Sound Bites! Vol.2 #2
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.