I remember my first chip-filled sandwich like it was yesterday. My friend and I — both early adolescents — had just endured a routine, but strenuous water polo practice at our community pool. As we stepped out of the modest aquatic center, our hair still damp and the sky a glimmering pink as the sun sank below the horizon, we spotted his mom in her white minivan. We buckled ourselves into the middle row of seats, where a blue cooler bag was expectantly nestled between us. Inside the bag were several blue Gatorades, a few packs of fruit snacks, a couple ciabatta rolls, a sack of sliced turkey and American cheese, and most importantly, a single snack-sized bag of Lay’s barbecue-flavored potato chips.
My friend, a veteran snacker, took the lead: He hollowed out one of the ciabatta rolls, loaded it with handful after handful of turkey. Then chips. Then turkey. Then chips. (He was never much of a cheese guy.) He took a gaping bite — *crunch* — then turned to me and nodded, wholly satisfied with his crisp, salty creation. Encouraged and painfully hungry, I followed suit, and without going on a tangent about my euphoric, enlightened reaction, chip-filled sandwiches instantaneously became a staple of our post-aquatic eats.
While celestial in a sense, my experience with this simple, but special sandwich was (and still is) far from extraordinary. Chip-filled sandwiches have been recognized, on multiple occasions, for being the optimal post-swim snack — the only form of sustenance that can truly quell the ravenous rumbling and bubbling of a body that just sustained hours and hours of keeping itself afloat.
The big question is, why? Why do sandwiches with embedded chips hit different after a nice, long swim?
I suspect there are several things going on here.
On a basic level, adding chips into your sandwich increases both the portability of your meal and the speed at which it can be delivered into your stomach, both of which are hugely important when you consider that swimming makes you hungrier than most other forms of exercise. “A sandwich with crunchy chips added to it makes for a post-anything-and-anytime meal,” says Lauren Storeby, co-owner of Snack Attack!, a Colorado sandwich joint that offers the addition of chips to any of their specialty sandwiches. “Adding chips gives it what we call the crunch factor, an unexplainable textured satisfaction. Plus, the added saltiness is divine.”
That extra saltiness is important, too, because our bodies do indeed crave salt and other electrolytes after a decent workout, which swimming very much is. “Salt already enhances the flavor of any meal, and chips are perfected to have the perfect amount of salt for consumption,” says Radu, a former University of Austin swimmer. “The salt enhances the flavor, and the crunchiness keeps you wanting more. Moral of the story, salt is good.”
“There’s something about a nice workout in the water that just leaves you feeling exhausted, sore, and most of all, hungry,” explains two-time Olympic medalist Jimmy Feigen. “I’ve just burned about 2,000 calories, swam four miles, barely breathed and pretty much pushed myself to my physical breaking point. What can I possibly do to reward myself for this long and strenuous workout? If you answered PB&J, then you might possibly be a psychopath and should seek emergency therapy. If you answered turkey sandwich, then you’re sane, but probably listen to a lot of Nickelback. If you answered turkey club with salt and vinegar chips, then you’re a hero to all humankind and should run for president.”
“Maybe it’s the tangy taste,” Feigen continues, “maybe it’s the glorious combination of salty and savory goodness, maybe it’s that delicate balance between crunchiness and softness elicited through every bite. Yes, it’s true: These things all come together to form the easy-to-prepare and delicious-to-enjoy post-workout meal. It’s the only way I could make it through those dreaded two-a-day workouts that leave you crying on your way out of the pool. Every bite brings me joy, satisfaction and comfort. It allows me to sit and reflect on all the good things life has to offer as I feel the soft bread give way to the crunchy chip underbelly.”
But beyond the physical impact of swimming that may induce a certain craving for salty, satiating dishes, like a chip-filled sandwich, there’s also a mental and emotional connection here. “It’s a hard nostalgia thing, like with pool parties when you were younger,” says Britt, a longtime swimmer and current high school swim coach. “My parents were always saying, ‘Wait 30 minutes after you eat to go in the pool.’ So I’d put off eating, then I was just gassed and so hungry afterward, and that was the best sammy ever.”
What he means is, after your first post-pool, chip-filled sandwich, every subsequent one brings you back to the good times; times when you were in the middle of a pool party or just finished an arduous practice — one that required you to stare for hours at the bottom of a pool, literally gasping for every breath as your heart pumped, your arms ached and your legs struggled to keep on kicking — and now you finally get to eat. And what do you have? A chip-filled sandwich. And what do you do? You make it yourself. “For me, it was the first time I ‘made’ a sandwich,” Britt says. That’s a memorable moment in anyone’s life, and it just so happens to occur for many people after a day at the pool.
So, you can see now how the chip-filled sandwich earned its place in the hearts and souls of many pool-goers. And for everyone else, as Storeby aptly says, “There’s something special about layering potato chips into your sandwich. Either you love it, or you don’t understand it.”