As an endurance athlete, particularly in my newfound passion for open water marathon swimming, I believe balanced nutrition is absolutely essential to your health and survival, as well as to your overall race performance. I grew up a pool swimmer through college, and I never really knew how to fuel properly before and after big races. Perhaps I was able to get away with it since I was young, strong, and in great shape, but unfortunately for most of us, this does not remain true as we age! It is much more difficult to perform at a high level if you are not fueling your body properly, giving your body proper rest, and cross training effectively.
Upon my return to swimming a few years ago in my early thirties, I knew I didn't want to settle for mediocrity, or even just swimming for fitness. I knew I wanted to be at the top. I was able to do this for two years by working harder in the pool than I did even in my college days. I even won every major open water race (ranging from 2.5km to 17 miles) I entered in Texas, without worrying about things like nutrition or strength training, and, as a result, I got cocky and overconfident.
Flash forward to October 2017. I swam (and won the female race) at Highland Lakes Swim Challenge (5 Lakes/5 days/17+ miles), right outside of Austin. I did, however, struggle significantly to even finish the fifth day, mostly due to lack of proper nutrition the entire week, before, during, and after each day’s swim. Let me cite an example: a group of us would go out to brunch each day after that day’s race. Each day was somewhere between 3 and 4.5 miles, so we spent a significant amount of time and energy swimming. Everyone would pig out on food and always end the meal with a slice of the restaurant’s famous pie. I’d sit there and eat half of my food, then have a bite of pie, claiming I was full. I wasn’t enjoying myself and celebrating our swims, but rather punishing myself by not putting nearly enough calories back in after these grueling swims. Why? I couldn’t accept or acknowledge it then, but it was because of my ongoing struggles with anorexia. Both anorexia nervosa (depriving the body of enough food and obsessing over weight) and anorexia athletica (excessive and compulsive exercising).
Upon my return home from the race, I immediately decided to challenge my endurance and my fitness again by applying and getting accepted into the world-renowned S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge at the end of April 2018 (4-day staged swim outside of Phoenix, Arizona, totaling over 41 miles). As such, I knew I had to get my life and my health together; I couldn’t keep going like I had been the past few years if I wanted this race to be a success. I was extremely underweight for my height, I was lacking in muscle mass, and I was literally scared to death of eating anything that, in my opinion, was considered “bad calories.” So, I hired both a nutritionist and a strength and conditioning coach at the gym. And believe it or not, neither of them judged me when hearing my story. They both want to HELP me and see me get healthy and achieve my goals.
This brings me back to my current training, nutrition, and health. My nutritionist immediately saw my diet was extremely low in calories, particularly for the level of training I do, and that I was seriously lacking in protein and fats. With support and guidance, I now eat several hundred calories before my workouts, and I make sure they're rich in fats and/or carbohydrates to give my body the energy needed to complete the workout.
I was first introduced to FBOMB nut butters through my nutritionist as an alternative energy source. I immediately realized how invaluable the nut butters are to my training routine. The healthy fat boost dramatically helps fuel my longer swims. As an added bonus, I think they taste amazing, too! Immediately after a workout, I replace those lost calories. In particular, I eat foods high in protein to feed my muscles. I’ve also gained a healthy 8-10 pounds of muscle and fat over the past 6 months. I feel so much better and have more energy than I’ve had in literally years. Plus, I’ve gotten so much faster and stronger in the water. I’m now working on being fit, fierce, and fast!
At the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge previously mentioned, I ate FBOMB nut butters as my primary energy source throughout the swims. After 45 minutes into each day’s swim, I immediately had a nut butter packet for energy. Then, every 30 minutes, I alternated the nut butters with an electrolyte gel to help keep my potassium levels up and prevent cramping/dehydration. I can honestly say I never ran out of energy during each day’s swim. While I do not follow a strict keto diet, I found that for me, FBOMB is the perfect healthy fat fuel that I can quickly access and eat, even while in the water.
About the Author:
Lauren Grous is an open water swimmer in League City, Texas, who currently trains with Houston Cougar Aquatic Masters (COOGs). She coaches the South Shore Sails USA swim team and serves as the Houston-based JOLYN Texas representative. She finished first at the April 2016 and the October 2017 2.5km Snapping Tortuga Open Water Swim in Lake Conroe, Texas. She won and set the course record at the Sharkfest Waco 4km Open Water Swim in July 2017. She won the women’s division at the Highland Lakes Challenge staged race (5 lakes/5 days/17+ miles) in Austin, Texas, in October 2017. Between April 25-28, 2018, she competed in all four staged swims of the SCAR Swim Challenge in Arizona, finishing 5thamong women in the 15.2km Saguaro Lake, a DNF after 3.3km in the 14.4km Canyon Lake (hypothermia), a DNF after 14.5km in the 27.3km Apache Lake (hypothermia), and 8thoverall in the 10km Roosevelt Lake swim. Lauren is hoping to participate in the Maui Channel Swim rough water crossing between Lanai and Maui in September 2018 with her JOLYN teammates! She also hopes to one day compete on the FINA Pro 10km circuit for open water swimming - it would be a dream come true!