Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Do it yourself

Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Do it yourself

The last in a series of four posts about nutrition in marathon swimming. To recap:

  • Marathon swimming nutrition is both art and science. There are both “best practices” (generalizable to many) and “special sauce” (generalizable to few). In general, a nutrition plan that aims to drink some carbs — not too much is a good place to start.
  • Some carbohydrates are “better” than others, due to differences in osmolality. An endurance athlete can consume more carbohydrate in the form of maltodextrin, compared to simple sugars, without overwhelming the digestive system. Also, maltodextrin is neutral in taste, thus providing more control over your drink’s flavor.
  • Of the many designer endurance fuels on the market, few are ideal for marathon swimming. High electrolyte content makes sense for runners, cyclists, and triathletes – but less sense for swimmers (even less sense for ocean swimmers).

Although I do think Perpetuem is a good product for swimmers, my best advice is to skip the one-size-fits all formulas and do it yourself. This is the only way to ensure you get the nutrition you need on a marathon swim, and not the stuff you don’t need.…

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Marathon Swimming Nutrition: A product comparison

Marathon Swimming Nutrition: A product comparison

I hope you’ve enjoyed “Nutrition Week” here at Freshwater Swimmer. As you may have noticed, I’ve been vague about recommending specific products. There’s a reason for that: I don’t believe there’s any single best nutrition plan for all people, in all situations. However, I’ve personally tried a number of sports drink products, and will share my thoughts on them.

Beginning with the low-end market… These products include, but are not limited to: Gatorade, Powerade, and Vitamin Water. Some signs you might be buying one of these products:

  • You can buy it in supermarkets and gas stations
  • It is brightly colored
  • Produced by a subsidiary of a Fortune 500 company, such as Coca-Cola or PepsiCo
  • Advertised on national television and/or billboards
  • Has a flashy, Javascript-heavy website that contains very little actual information.
  • Ingredients lists may be difficult to find. When you do find one, it’s often extensive and includes strange additives like “xanthan gum” and “brominated vegetable oil.”
  • Most relevant to endurance athletes: The primary carbohydrate source is a simple sugar such as sucrose, dextrose, or high-fructose corn syrup (or a combination).


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Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Osmolality and why it matters

Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Osmolality and why it matters

On a sunny late morning in Chicago last summer, I told Ted Erikson about the nutrition plan I’d recently used for Tampa and MIMS. Ted EriksonMy plan called for an hourly cycle of two Maxim feeds and one Perpetuem feed. Ted sort of chuckled, and then said something I’ll never forget: “You know, Evan… all you really need is glucose.”

And he’s right: Glucose is the basic unit of energy. Whether you feed on Gatorade or Maxim, it all ends up as glucose anyway. I mention this story because it’s worth remembering as you read what follows. When I said in the previous post that “some carbs are better than others,” I don’t mean that maltodextrin is the be-all-end-all, magical elixir of marathon swimming. It’s not. Many swimmers – including some of the best – have used “simple sugars” to fuel a marathon swim. You can, too!

However, it’s my view (based on both research and experience) that the basic recommendation to an aspiring marathon swimmer – in the absence of strong preferences otherwise – should be a maltodextrin-based fuel. 

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Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Art vs. Science

Marathon Swimming Nutrition: Art vs. Science

First, a Michael Pollan-inspired minimalist manifesto:

  1. Drink some carbs.
  2. Not too much.
  3. Some carbs are better than others.

One of the most daunting and mysterious aspects of preparing for a marathon swim is planning a nutrition strategy. And for good reason: Nutrition can make or break a marathon swim.

So, aspiring marathon swimmers often seek advice from their more experienced brethren. But how to sort through conflicting information and opinions?

The textbooks aren’t much better:

  • In Dover Solo, Marcia Cleveland recommends “warm, energy-providing liquids, followed possibly by some solid food, or energy gel.”
  • Steven Munatones’ book suggests to “try everything within reason: energy drinks, bananas, sliced peaches, chocolate, and cookies.” He also wisely notes that “what works for another swimmer may not necessarily work for you.”
  • Penny Lee Dean devotes a section to nutrition in her book, but in 2012 her recommendations are a bit dated.


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Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On

Jared WoodfordThis is a time of year when many marathon swimmers are ramping up their training in earnest, in preparation for big swims this summer. It’s a time of year when reports of epic workouts appear with increasing frequency on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter. While it’s fun to read of others’ training exploits, it’s important to keep your eyes on the prize – maximizing your performance for your event – and not get caught up in cyber-rivalries.

My friend and former training partner Jared Woodford recently wrote an excellent post on this subject, and I asked his permission to re-print it. Jared is a professional triathlete, a commercial pilot for ExpressJet, and a former collegiate swimmer at Delta State University. Last May he was featured in an interview on SlowTwitch. 


Possibly unique to triathlon (and maybe its component sports) is the ability to read about the workouts of other athletes online.  Via Facebook, Twitter and blogs there is an access to other athletes that isn’t found in other sports.  I’ve never read on AJ Green’s twitter feed about how many pass play routes he ran that day and Kevin Durant doesn’t update us on how hard his last workout was. …

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2 years, 200 posts: An overview and history of Freshwater Swimmer

2 years, 200 posts: An overview and history of Freshwater Swimmer

The WordPress admin dashboard informs me this is – hell’s bells! – post #200 here at Freshwater Swimmer. Sometime in the next month, three additional milestones will be reached:

  • My 2-year blogoversary! (Remember this post?)
  • 50,000 page views (not including RSS). Just a couple months behind Donal.
  • Best of all: 1,000 comments! That’s an average of 5 comments for every post (recently it’s been more like 10 per post — granted, some of those are my own!). I could be wrong, but I think this statistic might be unmatched in the universe of open-water swimming blogs. So, to my commenters, especially the frequent ones – Katie, Mike, Amanda, Adam, David, Donal, Rob, and Sully - thank you! And keep ‘em coming. I appreciate the engagement, and am gratified that you find my stuff worth reading.

Regular visitors may have noticed a few changes afoot – some new fonts, an updated theme, and alas – a new header image. Much as I loved that spectacular view of the Chicago lakefront, it no longer reflects my reality.…

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Swim slow slower, Swim fast faster

Swim slow slower, Swim fast faster

There’s a possibly-apocryphal story about Matt Biondi (one of the fastest swimmers ever) that he always made a point of being the slowest person in the pool during warm up, no matter the skill level of the other swimmers surrounding him.

Matt BiondiI think there’s something to this idea. In training, most swimmers succumb to laziness from time to time. It’s been my observation (in myself and others) that swim-laziness comes in two basic forms:

  • not swimming slowly enough, when you’re supposed to be swimming slow
  • not swimming fast enough, when you’re supposed to be swimming fast

There’s an important purpose to slow swimming and drilling: Ingraining perfect technique, and being mindful of each part of your stroke by reducing it to its components. Drilling well requires focus and concentration, and the path of least resistance is to do it sloppily – or just skip it altogether. Sloppy drilling is, of course, self-defeating.

There’s also an important purpose to fast swimming. As my college coach Rob Orr liked to say: You’ve got to swim fast to swim fast.

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The last rodeo: Reflections from marathon swimmer Barbara Held

The last rodeo: Reflections from marathon swimmer Barbara Held

Barbara Held and I crossed paths three times in 2011: at the Tampa Bay Marathon Swim, where she was the first woman to finish; at the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim; and then again during my Catalina Channel swim, for which she was a CCSF observer. She did her own Catalina swim in 2010 (in the blazing fast time of 9:36), and set a new age record in the process.

Barbara Held

Barbara’s marathon swimming feats are even more impressive in light of how she completed them all after the age of 55. Now 58, she will tackle the English Channel in August – a swim she says will be her last before retiring from marathon swimming.

It’s an exhausting, time-consuming, and expensive sport – in which “careers” don’t often last more than a few years. So Barbara and I stand in curious symmetry: While I’m now looking back on my first year of marathon swimming, she is looking upon (perhaps) her last. 

With Barbara’s permission, I’m re-posting a “Note” she recently wrote on Facebook, reflecting on her years as a marathon swimmer.

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Don’t try this at home: A look back at 2011

Don’t try this at home: A look back at 2011

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.    The Aeneid, Book 1

Last year I undertook an ambitious program of marathon swims:

  • in April, the 24-mile Tampa Bay Marathon Swim;
  • in June, the 28.5-mile Manhattan Island Marathon Swim;
  • in August, a 20.1-mile solo crossing of the Catalina Channel;
  • in October, the 17.5-mile Ederle Swim from Sandy Hook, New Jersey to Manhattan.

While I usually keep my personal life out of this space, in this case it’s essential to understanding my experiences this year. I undertook this schedule of swims while going through a divorce (a process that began 4 days before MIMS), and while moving 2,100 miles from Chicago to California.

Yep – it was an interesting year.…

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The SoCal Eight

The SoCal Eight

An exciting announcement today from the Santa Barbara Channel Swimming Association: the Southern California Eight.

Eight islands off the coast of Southern Califorina; eight world-class marathon swims. From gateway swims (12.4 miles from Anacapa) to greatest-ever swims (61.2 miles from San Nicolas). From well-trodden paths (275 swims to/from Catalina) to virgin waters (San Clemente and San Nicolas). A swim for every budget, ability, and ambition.

The Channel Islands of Southern California

The Ocean’s Seven will soon have its first conqueror, most likely later this year. What will be the next epic challenge? For U.S.-based marathon swimmers – especially those on the West Coast – the SoCal Eight would have to be enticing. Residents of Southern California could potentially do all eight without ever setting foot on an airplane or in a hotel.

Who wants to be the King and Queen of the Santa Barbara Channel? This is (quite literally) the “Wild West” of marathon swimming. It’s yours for the taking…

  • For more information about swimming to, from, around, or between the Channel Islands, please consult the SBCSA’s website, Openwaterpedia entry, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.


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