On Peter Attia’s nutrition webinar

Yesterday Open Water Source hosted a fascinating web-presentation by Peter Attia, a physician and Catalina Channel solo swimmer. The topic: Nutrition for Open-Water Swimming. Right up my alley, to say the least! There’s good news and bad news.

Bad news first: The webinar was oversubscribed so, despite pre-registering a week ahead of time, I got locked out. The good news: I was able to obtain the audio and slides, and “listen in” after the fact. (Friendly suggestion to the good folks at Open Water Source: Please don’t overbook your webinars. I realize they’re free, but still…)

The even-better news: The webinar was excellent. Though, somewhat different than I expected. A few weeks ago a friend sent me a whitepaper authored by Dr. Attia, entitled “Swimming in the Intensive Care Unit.” The gist of the paper is that a marathon swim is enormously stressful on the body, producing physiological symptoms not unlike those of a patient in the ICU with a traumatic injury. Therefore, proper nutrition is critically important to the success of such an endeavor. His recommendations boiled down, interestingly, to almost exactly what I had discovered on my own:

  • The purpose of feeding during a swim is to supplement your body’s other energy sources (glycogen and fat), not to replace every single calorie you burn.
  • Liquid feeds are better than solid feeds, because solids are difficult to chew and digest while swimming.
  • Feed often – every 15 or 20 minutes – to minimize blood sugar fluctuations.
  • An 8-10% carbohydrate solution (equivalent to, at most, 270 calories per hour) is best.
  • Maltodextrin is a better carb source than dextrose and/or fructose – its lower osmolality is less likely to produce gastric distress.
  • Fluid intake should be enough to require urination at least every hour.
  • Augment the carb drink with protein (or preferably, free-form amino acids) to mitigate muscle breakdown.
  • Do not supplement electrolytes in a saltwater swim (at most, perhaps a small amount of potassium).

Indeed, Dr. Attia’s specific product recommendations corresponded exactly to the products that, independently, I had already found to work best: Maxim and Hammer Perpetuem. So – good for me. Aren’t I smart.

What I didn’t realize until yesterday is that the “Swimming in the ICU” paper is actually outdated! Dr. Attia wrote it circa 2009, but in the past two years has completely changed his thinking and approach to nutrition.

How so? Stay tuned for Part 2

4 thoughts on “On Peter Attia’s nutrition webinar”

  1. I have a question about the supplements you discussed, Perpetuem and CarboPro. I’m starting to train for some long swims next year (2 25k’s, a couple 10k’s, and one or two other long swims). My training is very early in the morning, and my stomach doesn’t seem to like solid food all that much. It also is very sensitive while I’m in the middle of a workout. I’ve been thinking about trying one (maybe both) of these out. The perpetuem seems to offer more (i.e. protein and electrolytes), so looks to be a bit better of an option during training. For salt water marathon swims, perhaps not so much. How do you use these supplements? When do you prefer one over the other?

    I swam a 10k last year, but was able to get through that on some water and a gel or two. For swims longer than this, that level of intake just won’t cut it. I’d appreciate any advice you have to offer.

    Thank you.

    1. Tim, thanks for the comment. That’s an ambitious summer! I’d say either one is probably overkill for a training session, unless you’re going more than 2-3 hours. That said, you should always try whatever product you intend to use beforehand during training. For a basic pool session I usually stick with plain water, watered-down Gatorade, or at most, a watered-down maltodextrin product.

      I’ve had success with both CarboPro/Maxim and Perpetuem. I don’t have a preference for either one. In most of my big swims this year I used both, but that was just for variety. Some things to consider:

      – The Caffe Latte flavor of Perpetuem tastes great as a warm feed for a cold-water swim.
      – CarboPro provides a little more bang for the buck (in terms of calories) in the recommended portion.
      – Unflavored maltodextrin (eg, CarboPro/Maxim) is more flexible in terms of flavor. Perpetuem can be quite strong flavored in a higher-strength mixture.
      – Some people have reported digestive problems with protein-enhanced drinks in swims over 4 hours. (I haven’t experienced this personally.)
      – Some people don’t like the taste of soy protein (the protein source in Perpetuem).

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