Experimenting With Foods In The Open Water Swimming: Sweet Potatoes

Experimenting With Foods In The Open Water Swimming: Sweet Potatoes

In the middle of fall in Southern California, I occasionally experiment with different foods and drinks that I can incorporate into my open water swimming the following spring and summer.

Before I experiment with new foods and drinks in the Pacific Ocean, I always test out in a chlorinated pool.  I know that if the food or drink is not optimal in a pool workout, then there is no need to test the same foods or drinks in the open water.  Some swimmers may be different, but this is my own means of experimentation.

This week, I ate a sweet potato and drank a cup of water before a 9,000-meter workout (consisting of 45 x 200m @ 3:00) in an outdoor 50m pool starting at 5:30 am.  The pool water temperature was 27°C; the sunrise came after in the second hour on a sunny fall day.  

The goal of these self-experiments is to push myself to the extreme.  If I can tolerate the situation and see something potentially valuable in the approach, then I can modify the amount of solid foods, hydration, and timing to reach an optimal solution.   

This week 45 minutes before I started the pool workout, I ate half a small cooked sweet potato and 1.5 glasses of water.  Sweet potatoes are 76% water, 21% carbohydrates, 2% protein with negligible fat.  There was no warm-up; I just jumped in the pool and started the swimming set that took 135 minutes total.  I didn’t stop to stretch, go to the bathroom, adjust my goggles, or drink more water throughout the workout.  

In the first 30 minutes, I felt heavy – like I had just eaten a half a sweet potato! In the next 45 minutes, I felt like I wanted to go to the bathroom – but not enough to climb out of the pool.  In the last 60 minutes, I felt smooth and swam well (i.e., faster than the first half of the swimming set). Interestingly, I did not feel hungry at all until 3 hours after conclusion of the swimming experiment.

Some first-hand, non-scientific conclusions include:

1. It is best to take drink more water throughout the set in small sips, especially with all the starch consumed with the sweet potato.

2. The sweet potato required more energy for my digestive system to process.

3. The dense source of carbohydrates could potentially be great for satiation over the course of a multi-hour swim.

4. Eating much smaller amounts of sweet potato combined with much more water would be a more optimal solution.

5. I will try a similar experiment with taro in the near future – and see if there are any differences.

If any open water swimmers have experience with sweet potatoes, yams, or taro or other non-traditional food in their multi-hour swimming practices or channel swims, please email quinn@openwaterswimming.com and we can share your experiences and feedback with others.

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Steven Munatones