Eating the right food on the ocean is critical in a long distance race. Maintaining strength and weight in an extreme environment over a long period of time can be very tricky. Sometimes, in very rough and wet conditions, meals can be the only highlight of the day, so having something that you like and can look forward to, and that gives you a morale boost is enormously important.
Since I started ocean racing about 12 years ago I have tried most things from pot noodles to tinned ravioli, and from multivitamins to protein shakes, and I’ve had some pretty bad experiences. In the past I’ve had chronic stomach cramps or have been totally sapped of energy and lethargic for days.
On one double-handed Atlantic race I did, where I joined another boat, the food shopping for 20 days was done by the skipper’s fiancé who, being a model, weighed very little. She said she had packed “more than enough food” but it was only after we started the race that we realised she had assigned just two smalls bags of nuts and dried fruit for each day – about enough to satisfy a garden sparrow. Needless to say we didn’t have a very nice time for the next three weeks, constantly dreaming of food, and every flying fish or squid that landed on the deck got savaged instantly.
In terms of calorie intake I tend to aim for about 3500-4000 calories per day, depending on the race, and even if things are not too physical you still use a lot of energy since you are awake for longer with sleeping times reduced to 3-4 hours.
To race across the Atlantic on a Class 40 can take anything between 12 and 25 days, depending on the route distance and weather, and even on a boat weighing 4,500 kg, the weight of food and water really adds up over this time. The key to driving weight down is to rely on a desalinator for making water, and then carry mostly dehydrated food. A lot of this expedition food is available in camping shops and provides a good mix of nutrition, but relying on this as a stable diet can really make you bloat and feel tired so it is important to balance this with fresh food early on in the race, while it lasts. There is nothing worse than a step change in diet to something drastically different that you don’t particularly like, so it is important to continue to include something normal in the diet, at least for the first week, like cheese sandwiches!
154,000 kcal prepared for the Transat Jacques Vabre © www.philsharpracing.com