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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vegetarians In Open Water Swimming

Hydration and feeding - both pre-swim and in-the-water - are essential parts of open water swimming. Proper hydration and proper fueling can either make or break a swim.

While open water swimmers range in age, ability, culture and swimming background, relatively few are vegetarians.

So we caught up with Mark Ransom, a 12:23 English Channel swimmer from the West Suffolk Swimming Club in the UK, to ask him about his eating habits.

The Daily News: Can you tell us about your open water swimming background?

Mark: My first open water swim was the English Channel. I swam competitively from the ages of 5-17 and then had a 20-year break before taking on the Channel. I was 37 when I started training for the Channel.

The Daily News: Can you tell us a little bit about your English Channel swim?

Mark: I swam it on July 14th from Samphire Hoe in England to Wissant in France. It took 12 hours and 23 mins with about six hours of this in rough conditions with five-foot waves.

The Daily News: What did you eat and drink during this swim?

Mark: Mostly warmed Maxim drink with occasional electrolyte drink or coffee with fruit sugar. Every hour I also had either a small Milky Way or half a banana.

The Daily News: What do you eat normally?

Mark: I’ve been a vegetarian for 16 years. This means no meat, poultry or fish at all. I found the transition to becoming a vegetarian very easy and I can honestly say I actually enjoy my food much more now. Many people often ask what I substitute for meat in a meal. I never actually think about a substitute for meat as I believe that meat never had to be a part of the meal in the first place.

For me, breakfast usually includes porridge or muesli with soya milk. I prefer soya to cow’s milk with cereal, it also contains more calcium), followed by a banana or grapefruit. Sometimes, after a training session, I will have baked beans on toast. For lunch, I usually have a couple of rolls filled with cheese and onion; cheese, cucumber and spinach; soft cheese and cucumber; or egg and spinach. I have various favourite evening meals. I use Quorn a lot for protein. Quorn pieces in a curry or Quorn mince in a Spag bog are delicious. I also like currys made with lentils, another good source of protein, and vegetable stir fries. For snacks, I try to eat plenty of nuts. Cashews are my favourites, I could eat them all day. Also, almonds are a good source of magnesium which helps to prevent cramp.


The Daily News: Have people told you that being a vegetarian is not conducive to being an accomplished endurance athlete?

Mark: I get ribbed all the time at work for being a vegetarian. When I announced I was swimming the English Channel, there were many who thought I would never do it. I had a lot of comments about my diet and people asking how I was going to put weight on if I don’t eat meat. These comments just made me more determined to prove them wrong, which I did!

The Daily News: Why do you think being a vegetarian is acceptable to enabling you to swim the English Channel?

Mark: I don’t believe there is anything healthy you can find in meat that you cannot find in other foods. Being a vegetarian means you have to always be mindful of what you put into your mouth. I am always reading labels on food packaging which means I am more informed about my diet than others. When I eat I can enjoy my food without any feelings of guilt or unease, which I know I experienced before becoming vegetarian. This gives me greater inner peace which is a huge advantage when swimming for hours on end when you have only your thoughts to keep you company.

The Daily News: Did you eat anything special during your heavy training periods?

Mark: Bigger portions of everything is the key here. Also plenty of snacks. Again lots of nuts, but also I tend to eat 'bad' foods such as crisps and Magnum ice creams. Also, drinking Maxim or some other high energy drink during training helps to keep the calories up.

The Daily News: Do you think about food during your swims?

Mark: Yes, I think all endurance swimmers do this. You tend to crave certain foods, usually junk food, and plan what you’re going to cram into your mouth the moment you hit dry land. However, I find if the water is very cold this often takes my mind off thinking about food.

The Daily News: Do you have any advice to other vegetarians who do marathon swims?

Mark: I feel that being a vegetarian is a positive step to a healthy body and healthy mind. It should never be seen as a disadvantage at all, whether you are planning to swim the Channel or undertake any other endurance event.

Footnote: Mark is not the only vegetarian out there.

There are numerous others including Karteek Clarke (shown on left) has completed his ninth English Channel crossing and Vedika Bolliger has completed her fifth English Channel crossing.

Both lead healthy lives as vegetarians.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones

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