Nutrition for rowers starts with normal healthy eating principles as a base but also requires some dietary manipulation to support training and competition. The more training you do, the more important it becomes to adapt your nutritional intake, by applying sports nutrition principles. Some great questions to ask yourself, in order to begin making necessary dietary changes to support your rowing, include:
- What can I eat before training? How do I plan my day when I’m at training or school/work from dawn till dusk?
- How can I manage my diet on a race day where I’m racing multiple times?
- Does it matter where I get my energy from? Should I be eating more protein, more fat or more carbohydrate?
- Are the nutrition requirements of growing athletes different from mature athletes?
- I am a female athlete, is there anything specific I need to consider to stay healthy?
- Do I need supplements? What are the risks? What are the alternatives?
Prior to changing your dietary intake, though, it is a good idea to seek professional help, in the form of an Accredited Sports Dietitian. Sports Dietitians can help you to adjust your nutritional intake in a way that adequately supports both your performance and your overall health. A list of Accredited Sports Dietitians can be found by following the link at the end of this article.
Some areas to consider:
Depending on your training/ work/ school/ life balance the use of transportable, energy-dense snacks are a good way to meet daily requirements without needing to consume large volumes of food. Some examples include:
- Cereal and muesli bars
- Flavoured yoghurts
- Low fat fruit muffins
- Fruit loaf, bread and English muffins with thick spreads of peanut butter, cheese, jam or honey
- Drinks e.g. sports drinks, juice, flavoured milk, liquid meals. smoothies
These types of snacks are also useful as pre-training snacks.
Always start a training session well hydrated (without being uncomfortable). Our bodies are made up of ~60% water, and this water has many roles in the body. When exercising, water is vital to help maintain blood volume and regulate our core temperature. During exercise to help keep us cool, we sweat and lose water through evaporation on our skin, and if we do not replace this lost water, we can become dehydrated.
When we become dehydrated (as defined by a body fluid deficit >2% of body weight), our blood volume decreases. This makes it more difficult to maintain blood pressure and blood flow and can put a strain on our cardiovascular system. This can also make exercise feel harder than it would normally be when fully hydrated and can speed up fatigue and significantly impact performance.
Two simple strategies for monitoring hydration include:
- Urine colour: The lighter the colour of your urine, the more hydrated you are. If you are drinking large volumes of fluid, resulting in frequent urination that is clear in colour, you can likely afford to ease up on your fluid intake. If your urine is dark yellow or approaching an orange colour, this can indicate dehydration. Note, though, that some supplements can alter urine colour.
- Body weight pre- and post-training: Weigh yourself dry, and in similar clothing, pre and post training. Any change in body weight often corresponds with a change in body fluid. For example, 1kg lost post-training suggests that roughly 1L of fluid has been lost. Aim to replace 150% of fluid losses in the 4-6 hours that follow.
If you are training for an event or indoor rowing competition:
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 should experiment to find the routines that work best for you and your situation.
To avoid stomach discomfort, foods low in fibre and fat can be preferred. Make sure the meal is well planned and includes familiar foods and fluids. Examples could be:
- Breakfast cereal + low fat milk
- Fruit salad + low fat yoghurt
- English muffin or crumpet with jam/honey
- Sandwich/roll + salad + lean meat/cheese
- Pasta with a tomato-based sauce
If you get nervous pre-event and experience poor appetite, carbohydrate-rich fluids can be an alternative, such as a low fat milk or smoothie or liquid meal replacement e.g. Sustagen® Sport. As a guide, a pre-event meal can be consumed 3-4 hours prior to the event, and 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.
If you have multiple races over one day (or two) eating during competition can be difficult, when nerves and a busy schedule can take over! Planning and practising competition eating during training sessions will help to identify food choices that will suit you best. Examples:
- If less than 30 minutes between races: fluids, sports drinks, juices, glucose lollies and fruit are good 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 grain-based muesli bars are good choices. (Predominantly carbs, low fibre, low fat easy to digest)
- If 1-2 hours between races: pasta, rice or noodle-based dishes with low fat sauce/toppings or sandwiches or rolls are good choices. (Carbs and Protein)
- If more than 2 hours between races: a more substantial meal or meal replacement can be eaten (with plenty of fluids, of course!) (Carbs and Protein)
Within a recovery meal or snack, it is important to include some carbohydrates (to refuel), protein (to repair and recover), and some fluids (to rehydrate). Left to chance, recovery eating may take a back seat to meetings, stretching, watching races or the trip back home, so handy recovery snacks that can be consumed simultaneously with these activities are useful. Some examples include sports drinks, liquid meal options (e.g. Sustagen Sport, Up&Go), fruit and yoghurt, sandwiches with lean meat/cheese and salad, and cereal bars. A substantial meal should follow within 2-4 hours of finishing for optimal recovery.
A word on supplements:
It is always a good idea to take a food-first approach! Food is a great way of getting the nutrients that an athlete needs, and supplements are not always necessary for optimising performance. Furthermore, supplements can introduce an element of risk when it comes to doping (i.e. they can increase the risk of ingesting banned substances, whether intentional or not), and in some cases can also interfere with normal growth and development in athletes.
Sometimes, supplements might be used to support nutritional deficiencies or at an international level of competition to support performance, however the decision to use any supplement should always be discussed with your medical professional or Accredited Sports Dietitian.
A brief note on food hygiene:
Make sure you keep on top of hygiene by regularly washing your hands or using hand sanitiser! Also, ensure that you adhere to storage recommendations, use-by/best before dates, and wash fresh fruits and vegetables prior to consumption.
For more information, please consult the following:
Sports Dietitians Australia – factsheets http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/factsheets/%20
Dieticians Association of Australia http://www.daa.asn.au includes good information for nutrition needs for health-related conditions.