Sometimes, when you’re a little bit peckish but it’s not quite mealtime, only two bananas, a can of Red Bull and an entire loaf of bread will do. Right?
If, for some strange reason, you’re of the opinion that’s slightly excessive, it’s probably because you’re not swimming in the ocean for six or more hours a day. It’s probably also because you’re not Ross Edgley.
As the strongman swimmer – whose previous exploits include completing a triathlon while carrying a tree, and a marathon while pulling a Mini Countryman (the car, not a small local) – attempts to become the first person to swim around the entirety of mainland Great Britain, each day he is consuming what, for many of us, would be a week’s worth of food.
Although changing tide times and currents make it impossible to keep to a strict eating schedule (Ross needs to be in the water, swimming rather than eating, when conditions are right), he revealed he’s regularly putting away “10 to 15,000 calories a day.” That is at least four times the amount of the average man or, for an easier to visualise stat, five Christmas dinners.
To make up those calories, Ross is eating, well, everything: “pasta, shepherd’s pie, Cornish pasties”, as well as fruit-bowl-sized portions of noodles and porridge. That’s all washed down with homemade, industrial-sized ‘energy gels’ made from piping bags filled with “custard, curries and what have you", which he "bite[s] the end off and pump[s] the food into [his] face.” (*Orders piping bags.)
As space is an issue on the boat, Ross explained the need to pack smart. “To fit the most calorie and carb-dense foods we can store in the least space possible. You can’t take thousands of bags of chicken wings, so I have whey protein and, for carbs, nut butters [and] coconut oil."
Speaking to camera from aboard the deck of Hecate, the Catamaran serving as team HQ for the next few months, Ross described his simple eating strategy: “as soon as I feel my energy levels dip, I eat. When you’re swimming twice a day, sometimes it is about force feeding yourself calories, and I remember the other day I was feeling a bit lightheaded – I hadn’t eaten enough – so I perched myself on the boat and just ate two bananas, a can of Red Bull and a loaf of bread, then carried on swimming.”
We’ve all been there, Ross.
But while he has been “eating like a horse” since he set out from Margate on 1 June, there is considerable method to the madness.
“Ross carries very little fat so I am continuously trying to get carbohydrates and easily digested fats into his body,” said on-board chef and Ross’ “sea mum” Suzanne Hobbs (whose steak sandwiches, Ross said, “deserve an episode on their own”).
“I’m stuffing him with around 15,000 calories a day, and I cook with coconut oil because it’s easy to digest and has lots of calories.”
And the benefits of coconut oil don’t stop there: it’s also helped cure Ross’ aptly named ‘salt tongue’.
“Through chronic exposure to salt water, I woke up the other morning with pieces of tongue on my pillow,” he chuckled. “Luckily, we found that coconut oil remedies that, because it moisturises and also acts as a barrier.”
Nature’s energy bar
Another staple of Ross’ diet is bananas, because they’re easy to digest while in the water and – like the cans of Red Bull he regularly knocks back – provide a near-instant energy boost.
“I’m not allowed to say how many bananas I eat per day, because the media team are going to do something on that!” he said. “But why bananas? Just because when you’re in the water, you want to minimise the amount of time you spend eating. You don’t want to get on and off the boat to keep feeding, because even when you’re treading water in the ocean, the current is still pushing you in the right direction. And you want to eat something that doesn’t have a wrapper and that doesn’t have too much flavour – especially with my salt tongue. For all of those reasons, bananas became my default snack.”
Despite the veritable feast on board, there are a few home comforts Ross is beginning to crave. Asked what food he misses the most, he answered: “Something barbequed, because that’s just something you can’t really have on the boat. Some barbequed ribs would be lovely.”
For the latest on Ross' progress as he makes his way around mainland Great Britain, and to watch his weekly vlogs, head to redbull.com/gb-en/projects/great-british-swim.