Anyone who has participated in an endurance event will know that eating the right things at the right times is key to success. But what if the challenge lasts for days, weeks or months?
Here we take a look at the achievements of some of our greatest athletes and adventurers to discover what fueled them through their great endeavours.
If you want to lose weight fast, try swimming from Cuba to Florida. During her first unsuccessful attempt at the crossing in 1978, Diana Nyad lost a massive 29 lbs during 42 hours of swimming. Not a bad way to get a bikini body, but in nutritional terms, an utter failure.
But things have changed since the 1970s. Diana’s final awe inspiring success probably has as much to do with her feeding regime, as it has with her indomitable spirit and dedication to training – think nine hour sea swims.
During her recent crossing of the shark infested waters, she paused every 90 minutes to down fluids comprised of water, sports drink, electrolytes and predigested protein. Thirst satisfied, she then took on board an energy gel, energy chew and finally a bite of banana topped with a dollop of peanut butter.
Dame Ellen MacArthur
Dame Ellen first blew into the public consciousness at the tender age of 24 when she came second in the round the world yacht race, the Vendée Globe. A stellar sailing career followed and for a time, she held the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe.
But while a dinner invitation from Ellen would certainly be something to look forward to – the menu might not be. To afford her first boat, she saved some of her school dinner money, by eating nothing but mashed potato and baked beans.
Dame Ellen isn’t fussy about food. During her passage through the Southern Ocean, she’d consume up to 8000 calories a day. Of her freeze dried meals aboard ship, she was reported by the online magazine, Square Meal to have said: “I don’t mind all the freeze-dried food but it’s a bit annoying if the packets get wet and the labels peel off, which happened to me once in the North Atlantic. I was expecting beef bourguignon and I got fruit trifle.”
Since then we hope things have improved but we’re not sure. Asked what she ate during a private lunch she shared with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, she replied, “We had soup I think. And some meat.’
The coldest journey
The quest was to cross the breadth of the southern ice cap during winter. A 2,400 mile journey from Crown Bay to McMurdo Sound, via the South Pole. Ranulph Fiennes would ski ahead, the rest would follow in CAT tractors, towing the accommodation, scientific instruments and food. Back at home, efforts would continue in the attempt to raise $10 million for the expedition charity, Seeing is Believing.
Unfortunately, Ranulph was forced to retire with frostbite before the adventure had really begun. 300 km further on, lack of traction over the ice sheet, combined with an unexpected profusion of cavernous glaciers halted the progress of the tractors.
The attempt was abandoned, but the team didn’t go home. No indeed. Having travelled the furthest distance ever, over the polar terrain in winter, they decided to stay and concentrate their efforts on the scientific mission.
They’re still there now, chomping their way through the 1095 individual meals lovingly prepared for them by the team back at HQ. And it’s not all freeze dried ration packs and protein bars either. The daily 3000 plus calories have variety built in – there are 14 different main meals and seven puddings, plus surprise meals for special occasions. Not bad for packed lunches.
Now for an extreme challenge that’s a little closer to home. One of those sports that attract people for whom gruelling marathons are not enough, ‘fell running’ involves legging it across some of the toughest terrain the UK has to offer.
Events with titles like the Ilkley Incline, the Tour of Norland Moor, and the aptly named, Wild Goose chase, give a flavour of the sort of challenge that awaits.
But the holy grail of fell running is the Bob Graham round. On the 12 June, 1932, Keswick guest house owner, Bob Graham set off from his home in the Lake district, wearing plimsoles, long shorts and a pyjama jacket to attempt the ascent of 42 peaks in 24 hours. The 66 mile round is still considered by many to be the most arduous challenge in British running.
For the unassuming hotelier, there were no high tech sports drinks, energy chews, or gels. Bob was sustained as he lept from tussock to tussock, forded streams and scrambled over scree, by nothing more than bread and butter, a lightly boiled egg and some fruit and sweets.