Feeding In The Open Water - Reach, Roll, Gulp, Go

Feeding In The Open Water – Reach, Roll, Gulp, Go

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

When Open Water Source coaches introduce feeding and hydration to open water swimmers, they break up the teaching into bite-sized segments in what they call the Open Water 6T:


1. Tools includes the feeding instrument (feeding stick, hand-to-hand, rope-attached cup), the marine vessel (boat, kayak, paddle board, pontoon, pier) and feeding vessel (cup, gel pack, water bottle, portable camel back).

2. Technique includes how to position the body, how to grab the feeding cup, and how to return the feeding cup using the following four steps:
(a) Seek and Spot
(b) Reach and Roll
(c) Gulp and Go
(d) Toss and Turn

3. Timing includes the amount of time between feedings, the amount of time of the feedings, and the amount of time since the start and from the estimated finish

4. Tactics includes when to feed depending on whether the swim is a competitive race, a relay or there are currents, chop or waves involved in a solo swim

5. Turf includes the water conditions in terms of waves, swells, chop, temperature and marine life.

6. Taste includes how the swimmer feels (warm, cold, stressed physically, frustrated) and what they need during their swim (more hydration, more carbohydrates, a boost through their favorite food or medication).

The Open Water Source coaches believe there is a delicate balance between what swimmers need physically and what soothes them psychologically.

So, for example, while many athletes only use scientifically balanced gel packs, after hours of sucking down gel packs and other nutritionally formulated electrolyte drinks, sometimes the athlete is best served by a simple piece of chocolate, their favorite cookie, Coca-cola, plain pasta, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich wedge, or hot chocolate with melted whipped cream. Because open water swimming is such a mentally driven athletic endeavor, these commonly available foods and drinks can satisfy athletes in ways that a packaged gel pack cannot.

The techniques advocated and taught by World Open Water Swimming Association includes a four-step feeding process in order to feed quickly:

1. Seek and Spot – as the swimmer approaches the feeding pontoon or escort boat, they lift their head to spot their coach and seek out exactly where they must go, taking into account surface chop, swells and their relative position in the water versus the escort boat or feeding station.

2. Reach and Roll – as the swimmer approaches the coach, he/she reaches up to grab their cup or bottle, from a feeding stick or other means, as they roll over on their back or side. They resist the temptation to go vertical, to tread water, to eggbeater, to relax or to look forward towards the horizon. Instead as they roll over on their back, they continue their kick.

3. Gulp and Go – they firmly grab the cup, tilting the lip of the cup or bottle within their open mouth, and then gulp.

As long as a majority of the contents of the cup are consumed, the feeding is deemed successful.

4. Toss and Turn – after the contents of the cup or bottle are consumed, the swimmer immediately tosses the cup and turns to go.

The swimmers assume that the cup will be picked up by their coach or volunteers at the race or on the escort boat.

Once this skill is practiced and the timing with the swimmer’s coach is perfected, the process often takes no more than 2-3 seconds from the time the athlete reaches for the cup and he/she is back on their way.

Photos of Yuto Kobayashi of Japan feeding at the 15 km FINA Open Water Swimming Grand Prix race in Isla Cozumel, Mexico.

Copyright © 2013 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones