Our resident Olympian answers your swimming questions
My question is about nutrition. How should I prepare for a 14km race? This will be my first long distance swim and I have no idea how to prepare when it comes to nutrition.
Nutrition is very important so that you have enough energy to complete a long swim. Although everyone’s dietary habits are different, I can tell you what I was advised to do for big swims.
As a team, the open water swimmers would often carbo load. When you eat a bowl of pasta or rice, most of the carbs are stored as glycogen in your muscles and also in your liver. Glycogen is your body’s most easily accessible form of energy, but it’s not the only source. During an endurance swim you usually burn both glycogen and fat. But burning fat is harder to convert to fuel. When you “hit the wall” in an event you have depleted your glycogen stores, meaning your body has to slow down as it turns fat into energy.
Start the process three to four days before the race, as you cannot fill your muscles in one day. Mix up what food you use: rice, oatmeal, bread, pancakes, cereal, bagels, yogurt, jacket potato without the skin and juice are all easy-to-digest options. Many fruits are high in carbs but their skins are high in fibre – too much can cause stomach trouble. Therefore, I recommend peeling your fruit.
You might find you start bloating as your body starts storing water in your muscles. This is to be expected. Test out the pre-race diet beforehand to find out what works best for you.
On race day itself make sure you are well hydrated. Tuck energy gels in your hat or wetsuit sleeve or ankle, but it’s important you have practised taking these while swimming as they take getting used to! And don’t be scared to try a range of flavours and brands until you find the best one for you.
Good luck and enjoy your swim!
“Swimming was my whole life for over 20 years. I poured every ounce of enthusiasm into it. I am so fortunate to have found these new outlets for that enthusiasm.” Cassie Patten
Cassie Patten won bronze in the first ever Olympic 10km marathon swim, in the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
Cassie now coaches and is a frequent commentator at open water events. cassiepatten.co.uk