The decision regarding what to eat and drink during your swim should not be made on the day. Here are a few things to consider when making your feeding plan.
1) What should I eat and drink?
It is wise to experiment with all types of products in the months leading up to your swim and let your stomach and head decide what is suitable for you. Once you have a happy formula for eating and drinking, stick to it.
Just like all sports, nutrition is very personal; what works for others may not work for you. That said, many swimmers find certain products to work well in terms of digestion and energy benefits.
The swimmers training in Dover harbour are given Maxim flavoured with cordial during their feeds, as well as a bit of food. Food options include swiss rolls, bits of banana, and jelly babies. Others have found canned peaches and Mars bars to go down well. The key is to choose foods which are easy to chew and swallow, and which you enjoy. During your swim, your tongue and mouth will likely become irritated due to the salt in the water, so you will likely be unable to consume chewy foods or gels very well.
Some people do not ingest solids at all during their swim. These swimmers typically feed on liquid supplements such as Maxim. This is why it is important to realise which feeding method works for you personally! On the mental side, food can be seen as very rewarding for your efforts between feeds. EG- If you are 6.5 hours into your swim, and know that your favourite food, a swiss roll, is coming at the 7 hour feed, it is a great distraction to think about how amazing your swiss roll is going to taste!
Electrolytes should be avoided in high doses because you will be ingesting salt while you swim. High doses of electrolytes in your system can lead to potentially life-threatening conditions. Read the labels of your drink mixes, and look for mixes which are carbohydrate (maltodextrin) based.
2) How often should I feed?
In terms of timing, this is also very personal. Some people feed every hour, while others prefer feeding more often. In Dover harbour, swimmers usually swim the first two hours without feeding. This allows the swimmer to practice swimming a long period by themselves, and is good mental preparation for the Channel. A general feeding plan used by swimmers is to feed every hour for the first 2-3 hours, and then every 30 minutes until the end of your swim. Practice this during your training swims and see what works for you.
3) How long should my feeds last?
Aim to have your feeds take no more than 30 seconds. Feeding is essential to your Channel success, but long feeds lead to longer crossing times. Feeds should not be seen as a break or a rest. Train yourself to feed as quickly as possible and get back to your endeavour!
4) What should I eat before long training swims?
It is important to be pre-fuelled before long training swims. If you not an early-morning eater, you need to become one. There are plenty of recipes for hearty breakfasts. Train your body to accept larger doses of calories. Porridge is a favourite among athletes because of its slow-release energy properties. If you can't stomach a large bowl, supplement it with a fruit smoothie. Or, even better, have both!
5) I've decided I would feel more confident if I gained X pounds for my swim. What are some good ways to gain weight?
Gaining weight does not mean you need to spend the next year at fast-food restaurants. If you have decided you would feel more confident with a bit of fat on you, aim to increase your caloric intake well before you are due to swim. Some easy ways that Channel swimmers put on weight are to add in a pint of whole milk to meals, eat ice cream every night, and/or include more snacks throughout the day. Please remember that you will be training very long distances during your training, so you already need to add more to your diet to supplement this exercise.
Sandettie Lightship Observations
6am, 1st December 2015
Water: 54.7 °F (12.6 °C)
Air: 55.2 °F (12.9 °C)
Wind Speed: 26.0 kn (48.2 km/h)
Wind Direction: WSW (250°)