Eating for performance; the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’
Along with hard work and long training hours, rowers have a reputation for knowing how to eat, not necessarily what to eat. The struggle with nutrition for many in the sport is not so much one of quantity, but quality.
The Essential Nutrition Guide for Rowing by Sam Kramer seeks to change how rowers and coaches think and act when it comes to understanding the science of spots nutrition. Author and rower-turned-registered dietitian and certified sports nutritionist, Kramer talked to World Rowing about fuelling for top performance.
World Rowing: What got you interested in studying the science of nutrition and rowing?
Sam Kramer: I’ve always been fascinated with food and health. Growing up playing sports, I never really received formal guidance on how to fuel my body. Later, when I discovered rowing in college and was studying nutrition, I found a way to merge my two passions.
WR: What is the biggest misconception that rowers and coaches have about nutrition?
SK: You need to eat into oblivion to feed the machine. While rowing is one of the highest energy-demanding sports, it unfortunately does not give free reign to gorge on every food in sight. Your food choices need to be nutrient-dense and total calories, macronutrients and micronutrients need to be individually sensible.
WR: Why doesn’t a one size fits all approach work when it comes to nutrition?
SK: Nutrition is an extremely complex science. Metabolism and weight depend on many factors such as age, gender, body composition, physical activity level, genetics, just to name a few. Find the lifestyle choice that fits your personal criteria and the key to any lifestyle is adherence.
WR: What is the biggest difference between eating during training and eating on race day?
SK: Timing before a race versus training is very different, because training has a much less rigid structure and less pressure. You need to be careful about when you eat because if you eat too close to race time, you can spike your insulin and subsequently crash your blood glucose and you can ‘bonk’ or ‘hit the wall’ early in a race.
WR: What is the most important thing for a lightweight rower to consider when it comes to nutrition and maintaining / making weight?
SK: I am a lightweight, so I understand their struggle. The most important thing is to not do anything drastic to make weight. Start early in your preparation and make sure you speak to a dietitian to help guide you through the journey. Taking measures into your own hands cannot only decrease performance, but can be dangerous.
WR: Are there gender differences in fuelling for rowers (besides amount of calories)?
SK: Female athletes are more susceptible to deficiencies in certain micronutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and iron due to menstrual cycles on top of high performance. Make sure you are getting routine blood work done and go for supplementation if your diet is not meeting the needs.
WR: Does the level of the athlete change how they should fuel their body?
SK: Indeed. Elite athletes have pretty much maximised their performance capacity, so nutrition is really the last stop to get that small edge over the competition. Due to the high volume of training, calories are the biggest concern in order to maintain that daunting amount of training.
WR: What about masters rowers?
SK: When we turn about 50 years old, humans begin to go through what is known as sarcopenia, which is the natural age-associated muscle mass loss of about 1 per cent per year. The biggest concerns are calories, protein and bone health.
WR: What is the one thing that every rower and coach should know about fuelling a top performance?
SK: If you are a coach, listen to the athlete. If you are a rower, listen to yourself. Just like your oar handle, making minor adjustments will lead to success more than large overhauls. Nutrition is all about personalisation and making the changes seem manageable and fun.
The Essential Nutrition Guide to Rowing by Sam Kramer