The top is secure in very rough water. Because it’s wide it’s easy to clean. It seems virtually unbreakable, it’s certainly taken a lot of knocks and emerged unscathed. Unlike the similar Camelbak bottle, it has no straw reaching the end. This makes it better, as the Camelbak therefore requires that the bottom of the bottle must always be below your mouth, not possible in open water. It’s bright yellow, which is the best contrast colour against a dark background. The tape and label on it were to mark that I owned it during a long pool swim with a few swimmers, and it was numbered in case I was using different feed mixes during a swim.

(Test and think about everything, even the colour of the bottle if possible).

That bottle, my friends, has been through more than many people. It’s been tested. Against all other bottles, it has come out on top. It was, in fact: The god of bottles.

Unfortunately less than a week after I took the photo and wrote the first draft of this article, the god-bottle was lost! Appropriately though, it was lost at sea, joining its mate, as I swam warily between all the reefs on the way from Ballydowane to Bunmahon on a dropping tide, dragging it behind me,at some point it must have snagged on seaweed or rock and the bottle came loose from the head.

Since the loss of the god-bottle, and since they are only available online (for Ireland anyway), and not cheap, I recently picked up a pair of Rubbermaid flip-top Chug bottles. 650 ml, plastic body rather than Nalgene, but a secure flip top. And much cheaper, (only £6) compared to almost $20 per bottle inc. shipping for the Nalgene.

You can of course just use a cheap squeezy sports bottle if you don’t have a problem with swallowing air over a long period.

Also a very cheap substitute, that works very well for feed bottles of a boat for long swims are simple plastic milk cartons, again with a wide neck, and easy to attach a string.

Available on AmazonUK.

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.