Nutritional strategy for optimum rowing performance

Why fluid is the key for pre-competition lightweight rowers

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Unlike their heavyweight counterparts, lightweight rowers have to ‘make their weight’ in a pre-competition weigh-in, which often means undertaking short-term weight loss prior to the weigh-in and then replacing this lost weight with fluids, carbohydrates or other foods and drinks just before the race itself. But what’s the most effective nutritional strategy for this period?

Australian researchers have spent some time examining different ‘recovery’ strategies in 2,000m rowers to try and find answers to this question. They looked at 12 competitive rowers completing four 2,000m ergometer trials, each separated by a 48-hour rest period. For the first trial, the rowers were not asked to reduce their weight, but for the second trial, they had to reduce body mass by 5.2% and then achieve this same body mass prior to the third and fourth trials.

For each of the three body mass reduction trials, the rowers took one of the following pre-trial drinks or snacks following their weigh-in:

  • Fluid only (containing zero carbohydrate, 0.6mg/kg of sodium and 28.5mg/kg of fluid);
  • Carbohydrate and sodium (containing approx 10kcals/kg, 2.2g/kg of carbohydrate and 32.9mg/kg sodium plus 7.2ml/kg of fluid);
  • A combination of water and carbohydrate/sodium (10kcals/kg, 2.3g/kg of carbohydrate, 33mg/kg of sodium and 28.5ml/kg fluid).

When the scientists measured their subsequent performances, they found that the carbohydrate and sodium snack produced significantly slower performances (averaging 4.13 seconds longer over 2,000m) than either the fluid only or fluid/carbohydrate/sodium combination. Moreover, while the combination of fluid plus carbohydrate and sodium snack produced the best performances, these were not significantly better than the fluid only drink.

The researchers concluded by stating ‘that although carbohydrate and sodium intake may be important in the recovery period between weigh-in and 2,000m rowing ergometer performance, fluid intake has a greater influence on performance among lightweight male rowers who undertake short-term weight loss to achieve specified body-mass limits’. The message seems clear – rowers making weight should consider fluid replacement as their number one priority following weigh-in.

Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007; 39(1):184-191

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