Saturday, 6 May 2017

Nutrition planning for Windermere

The first race (running) that I ever won in my early teens I attributed to the Mars Bar (my chocolate bar of choice back then) my Dad gave me before I ran, and in the years that followed he gave me one before every race I did, and as instructed I ate it an hour before. It became our 'thing.' Back then anything to do with food, a healthy diet and nutrition fell to my Mum. I just ate what was put in front of me, and my Dad freely admitted since then that he gave it to me as a treat rather than to boost my performance.

I'm not sure whether there was the understanding in the 80's that there is today about balanced diets, nutrition and our bodies, or as much emphasis, but since then there has been loads of research done that connects good nutritional choices with improved performance, a quicker recovery and injury prevention, which has then led to a vast amount of gels, shakes, bars and products coming onto the market that claim to keep you hydrated, provide fuel, boost performance and improve the recovery process, which all sounds perfect for my swim...

I have no experience on what eat during a longer swim. On the 10k swims I did last year I survived very well on Jelly Babies and a couple of gel bars, but this swim will be nearly double the distance and if I don't get it right my performance will be affected, and so I need to ensure that the food I eat during the swim is not only beneficial, but that I can actually tolerate it.

I want to learn all of my lessons before I swim Windermere and the only way to do this is to plan ahead by experimenting with various, recommended food options to see what works for me, a bit like a rehearsal if you will, and once I've tried and tested them stick to these familiar foods for the duration. As I am a 100% non expert I have asked a few people, some with and some without long distance swimming experience for their favourites and since asking it's become clear to me that it's not as simple as one size fits all. What works for one person may not work for another.

There appears to be no rule of thumb with regards to what to eat, however a lot of the recommendations actually echo each other and mostly say they have mainly carbohydrates with a little amount of protein and fat. They find this is the best combination, and as long as you stick to it you can pretty much have what you like, what your body can tolerate and a bit of what you fancy...

What's been amazing is that some of the kind folks that shared their thoughts not only give me recommendations, but have gone on to explain why my body needs these types of food.

It all boils down to the fact that the body has different requirements when you're exercising and that's why you need to adjust your food intake accordingly. It's been explained to me that initially my body will rely on carbohydrates that are already stored for fuel in my muscles, and any complex carbohydrates that I eat just before and during the swim may not have enough time to be absorbed into the blood and then to the working muscles, as this process takes a long time, and therefore it is important to increase the amount of complex carbohydrates for a few days before the swim, to maximise muscle glycogen in advance.

I have also been told that the body needs the carbohydrates replenishing regularly as it can't store them for much longer than 60-90 minutes and whilst complex carbohydrates, which are slower to digest, will give me enough energy initially, they will need to be topped up with simple carbohydrates during the swim, simply because simple carbohydrates are digested faster. This is important, as when exercising hard the body diverts blood away from the digestive tract and essentially prioritises by sending it to the rest of the body giving it the oxygen it needs to work the muscles. Also, carbohydrates need less oxygen than fats or protein to burn which makes it the most effective fuel source. This is really helpful when our bodies are already struggling to process the oxygen it needs.

It has been suggested that I start taking on simple carbohydrates early on in the swim when my body is less tired, and my digestive tract is working better. This will mean it will be easier to process the sugars which seems to make sense. I don't want to be leaving it too late when my energy levels are already low, if my liver runs out of glycogen I will literally hit the wall, and a recovery will take time and possibly put the kibosh on my swim.

I am aware that there are other factors that may contribute to my performance on the day, for example: the weather, the temperature (air and water), the tide (yes, Windermere is so large that it has a tide!), whether I've slept, are my hips/feet ok? The point is that if I can successfully find what foods works for me and combine it with a well balanced diet before the big day, it will be one less thing to worry about. As I said before, I'm not an expert, and I'm not an athlete. I don't follow a rigid schedule, but I do want to be able to enjoy the swim- it's a long time in the water to not! I want to get out the Lake and be able to brag (probably indefinitely) about my achievement.

I have been offered some great suggestions, some of which I would never have thought to try, and others I'm definitely not trying (anything with Marmite - I'm a hater). I think it's a good thing to have a variety of foods, and I have already included my beloved Jaffa Cakes and, for old time's sake, a Mars Bar, on my 'yes' list, and and have just returned from various shops ladened with supplies of gels and snacks and a severely reduced bank balance. All in the name of getting it right! I'll keep you posted...

Finally- sports science is still evolving and last thing that I've learn't, that I absolutely feel compelled to share as I am both surprised and delighted to learn, was that in a very recent studies at Kensington University they proved that dark chocolate can boost performance, and it gets better, they're not talking an odd piece, but a whole bar a day (fingers crossed it's one of those 200g ones!!!). How amazing is that?

For those of you that want to read more about this happy news here's the link
 Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition

There may be someone reading this that does not agree with some parts, but I would just like to say that no-one offering me the benefit of their wisdom and/or advice are specialists in the field. Thy are just a bunch of kind individuals that wanted to share their own understanding and experience to point me in the right direction for which I am very grateful.

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