Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fuel For Rowing

Fuel For Rowing
By The Department of Sports Nutrition AIS
Characteristics of the Sport
Rowing events are held over 2000 metres and typically take 5.5 to 7 minutes depending on the crew. Crews are distinguished by the number of members in the boat (singles, doubles, fours, eights), whether there is a coxswain steering, and whether the boat is sculled (two oars per person) or rowed (one oar each). Rowing involves lightweight and heavyweight competition. In the lightweight division, male athletes are not permitted to exceed 72.5kg with a crew average of 70kg. For females, the maximum individual weight is 59kg with a crew average of 57kg. Rowing places great demands on both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and requires great power and strength.

Rowing requires a unique mix of technique, power and endurance of both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. This requires long hours of intense training even though events only last 5-7 minutes. Elite rowers train 8-10 months of the year. A typical rowing session covers 20 km with 1-2 sessions being held on the water each day. In addition, rowers undertake gym sessions 3-4 times per week to develop strength and muscular endurance. Some rowers may also include additional aerobic sessions such as cycling or running.

Regattas may last from two days to a week. Competitors must progress through heats and semi-finals to earn a berth in the finals. Competitors who fail to qualify for semifinals directly from the heats contest a repechage to earn a place in the semi-final. At the major regattas rowers will generally only contest one event per day with the regatta lasting roughly one week. In Club regattas rowers may race up to three times in one day. Light training is undertaken on any rest days. Lightweight rowers must weigh-in two hours prior to their event but do not have to weigh in again if they are racing in multiple events in one day.

Physical Characteristics
Heavyweight rowers are tall and heavy with strong muscles and long limbs. While muscle mass should account for a large proportion of body mass, absolute mass is important therefore body fat levels are often relatively high. Lightweight rowers aim to keep body fat levels low to maintain a good power-to-weight ratio.

Common Nutrition Issues
Training Nutrition
Rowers have very high energy and carbohydrate requirements to support training loads and meet body weight and strength goals. All rowers need to work hard to recover between training sessions. A high-energy, high-carbohydrate, nutrient-dense diet is required. Some rowers (particularly male heavyweights) struggle with the shear volume of food they need to consume. Frequent snacks and use of compact, energy dense foods or drinks such as juice, flavoured milk, jam, honey, bars and liquid meals are necessary to keep the volume of food manageable. Rowers need to pay particular attention to recovery after training and organise themselves to have high-carbohydrate snacks on hand immediately after training sessions are completed.

Matters of Physique
It is an advantage to be heavy and strong in heavyweight rowing. As body weight is supported in the boat, higher body fat levels are not as great a disadvantage as they are in other weight bearing sports. However, at times, it may be necessary for heavyweight rowers to trim their skinfolds. In lightweight rowing the need to maintain low body fat levels becomes more important. Rowers needing to reduce skinfolds must target excess kilojoules in the diet. In particular, excess fat, alcohol and sugary foods should be targeted and replaced with more nutrient-dense choices.

Iron Status
Rowers can be at risk of poor iron status. In particular, females and adolescent males can struggle to meet their iron needs. Regular checks of iron status are recommended. Rowers should include sources of iron such as lean red meat, chicken, fortified cereals, wholegrain cereals, legumes and green vegetables in the diet on a regular basis. Advice from a sports dietitian should be sought if low iron status develops.

Fluid Needs
Long training sessions on the water lead to significant sweat losses, particularly when undertaken twice a day. The table below shows sweat losses and fluid intakes recorded on AIS rowers in different environmental conditions. Despite having drink bottles available, athletes failed to consume enough fluid to keep up with their sweat losses, particularly in hot weather. Note, even in cold weather, considerable sweat losses were seen.

Rowers should establish their individual fluid losses by weighing before and after training sessions. Each kilogram of weight lost is the equivalent to 1 litre of fluid. Adding the weight of any fluid or food consumed during the session to the weight change over the session provides an estimate of total fluid loss for the workout. However, to fully rehydrate a rower usually has to consume 150% of the remaining fluid deficit, over the next few hours, to regain fluid balance. For example, if a rower finishes a session 2 kg lighter and consumes 0.5 litre during the session, total sweat loss over the session is approximately 2.5 litres. Once individual requirements are known, a plan can be developed to allow rowers to meet fluid requirements in subsequent sessions. However, now that a deficit of 2 litres has occurred, the rower will need to drink approximately 3 litres during the next hours to compensate for continued urine and sweat losses until fluid balance is regained.

The following tips will assist with hydration:
Drink with all meals and snacks before a training session. Consume 300-400ml of fluid in the hour before training commences to ensure you begin each session hydrated.
Take sufficient drink bottles to training. Keep some in the coach's boat for topups.
Take a few seconds every 15-20 minutes or between pieces for a drink break.

Alternatively, try using a drink container like a hydration-pack, which is worn on
the back, to avoid having to take your hands off the oar to drink.

Rehydrate fully after the session.
Sports drinks are the recommended fluid choice during rowing.
Lightweight rowers should not consider a lower weight at the end of a workout to be a good sign. Even though dehydration is an inevitable part of making weight for competition, it is unnecessary and counterproductive in the training setting. Aim to train as well as possible at all sessions by staying as well hydrated as possible.

Competition Nutrition
Rowers should go into each race with fluid and fuel stores topped up, and feeling comfortable after the last meal. With the regatta or competition lasting a number of days, the challenge is to recover between each day's sessions and to prepare for the next race. Generally a meal that provides carbohydrate should be consumed 2-3 hours before a race. Suitable foods include breakfast cereal, toast, muffins, sandwiches, yoghurt, fruit, pasta with tomato sauce and creamed rice. Some rowers need to take special care with pre-race eating - it can be very uncomfortable to race with a full stomach. Low bulk choices such as liquid meals and sports bars can be useful in these situations.

With much of the day tied up in preparation and the race itself, there is usually little opportunity for rowers to meet their usual high-energy intake. Consequently, some rowers find that they quickly lose weight over the course of a competition. Rowers need to organise themselves to have nutritious food supplies at their fingertips at all times. Take along a supply of cereal bars, liquid meal supplements, sports bars, fruit bars, dried fruit, sandwiches, yoghurt, juice etc. Commence your recovery as soon as possible after each race by consuming some of these snack foods. Don't neglect fluid needs. You can be dehydrated from your rowing efforts, making-weight practices, or just from sitting in the sun watching the competition. Carbohydrate-containing fluids such as sports drinks are useful for topping up both fluid and carbohydrate stores.

Case Study
Terry was living in a university college and rowing with the university coxed fours. A training load of ten water sessions and three weight sessions each week meant Terry's energy requirements were enormous. Terry was careful to eat a high-carbohydrate diet to refuel but was struggling to maintain weight and was becoming tired. A consult with a sports dietitian revealed Terry had a good knowledge of carbohydrate-based foods and was focusing on these at meals, however he simply wasn't eating enough. Terry was only eating three times a day because he was limited to dining hall opening hours. He was trying to consume huge meals but was finding he physically couldn't stomach all the food he required.

The solution for Terry was to improve his access to food and eat more frequently rather than trying to consume huge amounts of food in one sitting. A pattern of six or seven meals and snacks per day in addition to high-energy drinks was required. First Terry discussed his problems with the chef at the university dining hall. Terry negotiated for the chef to provide Terry with a supply of snack foods such as cereal bars, canned fruit, breakfast cereal and milk. Sometimes these were eaten straight off the water, as Terry travelled back to university. An immediate snack followed up by a more substantial meal an hour later was a practical approach that worked on many days. Terry also started ordering a takeaway lunch pack with sandwiches, buns and fruit. In all, this meant Terry had a regular supply of foods available for pre-training and recovery snacks. The chef also agreed to keep an evening meal waiting on nights when Terry finished training late.

Terry invested in a milkshake maker and bought a supply of liquid meal supplements and sports drinks. Using the sports drinks during training was an easy way to increase Terry's carbohydrate intake. He was also able to make milkshakes or fruit smoothies in his room at night or early mornings. With time, Terry was able to regain his lost weight. By varying his snacks and drinks he avoided becoming bored with his meals and was able to maintain his increased body weight.

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