We often take a box of Mann’s Cookies on our swimming expeditions. They’re a lovely treat for when you get out of the water. I’ve even taken to popping in a cookie before I get in, or in between one swim and the next. They are deliciously chocolatey and gooey on the inside and they come with lots of different fun toppings, such as mini-Easter eggs. Our friend Amanda and her niece, Anoushka, started baking Mann’s Cookies for NHS workers during lockdown in 2020 and now they’re working non-stop to keep up with the orders.
Tucking into some well deserved cookies after a lap of Burgh Island during our 2020 Devon swim retreat
My parents always used to say to us on holiday: “no swimming until at least an hour after your lunch has gone down or you’ll get stomach cramps”. Those post lunch waits were some of the most excruciatingly boring minutes of our summer holidays. It amused me then, many years later, to find myself as a Channel swimmer actually eating while swimming. There is little evidence to support the myth that eating causes cramps, but it is probably a sensible precaution to avoid eating excessively before swimming and never to swim when you have drunk alcohol. From my experience, I would say eating and swimming do actually go together very well, and I thought I’d try quickly to explain why taking a box of Mann’s Cookies with you to the beach is a good idea.
Apart from the fact that they are so yummy, there are two other reasons why we need cookies when outdoor swimming. First, remember that swimming is an outdoor activity and that the water in which we swim in the UK is never going to be warmer than 20°C (and often it may be considerably colder). When you think that normal body temperature is 37°C you can see that by swimming we are placing ourselves on the losing side of a significant temperature gradient, even on a warm summer day, so our mammalian body is going to be calling out for energy to burn to maintain this temperature when it senses such a shock.
If our body temperature drops below 35°C then we become hypothermic and in order to prevent this the body will react in a number of ways, like shivering, where our brown fat starts to burn extra calories to try and provide the necessary energy to keep warm. If you rely on shivering alone though, the calorie burning effect is not sufficient to keep you warm enough, so you need to move about, which is where swimming comes in handy. If you run around or perform vigorous physical exercise, you’ll soon get hot and bothered and be looking for ways to cool off, but with swimming this becomes an advantage. Swim to keep warm! There are two caveats here though. First, you have to swim front crawl to obtain the maximum heat benefit as breaststroke, unless you’re Adam Peaty, is not going to be energetic enough, and second, which is where the cookies come in, you need to keep refuelling to provide the necessary energy for your muscles to keep going, so the process becomes: eat – swim – metabolise – stay warmer for longer!
When we’re swimming in cold conditions, we need to generate heat as fast as we can and the best food for this should be one high in sugar and carbohydrate,, which can be quickly converted into energy by our muscles as we swim, so Mann’s Cookies make the perfect energy food, containing a rich mixture of flour, chocolate and sugar, which are all going to be useful for providing us with enough heat to keep warm in the chilly water – or for warming back up again afterwards.
Channel swimming nutrition has come a long way since 1875. When you consider that Matthew Webb swam breaststroke and was sustained in the 17°C water by ale and beef tea it makes his achievement all the more remarkable. When I swam across to France in 2007, I drank the now-trusted cocktail of apple and blackcurrant squash mixed with Maxim maltodextrin powder and hot water – literally litres of the stuff. If only Mann’s Cookies had been invented then, I would have certainly eaten a few of those too!