Author: Debby Jackson

Vashon Island Junior Crew:  21 Years and Still gROWING Strong!

Vashon Island Junior Crew: 21 Years and Still gROWING Strong!

At least two or three times a month each spring and fall, a story is bound to show up in the Beachcomber about Vashon Island Rowing Club’s Junior Crew.  From articles about success at regattas to stories of junior rowers headed off to a college […]

Sound Bites, Vol.4 #1 – Refueling Alternatives

Sound Bites, Vol.4 #1 – Refueling Alternatives

Refueling your body after strenuous activity is a must for rowers!  Especially when you have multiple races over a day or weekend.  Our coach likes to provide gummy bears to rowers–it’s a quick source of glucose plus they are fun!  But are they the best […]

Sound Bites! Vol.3 #3  Vitamin D:  To D or Not to D?  That is the Question.

Sound Bites! Vol.3 #3 Vitamin D: To D or Not to D? That is the Question.

Now that it’s winter, a nutrition topic that I think particularly germane is vitamin D. Why? Because much of the vitamin D we need is produced through the interaction of the sun’s ultraviolet (UVB) rays with substances under the skin. And winter, besides yielding less than ideal rowing conditions, results in a shortage of vitamin D producing UVB light. In fact, in Seattle and other 47 degree-ish latitudes, some researchers purport UVB may be insufficient in the winter to meet our body’s demand.

Other factors which may decrease levels of vitamin D include pollution, use of sunscreen, little time spent outdoors, use of full body clothing, darker skin color, aging, intestinal malabsorption, kidney or liver dysfunction, and limited dietary intake.

Vitamin D is required for the absorption of minerals like calcium and phosphorus which are needed to build strong bones. Vitamin D plays an important role in preventing osteoporosis and other bone disorders. Vitamin D deficiency causes rickets in children, resulting in bowed legs and other abnormalities. Rickets was quite prevalent in the United States before the 1930’s, when cod liver oil and eventually fortification of milk became common.

Over the past decade, there have also been many intriguing epidemiological and observational studies suggesting that vitamin D plays an important role in prevention of diseases such as breast, colo-rectal and prostate cancers, type 1 diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, schizophrenia, and many other conditions.

Recommended intakes for vitamin D are based on a person getting very little vitamin D from the sun. Guidelines from the US Food and Nutrition Board (also see FNB) are:
Life Stage Recommended Amount
Birth to 12 months 400 IU
Children 1–13 years 600 IU
Teens 14–18 years 600 IU
Adults 19–70 years 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU
Pregnant and breastfeeding women 600 IU

Of course, as rowers, a relevant question might be whether vitamin D enhances performance and do athletes need greater amounts of D compared to the average person. In a 2009 review of the world literature reported in the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Cannel and colleagues identified five areas in which vitamin D appeared to have a positive effect on physical characteristics or performance in a variety of populations, including athletes, patients, children, rats, and the elderly.

Observations included 1) the use of UVB light increased the performance of athletes, 2) seasonal correlation can be seen between peak performance and peak vitamin D levels, wherein performance is better in the late summer and drops precipitously in the fall, 3) vitamin D increased the size and number of fast twitch muscle fibers in vitamin D deficient patients as well as increased muscle mass in rats, 4) neuromuscular function improved in subjects with marginal to deficient vitamin D status with supplementation, particularly in relation to reaction time, balance, timed performance tests, and/or muscle strength, and 5) many world records were set in outdoor events during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, a location close to the equator during the long days of summer, whereas few were set at indoor events. As the authors noted, these were primarily observational studies and, though persuasive, were not conclusive in determining efficacy of vitamin D in athletics.

A United Kingdom 2013 study reported in Journal of Sports Science concluded that supplementation with vitamin D resulted in a significant improvement in sprint time and vertical jump compared to placebo in the control group.

A comprehensive review of the literature in 2013 by Ogan and Pritchett of the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Health Science at Central WA University in Ellensburg concluded that, although there are limited studies on the effect of vitamin D on performance, there is sufficient data to recommend an optimal goal of >40 ng/mL and that athletes be tested yearly to assure they are meeting this optimal blood level. (Note: blood levels of vitamin D are measured in nanograms per milliliter or millimoles per liter).

So, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “To D or Not To D? That is the Question.” My answer is, based on the reviews and studies highlighted above, you should at least get the recommended intake of vitamin D through a combination of sun, food, and if indicated, supplements. Get out in the sun without sunscreen at least 15 minutes 2-3 times per week when possible and consume foods that are naturally high or fortified with vitamin D, for example:
Salmon, sockeye, 3 ounces 447 IUs
Shrimp, 4 ounces 162 IUs
Orange juice, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 137 IUs
Milk, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 100 IUs
Egg, with yolk, 1 large 41 IUs
Shiitake mushrooms, 1 cup 29 IUs

Since 77% of the general population is estimated to be vitamin D insufficient (20-32 ng/mL), it may make sense to have your vitamin D levels evaluated by your health care provider.

That being said, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in November 2014, citing insufficient data to support otherwise, recommended against routine vitamin D testing in healthy people, saying only people at risk for deficiency need be tested. This includes people with osteoporosis, weight loss surgery, celiac disease, and those on medications that interfere with vitamin D (eg, anticonvulsants). And it makes sense to discuss your risk level with your health care provider before dosing above the recommended levels.

Sound Bites! Vol. 3 #2 – Refueling

Sound Bites! Vol. 3 #2 – Refueling

Today refueling is on my mind–and with fall head racing approaching, perhaps it should be on your mind, too.  Why am I thinking about refueling?  Because 1) of the Green Lake Summer Extravaganza–for many racers the harbinger of fall racing season, 2) this morning I […]

“Have A Brew With The Crew!” at THS Guest Bartender Night

“Have A Brew With The Crew!” at THS Guest Bartender Night

Vashon Island Rowing Club Adult Crew has teamed up with The Hardware Store Restaurant to put the FUN back in Fundraising.  Join us for a “Have a Brew With The Crew!” on Thursday, April 3, 2014 from 6:00-9:00 pm during The Hardware Store Restaurant’s Guest Bartender Night.  VIRC […]

Sound Bites! Vol 3 #1

Sound Bites! Vol 3 #1

January–again.   Junior rowing officially started yesterday, though unofficially I don’t think it ever stopped during the holidays.  Despite the still-dark mornings, it seems that the spring rowing season is truly underway–in rowing, spring is spelled j-a-n-u-a-r-y.

So, what’s on your mind post-holiday/resolution-season?  If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve decided to eat healthier and exercise more–even rowers who work out a lot no doubt have areas that could use a little polishing around the edges.  This morning when I offered a boatmate some of the big pile of leftover crumbs from the gluten-free brownies I brought for the juniors yesterday, she said she was swearing off sweets after a trip to New Orleans (obviously, eating was involved there).  And I am aware that at least one other rowing buddy is participating in the re-start class of the hugely popular to-quiet-inflammation diet.

Despite the many diets people choose to follow (see the recent diet rankings by U.S. News & World Report), there are some basic principals that are helpful when an athlete attempts to evaluate what eating plan is best for him or herself.

First, let’s think about nutrition–not necessarily a primary reason for the food choices many people make but hopefully as an active person, this is high on your list.  There are 6 nutrients found in food–carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water.  Volumes have been written about these nutrients, but from an athletic standpoint, it’s important to know that each plays an important role in the diet of the athlete wishing to perform with vitality, focus, and success.  A shortage (or excess) of any of these nutrients can result in feeling and functioning at a less than optimal level, whether in a recreational or competitive environment.

Research has show that a sports nutrition plan containing a balanced array of the 6 nutrients produces the best results overall.  Carbohydrate provides energy for activity, allowing the body to use protein to build muscle, enzymes, hormones, and other important body components.  Inadequate carb leads to degradation of muscle through a process called gluconeogenesis to provide energy (calories) when carb is in short supply.  Vitamins and minerals are essential to many bodily functions, including respiration, oxygenation, elimination, and metabolism.  Water is key to all the other elements working optimally–without water, whether due to inadequate intake or excessive elimination, the chemical reactions in the body will not happen–fluid is essential!

A second consideration when selecting an optimal nutrition plan is palatability, which affects long-term adherence and ultimately ability to maintain improved body composition (weight loss and/or fat reduction, increased muscle mass, etc) and performance.  In other words, a very restrictive, hard-to-follow, or yucky dietary regime is one that may get short-term results but is a long-term loser.  Including foods that are not only healthy but enjoyable is key to success both now and later.

Third, you of course need to pay attention to your individual needs and tolerances.  For people who have a chronic condition like celiac disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, or allergies, food is medicine as well as pleasure.  It is important to identify any specific conditions you may have so that you can eat appropriately, perhaps including dietary interventions that go beyond the recommendations for a balanced meal–1/2 of your plate fruits and vegetables, 1/4 plate of whole grains, 1/4 plate lean protein, 1 serving low-fat dairy, with unsaturated fats in moderation.

Limiting your food choices unnecessarily is unlikely to have positive effects and could result in negative side effects such as reduced energy, vitamins/minerals (very low carbohydrate diet) or excessive fat intake (high protein/fat diet) and cost (high protein diet).  Although some reports suggest that a low carbohydrate, higher fat and protein diet may help with weight/fat loss, the majority of nutrition experts and dietitians recommend a more balanced approach, especially for athletes.

Research over the past few years indicates that inflammation within the body definitely is related to risk of many of the chronic diseases in society today.  Recently I completed a live, on-line professional education program, Expert Perspectives on Obesity Management.  The bottom line, according to one of the presenters, was that any low-calorie diet which results in fat loss will promote a reduction in inflammation.  The type of diet–low carb, high protein, vegetarian, Mediterranean, DASH, etc–is not as important as the low calorie aspect.  The good news is that there is no one best diet–you need not feel guilty if you aren’t following the popular diet of the day.

Your nutrition plan can and should reflect your food preferences, individual needs/conditions, and, of course, the fact that you are an active person with nutritional requirements that will differ from more sedentary people.  To me, the best long-term food plan is well-balanced, palatable, available, and affordable.

Debby Jackson is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of Vashon Island Rowing Club.



Sound Bites! Vol.2 #4

Sound Bites! Vol.2 #4

Pumping Iron This fall, you may be pumping iron to get your muscles ready for those long, hard head races, but are you eating enough iron?  Your stamina and aerobic capacity depend on adequate body iron stores.  Low iron intake can result in anemia which definitely affects performance.  When you […]

Sound Bites! Vol.2 #3

Sound Bites! Vol.2 #3

PROPER NUTRITION:  PASSPORT TO (LESS) PAIN Unless you’ve been living under a rock (as opposed to on The Rock), you know that it’s that time of year for Vashon Island Rowing Club’s 3rd Annual Passport to Pain bike ride.  Coming up on Saturday, September 14th, […]

Sound Bites! Vol.2 #2

Sound Bites! Vol.2 #2

Strategic Eating

It’s that time of year when the culmination of all the rainy, cold, windy (and occasionally sunny and beautiful) practices both juniors and masters have put in during the Spring are about to be put to the test at Junior Nationals and Master Regional Regattas.  Certainly, Coach has a plan in place to maximize performance–strategies related to technique, power, stamina, and mental toughness are in evidence at every practice.

Yet are you adding strategic eating to your rower’s toolkit?  Just a couple days ago, I overheard Coach reminding a junior boy to drink, drink, drink–definitely an important nutrition strategy after hard practices.  What other strategies can you enlist to help you win on race day?

First, what does strategic eating mean?  A strategy, according to the online free dictionary,  is “important or essential in relation to a plan of action, essential to the effective conduct of war, or highly important to an intended objective.”  A 1000 to 2000 meter race may not be a war, but pretty darned close.  To increase the effectiveness of your battle plan, eating right is a pretty important strategy.  Strategic eating is, then, a plan for eating that will help you effectively reach your objective–winning races!

Dietitians (such as myself) often develop Meal Plans (ie, eating strategies) to help people identify what and how much they should be eating at different times during the day to reach short-term objectives such as stable blood glucose levels, optimal blood pressure values, and appropriate cholesterol levels, so that they can maximize their long-term objectives of disease avoidance and optimal health.

Obviously, your strategies will depend on your objective.  Your long-term objective might be “Win Nationals.”   But of course there are many short- and medium-term objectives that must be reached before Nationals.  If you are a novice you have to learn to row well, if you want to be a lightweight you might have to decrease your body mass index, if you lack power you might have to build up your muscles mass.  All these objectives are fairly long-term and strategies to reach them should have been initiated 3 to 6 months or even years ago.

Your strategies must be measurable to be effective in reaching your objectives.  What eating strategies might you use to maximize your performance at upcoming regattas–possibly leading to qualifying in your heat/semi and ultimately meeting your objective of winning at Nationals?

Here are some possible nutrition strategies for various short-to-medium-term objectives to help lead you to your long-term objective of winning your event at Nationals:

I.  Objective:  Have enough energy to make it through my day, including 2-3 hours of hard rowing practice 3-5 days a week.

Strategy:  At least 5 days per week, I will eat 3 meals plus 3 snacks spaced every 2-3 hours throughout the day, for example, at 6am, 9am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm.

II.  Objective:  Keep well-hydrated to aid digestion, facilitate elimination of body wastes, and help prevent muscle cramps.

Strategy:  Every day I will drink at least 1 cup of fluid (water, milk, tea, juice, etc) with each of my 6 meals and snacks, making a total of at least 6 cups per day and monitor my urine to make sure it is pale yellow and frequent.

III.  Objective:  Make sure my muscles are well-conditioned and able to recover adequately from hard workouts.

Strategy:  Eat a serving or two of protein at each meal and snack, where 1 serving = 2-3 ounce meat or cheese, 1-2 eggs, 2-4 Tbsp nut butter, 1/2-1 cup black/kidney/soy beans/lentils, 1/2-1 cup cottage cheese/yogurt, or 1/4-1/2 cup nuts.

IV.  Objective:  Ensure my weight is maintained within lightweight standards by eating healthy foods in moderation.

Strategy:  I will a) eat fruit or veggies for my between-meal snacks and a large, colorful veggie salad with oil & vinegar at dinner, b) choose lower-fat protein sources (eg, skinless chicken, grilled fish, water-packed tuna, low-fat cottage cheese/yogurt/string cheese, and dried beans/peas) rather than red meats, regular cheeses, nuts and nut butters, c) eat whole grains in moderate amounts at meals/snacks (eg, 1/2-3/4 cup brown rice, 1 slice whole wheat bread, 1 small baked potato/yam, 1/2-1 cup whole wheat pasta) , d) limit desserts to a small serving once per day (2 small cookies, 1/2 cup light ice cream/sherbet, 1 small cupcake), and e) limit fatty foods such as gravies/sauces, french fries/chips, ice cream/candy, and sugary/high fat drinks like regular soda, Italian soda, milkshakes, energy drinks, juice drinks, etc.

V.  Objective:  Help my body recover from hard workouts by eating foods high in antioxidants that reduce inflammation and neutralize free radicals produced by muscular work.

Strategy:  Include 6-10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day,  especially foods shown to be highest in antioxidants–cranberries, blueberries, blackberries, beans, artichokes, russet potatoes, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, ground cloves, cinnamon, and oregano.

There are no magic nutritional bullets that you can pull out of your uni-suit on race day.  However, by adding strategic eating to the training strategies provided by your Coach, you can ensure you enjoy the winning edge that can result in reaching your highest rowing objectives.

Sound Bites! Vol. 2 #2

Sound Bites! Vol. 2 #2

Nutrition Tip of the the Month: Be ready for hard spring practices this season by eating well a minimum of 5 out of 7 days.  Concentrate on eating 3 well-balanced meals and an afternoon snack each day during the work/school week.  Include a quality serving of protein, a […]