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Don't drink, don't sink

Updated: Mar 28, 2022

trisutto swimming training nutrition triathlon Brett Sutton

Each season brings a new group of triathletes and with them their inevitable water bottles to the side of the swimming pool. Season after season I have tried to explain why this coach doesn't entertain them.

Before we start let me clarify;

In very high heat and humidity camps we do allow water bottles on deck – in fact, encourage it.

However, in normal circumstances our pros or age-groupers refrain from drinking out of a water bottle while swimming.


If we do an Ironman we are not able to replenish our hydration supplies for at least one hour in the swim. The actual time without hydration can be much more. Not only are you swimming without breaks, but there is plenty of time standing around after the warm-up being marshalled for the swim start.

It has been my clear observation that there is no drink station on the swim course or at the start area before entering the water. So even the very best swimmers wait for at least 1hr 30 before they can take on any fluid other than the stuff they are swimming in.

To see athletes at swim training taking a drink between sets is bad enough. Seeing age group athletes sneaking a quick sip on their water bottle in between reps is ridiculous. This is training your system to expect to be given water. Water it won't get on race day. If one is accustomed to drinking in the middle of your swimming, the body won't adapt well when it doesn't get its normal hydration. Why would anyone expect it to?

At Trisutto we believe that for an Ironman everything can and needs to be trained. Drinking a litre of water at training for an hour when on race day we are allowed none is a recipe for impending disaster.

Remember this, we are also usually racing in a wetsuit that increases our core body temperature. You will sweat much more on race day than in your normal swim in the pool.

Thus not allowing athletes to drink out of a water bottle during swim workouts is training your system to cope with a race day situation. It's not a punishment and it's not being mean. It's specific training for a very real problem.

Of course, health experts will advise you to keep hydrated by swimming with a bottle. That's their job. But the same experts would also be unlikely to advise you that swimming 3.8km, riding 180km and running 42.2km in the same day is a good idea for your health either. But where is the fun in that?

I stood on deck for 15 years as a professional swim coach, usually with around 50 athletes in the water at any one time. Swim starts are very early morning in Australia (usually around 5-530am) and most athletes skip 'real breakfast' to come straight to the pool with a cup of chocolate or coffee to wake them up. These athletes swim between 5-6km each session. Some 8-10km.

You wouldn't see water bottles on the swim deck, nor would you see anyone fainting or passing out because of dehydration either.

The longest race these athletes would do is perhaps 17 minutes for a 1500m.

Meanwhile, our sport asks age-groupers to swim without water for a minimum of 1 hour and be without hydration for anything up to 2 hours. Yet these are the ones training themselves to be water-dependent.

I can advise if you that if have hydrated well before you enter the pool area and swim between 30 minutes to 1hr 30 in the water, then having a water bottle is not making you a better triathlete. It could, however, be ensuring that you are going to have a severe problem on race day!

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