I shared a few hours on a paddle with Hong Kong Olympic coach & ski paddler Rene Appel, where he spoke about the sorts of nutrition requirements for ultra distance running, another one of his passions.
It turns out that after a certain amount of time above a certain heart rate output (& other variables too complex to mention in detail), your body begins to shut down the digestive system. So, if you're wanting to maintain proper energy levels & replace the energy being lost to your extended exertion you need something that your stomach can turn into fuel once you go past this point of no return.
The most surprising thing I found out was that whole foods just don't cut it, in terms of providing the energy you need to keep going. They make you feel better, the 'happy' factor, but you don't get much benefit from their nutritional content once the digestive system goes into what is essentially a survival mode.
The trace from a 75km leg of the North Reef Trip, Illustrating just how many calories you burn through.When I got back to Sydney I figured Adventure racers would be the best people to talk to about how it's done. They regularly put themselves through multi-day events with little sleep, huge calorific output & by definition are racing, pushing at every stage of their race.
I got in touch with Toby Cogley from Endurance Store, a champion mountain biker & elite endurance athlete. Toby spent a huge amount of time going through the sorts of requirements he thought I'd need to keep on going over 12 hours plus of hard paddling. He suggested a drink called e-Load which is a weak-tasting formulation with a powerful kick of carbohydrates & electrolytes. Something like Gatorade on steroids with virtually no taste. It has an important formulation that makes it digestible even after your system has gone into flight mode, thus helping to prevent cramps & dehydration related problems that plague endurance athletes.
He suggested coupling the drink, measured into careful portions to maximise the return, with e-Load gels, which are similarly mildly flavoured while still delivering maximum returns.
So, for the big crossings, the 40-90km days where there was no other option but to reach the tiny island at the other end, I followed Toby's suggested regime & fair powered through my days. Rob & Chris poked fun at the space food swilling around loose in my hatches, but both had their own fuel plans which weren't that far off my seemingly extreme template.
The only time I let it slip was about 8km from Lady Elliot Island, after a hard 12 hours on the water, with as little as hour to go by our reckoning, where I missed an hourly refuel. I was feeling great, didn't see any great need to crack another goo with the island so close so didn't push the point when the guys suggested we put our heads down & just get there. About 15 minutes later I was still feeling fine, but my speed had dropped by a third & I just couldn't foot it with Rob & Chris. I told them how I was going, we rafted up so I could have another couple of gels, & from that point I picked it up & landed in great shape.
So well did my plan work, that I took my first paddle stroke at 93kg, and 370km & seven hard days paddling later I was…..93kg. Not such a great advertisement for Jenny Craig but I don't reckon I like the idea of drastic weight loss on a trip where energy in store means safety.
Another little tip we garnered from a local marathon paddling champ was to carry a can of Red Bull somewhere handy. He suggested that no further out than 45-60 minutes at the end of a long haul, something with the sort of hit that Red Bull delivers would see you home in style. I'm not going to make any comments, I just suggest you try it!
On the One Degree paddle I plan to follow the same regime of fuelling, taking advantage of all of the sports science on offer. It's not every day you paddle over 110km on the sea & I've always considered it wise to garner every advantage in any sports in which I've participated.
Note, I'm not advocating using this level of artificial nutrition for your Saturday arvo paddle down the coast. It's really for what I consider long haul open water paddling where the stronger & better fuelled you are, the better decisions you'll make, the faster you go, & the safer you'll be.