Swimming with intestinal gas

Just over a year ago I set my personal record for 800 yards. It was nothing to brag about, but having been known as a chaser throughout my triathlon career, it was nice to finally be able to come out of the water with the leaders. At 9:38, a personal record by over twenty-five seconds, I was absolutely ecstatic. I was thrilled that my swimming was finally taking off after years of flopping around in the water. But at the same time I wanted to know how I made such a giant improvement in a matter of a couple months. I looked back at my training and it looked consistent as ever. My form had adapted only slightly, but that day something felt different. I felt like I was on top of the water; I felt absolutely fatigue-free for the first six hundred yards. My flip turns were smooth and my stoke held strong. But what led to all this if my training and stroke improvement very likely didn’t? I was swimming with intestinal gas, loads of it. Seriously, I think it was because I had to fart. Really. Goddamn. Badly.

I know. This sounds absolutely ridiculous. But hang with me for a sec. You may find the next leap in swimming world records from this blog post. I don’t know. But seriously, the chance that I am on to something is worth the risk that I am an absolute quack.

I tried looking this up. I looked for half an hour trying to find swimming with intestinal gas and bloating as a way to swim faster. But I couldn’t find anything. It was all clouded by triathletes who swallowed copious amounts of air accidentally. But while all these people were trying to find ways to prevent this, I am actually encouraging such behavior. So maybe this is widely known practice. Swimmers in the big leagues swallow air before their events. I don’t know. But hell, I think they would improve if they did.

Remember those suits that broke all the world records a few years ago at the 2008 Olympics? They were banned because of tiny air bubbles. Air acts to lift the swimmer further up on the water, decreasing their frontal surface area in effect decreasing their drag and allowing them to go faster for the same amount of propulsion. I wonder what the difference is between tiny air bubbles on the outside versus giant air bubbles on the inside. I cannot see any reason why one would be more effective than the other. But there is one major difference. One is allowed and one isn’t. One is detectable and one isn’t.

Gas can be stored in the body in many ways. Swimmers can easily notice the change in their buoyancy with a deep exhalation dropping them quickly to the bottom of the pool. While holding one’s breath in swimming is not practical, storing gas in the stomach and intestines can be done easily with very little discomfort. Okay who the hell am I kidding, this isn’t scientific at all. You can either swallow air or eat Kashi GOLEAN Crunch cereal or Fiber One Chewy Bars. Both of these will make your ears pop because of farts they produce. The gas comes from chicory root extract as a main ingredient which contains a type of fiber called inulin that passes straight through your digestive system down to fiber hungry intestinal bacteria that are ready to eat it and make some tremendous farts. Science.

The culprit:

Truth be told, this stuff makes me fart so badly that I actually had to stop eating it. Well not stop. But severely reduce my intake. There are very few times in adult life that it is appropriate for that massive quantity of flatulence. To stress the sheer volume of flatus, I actually make sure I don’t eat this stuff if I know I am going out on a date later in the day. One time I messed up. One goddamn time.

I used to eat this stuff before school every day. That was back in high school when I could get away with sneaky farts all the time. One day, however, in the quiet setting of a still classroom, I fell asleep. I abruptly woke up to the digested inulin rumbling out of my rectum. My friends were falling out of their chairs laughing. Thanks Kashi.

You get the idea. People will literally warn people about these foods  similar to the cautionary tales about Sugar Free Gummi Bears because of the flatulence they produce, not because of the hilarity that will likely ensue, but because of the risk of intestinal stretching and extreme discomfort.

Back to swimming with intestinal gas. In 1991, recognizing the desperate deficiency of peer-reviewed research on farts, some awesome grad students did a study on flatus volume. They found that the maximum gas (of their ten subjects) produced in 24 hours was one and half liters of flatus. Mind you, however, that this was long before Kashi GOLEAN Crunch or Fiber One bars came on the market. These guys had no idea what was to come. However, with the difficulty of getting a grant on the subject, the research unfortunately stopped there and the flatulence lab shut down forever.

One and a half liters of gas is still tremendous and would exert an enormous buoyancy force on a swimmer. I imagine if Sun Yang or some other top-level swimmer were to store his farts for the entire day, or better yet, eat some Kashi that morning or the night before, he would crush his own records. I imagine this is the reality among elite swimmers. I hope it is the reality among them. If it is not though, every world record will crumble with this new addition to a swimmer’s repertoire. This trend needs to travel down the ranks too. High school swimmers, store your flatus for that big meet. You will set a personal record, guaranteed.

I know I only have a few data points for my research and it wasn’t very well controlled. So here I make a plea. Someone, please do some more research on this. If anyone will fund me to do research on it, I’ll gladly run the experiment. This could change pool decks forever. World records would crumble before us. No more need for fancy thousand dollar suits. One simply needs a spoon and a bowl of Kashi GOLEAN Crunch to destroy some world records.

Grayson Cobb

Grayson Cobb

I am a long distance backpacker, triathlete, adventurer, climber, kayaker, and lowly medical student currently living in Norfolk, VA attending Eastern Virginia Medical School and getting out for adventures on weekends.
Grayson Cobb

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