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Nutrition for Rowers

Rowing requires great power and strength, and uses both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. Spring racing is a near-maximal effort lasting between 5 to 8 minutes over 1500 - 2000m depending on the class of boat and the competition level. Rowing requires long hours of training, with 1 to 2 daily sessions, including water, gym sessions.

Competition Regattas can range from one day of competition, up to one week (Canadian Henley for example) and heats and finals precede a berth in the finals. In major regattas, rowers may race up to three times per day of competition. Lightweight rowers must weigh-in 1-2 hours prior to the first of their races on each day they race.

Training diet for rowers A high energy and carbohydrate diet is required to support the training and competition demands of rowers and meet body weight, development and strength goals. The use of transportable, energy-dense snacks is essential to meet daily requirements without adding too much extra volume and include food items such as:

  • Cereal and muesli bars

  • Flavoured yoghurts

  • Low fat fruit muffins

  • Fruit loaf, bread and English muffins with thick spreads of peanut butter, jelly or honey

  • Drinks e.g. sports drinks, juice, flavoured milk, liquid meals

These types of snacks are also useful as pre-training snacks before heading to early morning training sessions. Rowers also need to pay attention to recovery nutrition for multiple training sessions over the day.

PROTEIN Protein is essential for muscle development, strength and recovery. Most rowers could benefit SUBSTANTIALLY from significantly increasing their protein intake. Protein is also essential for numerous bodily functions. Basically every single cell in the human body is made up of proteins, including your DNA, red blood cells, and bones - all of which are in a constant state of breaking down and rebuilding, requiring protein and amino acids.

If you don’t eat enough protein through food, your body has to tap into your stores to maintain normal protein turnover - and this means you could potentially lose muscle. Target daily protein requirements, especially for young growing athletes are 0.7 grams of protein per 1 lb of body weight. Here is a link to some high protein recipes.

Hydration needs Rowers have high fluid requirements. Long training sessions lead to significant sweat losses, particularly over the warmer months and often involve long hours in the hot sun. High performance rowers monitor their fluid losses by weighing before and after training sessions and competition. Rowers can assess how much fluid they lose during a training session by weighing themselves pre and post training. For every 1 pound lost, 20 oz of fluid needs to be replaced. Some practical tips on staying hydrated:

  • Rowers should try to begin every training session well hydrated

  • Sufficient water bottles are needed training and some can be kept in the coaches’ boat for top-ups

  • The aim is to drink every time there is a break in the training session - aim for regular sips throughout the session

  • During long sessions, hard training cycles or hot weather, sports drinks are the recommended fluid choice as they supply carbohydrate and electrolytes together with fluid.

Sports drinks are suitable fluids during long training sessions (more than 60 mins) or if training for maximum performance and are ideal during competition as they provide electrolytes and carbohydrate along with the fluid in between events.

What should I eat pre-event? The ideal pre-event meal will provide sufficient fuel and hydrate you without leaving you feeling uncomfortable. Suitable foods are usually low in fat and fibre and high in carbohydrate. You and your team members should experiment to find the routines that work best for your situation. If you are a lightweight rower a sports dietitian can help you to develop an eating plan so that you can make the weight and still perform at your best. To avoid stomach discomfort, foods low in fibre and fat can be preferred. Ensure that the meal is well planned and includes familiar foods and fluids. Examples include:

  • Breakfast cereal + low fat milk

  • Fruit salad + low fat yoghurt

  • English muffin or crumpet with jam/honey

  • Sandwich/roll + salad + lean meat/cheese

If nervous pre-event and appetite is a problem, carbohydrate-rich fluids can be an alternative, such as a low fat milk or smoothie. A small snack such as a muesli bar, fruit or dried fruit can be eaten about an hour prior to the race as a final effort to top up energy levels. What should I eat during competition? Eating during competition can be difficult, when nerves and a busy schedule can take over! Practicing competition eating during training sessions will help to identify food choices that will suit them best. Examples:

  • If less than 30 minutes between races: fluids, sports drinks, juices, glucose gummies and fruit are the best options (as they are rapidly digested from the gut)

  • If 30-60 minutes between races: sandwiches with honey/jam/banana, sports bars, cereal bars or low fat muesli bars are good choices.

  • If 1-2 hours between races: pasta, rice or noodle-based dishes with low fat sauce/toppings or sandwiches or rolls are good choices.

  • If more than 2 hours between races: a more substantial meal or meal replacement can be eaten (with plenty of fluids, of course!)

What about recovery? Left to chance, recovery eating may take a back seat to loading the boat trailer, meetings, stretching, watching races or the trip back home or the team hotel. Handy recovery snacks that can be consumed simultaneously with these activities include sports drinks, liquid meal supplements, fruit, sandwiches and cereal bars as quick options. A substantial meal should follow within 2-4 hours of finishing for optimal recovery. This is especially important during a regatta that is held over a few days or during weeks of heavy training. If celebrating a victory, rowers need to ensure that nutrition recovery goals are met before drinking starts! If there isn’t time for a substantial meal, a snack containing carbohydrate, protein and fluids should be consumed soon after the event.

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