Avoiding Nausea in Rough Water Swims

Question I received today:  Do you have any tips for avoiding nausea in a rough open water swim?


I believe some athletes develop nausea in swimming due to allergy issues and their inner ear.  This is a great conversation for your athlete and their physician.  My physician advised me to take an Allegra at bedtime (one of the few allergy medicines approved for pilots).

Do not let the athlete take Dramamine! Or anything similar. Seems obvious but I have had athletes try that without telling me. Swimming can be dangerous and we need our athletes as sharp as possible to make good decisions in the water.

The easiest fix is to get the athlete used to great ear plugs (silicon ones tend to work best). By removing water from the inner ear, many athletes avoid dizziness and nausea.  Have the athlete also practice a quick application of the ear drying drops available at any drug store.  They can put in a few drops before and after the swim 

Ginger supplement before swimming can be effective at reducing nausea.  Something as simple as the ginger candy chews at can work. Some athletes may need a stronger supplement. 

I have worked with someone that had Meniere‘s disease which attacks the inner ear and causes Vertigo. She had great success with a pressure point bracelet on both wrists.  Remember, we don’t need to believe it works, we need our athlete to believe it works!  Packaging is everything.  

Other tips:

If possible, get your athlete in the water the day before the race to practice in the rough water.  My first Ironman was in Wisconsin and I practiced swimming in Lake Monona during a small craft warning.  It took me almost an hour to swim one loop of the the then two loop course.  It was the scariest swim of my life and made the calm water on race day feel like nothing!

Make sure the athlete is well hydrated and has had their pre-race meal outside the three hour window. They can sip on a sports drink up until thirty minutes before race time. Nothing after thirty minutes. Ginger before the thirty minute shut down.

Have the athlete get new goggles with excellent optics.  The athlete should sight with stationary landmarks and not moving objects (buoys etc.).  This will help reduce the risk of nausea.  

Everything has a rhythm.  Even a rough open water swim.  If you stay calm, you can learn to time the waves with your stroke.  Having the ability to breathe either side while swimming is essential to being comfortable in the water.  Each athlete should be able to breathe one side only away from the crashing surf.  

What if your athlete gets out of the swim and is nauseous?  If they can, have a coke waiting for them and/or a candy bar.  An old fisherman’s trick that seems to work on the sea.  Coke has save me a few times when I have been seasick!  

The best part of a rough swim?  It makes the bike and run feel so much easier.  Enjoy!

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