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 ran my usual Sunday 10K on the old Strawberry Festival course–nice country run with some big country hills, and 3) my legs felt tired and heavy the second half of the run.

So I wondered if perhaps I didn’t refuel appropriately the day before.

I raced hard in two races on Saturday but I also  had a long day of sitting outdoors.  I ate just salad for lunch, no doubt using up glycogen from my liver stores.  And perhaps the slice of pizza, green salad, and glass of wine at dinner that night, plus 1/2 peach and handful of raw peanuts for a bedtime snack was not bad – but not optimal.

Let’s look at what might have been a better refueling plan and some tips for optimal nutrition and hydration strategies during head race season. It’s important to consider whether you are at a local head race limited to one race for the day, or whether you are traveling to a regatta with multiple days and perhaps more than one race, like Head of the Charles.  In this latter scenario, you will require refueling not only for the race but for the travel, possibly long outdoor days, and unfamiliar locale as well.

Of course, it’s hard to think of refueling in isolation from other parts of your nutrition plan.  Refueling is a little like the finish of your stroke–refueling  leads seamlessly into pre-exercise nutrition, eating during exercise, and then post-exercise refueling once again, just like the finish flows into and affects the recovery and catch.

First, refueling should begin as soon as possible after a long bout of hard training or racing.  Although newer researchsuggests that the window for refueling is longer than once thought, most authorities suggest within 15-30 minutes consuming about 1/2 gram carbohydrate per pound of body weight, with about one fourth that amount in protein.  For a 170 lb. rower, this equals 85 grams of carbs plus 20 grams of protein.  An easy-to-eat post-exercise choice containing these amounts would include 8 ounces Gatorade, a medium bagel topped with one ounce ham and a slice of cheese, and 10 gummy bears.

As noted, this refueling strategy applies primarily to longer bouts of activity, generally an hour or more, for example after hard practices (including rowing, weight training, running, biking, etc) and during regattas with multiple races, especially if there is a short time between bouts.  If you are racing 1-2 races with several hours in between, timing and high carb, high protein intake post-exercise are probably not an issue.  A normal, well-balanced meal or snack should generally be sufficient.

So, was my post-race refueling on wine and pizza optimal?  Probably not– perhaps having milk instead of wine or having spaghetti instead of pizza might have been better.  In retrospect,however, I was probably tired from a long day at the race course and maybe that banana and few gulps of water I had pre-run just wasn’t enough.

With that in mind, here are a few nutrition tips for when going into this fall’s head races:

1.  During the hard weeks of training leading up to races, be sure to eat enough food to maintain a healthy weight.

2.  Make sure your meals and snacks contain plenty of carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, and minerals by including foods from all food groups–5-10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, 4-6 servings whole grains, 4 servings low-fat dairy, 4-8 ounces lean animal and/or vegetable proteins, moderate amounts of healthy (unsaturated) fats, and limited sweets .

3.  Drink 8-10 cups healthy fluids per day–water, milk, juices, moderate sport drinks–and limit or avoid coffee, tea, energy drinks, and, of course, alcoholic beverages.

4.  Get 7-9 hours of sleep most nights to allow your body time to process all the nutrients you take in during the day for building muscle and repairing tissues, and, for teens, facilitating growth.

5.  During the 4-5 days before an important regatta, pay special attention to your diet and sleep needs.

6.  On regatta day, eat breakfast!  If you have to get up super early, pack a cooler the night before with food you can eat on the way to the course–PBJ or bagel with sliced cheese or peanut butter, yogurt, banana or apple, bottle of chocolate milk, and a water bottle.

7.  During the regatta, keep fueled and hydrated. Be sure to snack on high carb foods like muffins, whole grain crackers and cheese or humus, bean burrito or breakfast egg sandwich, fruits, and w hole grain cookies or bars.

8.  After racing, eat a carb snack–sport drink, whole grain cookie, chocolate milk, or some gummy bears.

9.  Start whole process over again!


By Debby Jackson – a Master Rower, Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator

Resources: Jill Castle – MS, RDN; Robert E. Keith – Professor, Nutrition and Food Science, Auburn University; Sunny Blende – MS Sports Nutritionist; Amanda Hawkins for Good Housekeeping Magazine

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