Monday, February 20, 2012

Help at the final hour…!

Dear Swimmers

Hope you're all doing well - the count down to Saturday's Rottnest Channel Swim is finally on! Hope you're all feeling great. The weather report at this stage is looking a little unsettled, but I'd ignore worrying about this right now...if nothing more my English Channel swim in September proved to me that a) there's no point worrying over something you can't control and b) that you've got to make the best of the elements on the day - you're all facing the same challenge, whoever gets their head around it the best will be the one who has a great swim. I totally believe you can all do this and if you want some inspiration check out this little video clip of my experiences in the Channel:

...that being said, I've also checked the reports and at this stage I am not overly concerned at all. Focus on you and your own preparations and believe that you can do it.

OK, a few points and tips, starting off with a MASSIVE plea for help:

  1. Kim Annear's boat is having a few mechanical issues and she needs either a great mechanic, a minor miracle or a new boat. The mechanic is due to do his stuff tomorrow, but we're trying to cover our bases and are desperately seeking a back-up boat in the eventuality that hers cannot be fixed. If you know ANYONE who can help, please contact Kim direct on or 0488 131 308 as soon as possible. Kim's raised well over $20,000 for the Cancer Council WA (see - please help if you can!
  2. I only have 9 days left in Perth before I head over to the UK for a series of Swim Smooth Coaching Clinics and to launch a brand new range of wetsuits that we've designed. If you think you may run out of PAYG payment cards whilst I'm away (1st to 23rd March 2012), it would be very much appreciated if you could purchase a new card before I leave at so as to help the coaches who will run the squad in my absence. There will still be the facility to do this whilst I am away or pay for a card in cash with the coach on the pool deck, but given the recently high numbers at the squad I am just trying to smooth out this process as much as possible and your help is much appreciated.
  3. We've had a massive number of enquiries and bookings recently for our 1-2-1 Video Analysis and Stroke Correction Sessions (see and these are now all fully booked until the start of June believe it or not. If you are hoping to book in for one (especially for the winter period) please may I suggest you do so sooner rather than later. Thanks.
  4. Below are some suggestions (quite long, but hopefully useful) on nutrition for this weekend's race in response to two squad emails I recently received. Hopefully you have all this nailed in by now and I'd strongly suggest not changing anything dramatically before your event:

Question # 1:

Hey Paul,
You have about a million times more experience than me for endurance racing. I hope that you can give me your opinions regarding my nutritionplan for my Rotto swim.
Basically, I have done 4 x 10km races this season but the Rotto swim is 20km. Aiming for 5hrs – 5:30hrs.
Can you please give me your thoughts on the following:
My goal is to load up on Pasta at 6pm and again at 10pm the night before. Just spaghetti with a flavourless light red sauce. I'll try to keep my hydration normal. Swim starts at 5:45am. 

Plan is to have a gel 15mins before race. During the swim I am planning to have 20 second break every 15mins (1km). At each break I'll have a gel mixed with 200ml of powerade. So over the whole swim I'll be having 20 gels and 4L of powerade. (is this too much?)
Doing my 10km swims I was having between 5-7 of the same gel/powerade mix and did not suffer adversely.
Thanks in advance for your expert thoughts.


Hi Damon

My thoughts on the nutrition are:

1) I wouldn't get overly concerned about stuffing a load of extra pasta into you the night before the week just ensure you don't do anything out of the ordinary and keep well hydrated and fuelled generally. Sometimes over loading yourself with very dense carbs can result in quite a heavy lethargic feeling on race day.

2) I would suggest having some water to hand to wash down some of the gels especially if you start to feel a little bloated. Some people are OK with a lot of rich carbs (i.e. gatorade and gel together) but some are not. Stick with what you know.

3) In 2009 I stopped every 20mins, in 2011 I stopped every 1500m (~22 mins) but found I needed to do a couple of quicker stops every 12-15 mins at about 15-16km when I was feeling a little low on fuel. Had I raced this year though (and with all the EC conditioning) I would have opted for every 2km (~28 mins) as this worked perfect for me. I personally think every 1km for 20" is too much, especially at the start. You can always start with 22-25mins and do what I did in 2011 if you feel the need - do this though before it becomes a problem! 

4) How fast you go off at the start will determine how quickly you chew through your carb stores - a good pacing strategy at the start will see better conservation of your energy as you go along.

Question # 2:

Hi Paul,
I have been doing the Saturday morning set the last 3 weeks with Stu and Clare and feel like I am pretty close to running on empty after about 4k. 
You mentioned using carbohydrate gels in one of the sessions last week – would it just be one of those after 3 or 4km?  In terms of fluids – just water or a Gatorade or similar? 
Would you recommend anything before a 5 – 7k swim – banana's, muesli bar??
Where do you get the carbohydrate gels?
At Swim Smooth we are often asked questions about what food and drink swimmers and triathletes should be using when they train and race to keep themselves fuelled and hydrated. Getting this aspect of your training preparation right is very important and will also determine how well you perform in training sessions and how well you recover afterwards. Studies have shown the negative effects of dehydration on performance as being anything upwards of 20% and if you have ever depleted your energy strokes and 'hit the wall' whilst you have been training you will know the profound effect that this also has.

Whilst we believe in a balanced whole-food diet outside of your training and racing, here are a few tips on what you can do immediately before, during and after training to supplement your fuel stores and maintain your hydration levels. We have written our advice on this as a direct response to an email we received recently from one of our swimmers who is contemplating the challenge of the 20km Rottnest Channel Swim in February 2012.

There are a couple of things worth pointing out with respect to training and racing nutrition to fully answer this question Chris:
  1. When training early in the morning your body has slept for 6-8 hrs and whilst this requires less energy than when you are awake, you still do burn calories whilst asleep. Although some swimmers prefer training on a totally empty stomach, we highly recommend having something before training to top up your muscle and liver glycogen stores. I personally have 'Weetbix' cereal with hot milk and a sprinkle of sugar washed down with a vitamin drink which I find works really well. Other people might have a banana, muesli bar or some toast and honey or jam. I will often sip on a bottle of water on my way to the pool to top up my hydration levels.
  2. Your body typically stores enough fuel in the form of carbohydrate (glycogen) to last you through 1½ - 2hrs of moderate to hard intensity training. In general you want to avoid becoming depleted so it's important that you top-up your energy during any session over an hour. When you exercise very lightly you use a larger portion of stored fat as your fuel source but as soon as intensity starts to lift above 70-75%, an ever greater share of your fuel source starts to come from carbohydrates. Given that this session is long (5+ km) and it becomes progressively faster, it has the potential to be a real drain on your glycogen stores. As you get fitter, the body becomes better equipped for utilising stored fat as a fuel source but your pacing in the first 1-2km of a hard set like this is important as well - go off too fast and you will immediately start draining your carbohydrate stores which will leave you wanting later in the session or race.
  3. Personally I alternate between drinking 250ml of Gatorade (mixed into the recommended 6-8% solution) every 25 minutes with 250ml of Gatorade or water together with a carbohydrate gel like a GU. Some say you should never ingest a gel and Gatorade together (or similar carbohydrate rich drink) as the sugar solution might be too strong in your stomach and can cause gastro-intestinal problems. Whilst this is true for some, it's not true for everyone - which is why you should use your training sessions as a way of experimenting what works best for you. My little formula gives me 500ml of fluid per hour plus 30g carbohydrate from the Gatorade and 25g from the gel (55g total). This is somewhat lower than the standard recommendation often made to triathletes of 1g/kg/hr (75g per hour for someone of my size) plus 600-1000ml of fluid per hour. I've always found the greater total fluid and fuel volume there a bigger source of stomach upset than combining a gel together with Gatorade but as I say this is highly individual and something to test out thoroughly yourself.
  4. These days carbohydrate sports gels can be bought at many sports stores or online. Whilst I use Gatorade most often as my drink source (because of its wide availability in supermarkets) other brands offer more sophisticated carbohydrate drinks too. 'Pure Sport' is a drink that we're currently trialling (as used by Mr Michael Phelps himself), this contains a little protein as well as carbohydrates and electrolytes - the carbohydrates are for fuel, the electrolytes are to replace lost minerals through sweat, and the protein is to enhance recovery and reduce muscle damage. Other good brands include Powerade, Science In Sport and Powerbar.
  5. Not everyone likes the texture of consuming a gel, so experimenting with things like Powerbars, cereal bars, honey sandwiches and bananas are also a worthwhile thing to do to find out what works best for you, albeit they are generally harder to eat and digest than gels. On my Rottnest crossings (and for the English Channel) I took a large variety of things with me (some of which are comfort foods and make me feel good if I'm getting low, e.g. Fry's Turkish Delight - yum!) just in case I fancy something different. When I swam the English Channel, despite being in the water for a little over 12 hours, I hardly strayed from my original Gatorade and GU gel plan but it was good to know that I had something different readily available if I wanted it.
  6. Whilst it's fair to say that sweat and evaporation rates are a lot different on land than in the water, you do still lose fluid in the water, so rehydrating is essential. If you are not needing to urinate every 60-90 minutes whilst training, you could be starting to become dehydrated. Equally, over-hydrating (more than 1.2 litres per hour, especially as plain water) can be extremely dangerous from an effect known as hyponatremia where you flush the body's cells of their sodium stores. So whilst my 25 minute fuelling and hydrating strategy works for me, you should experiment between 15 and 35 minutes to see what works best. In a pool session when you are not swimming continuously it is advisable to have a water bottle for little sips in between your major fuel stops.
  7. If you finish a session completely drained of fuel then it's going to take you a much longer time to recover. We get fitter (and faster) through a good balance of hard work and recovery. Take too long recovering between sessions and you will feel much less energetic at your next session. Consequently you always end up performing below par and never see the big improvements. This is why fuelling is so essential for effective training.
  8. Aiming to get in 20-30g of carbohydrate immediately after a long session like this will really pay dividends - a Nutella sandwich is always a favourite for me within 20 minutes of finishing a tough session. Things like Sustagen drinks are also a good way of recovering post session too.

This is certainly not an exhaustive section on sports nutrition but the take home points are: don't skip on nutrition, experiment with what works best for you and don't forget to consume some carbohydrate rich foods immediately after training to aid rapid recovery and reduce the urge to snack on fatty foods later in the day.

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