MAY 19, 2011

"My God! How much do you eat?!"  Yes, a lot.  Please stop staring.

Yes, I'm going to finish it all and no, I have no shame.  Being an elite athlete doesn't just demand many hours on the water, it takes some major fuel to power this body.  Rowing is a fine mix between an endurance and a sprint sport.  The race is 2000 meters and takes about 6 to 7 minutes depending on the size of the boat.  That requires long hours of low heart rate work, endurance weights, mixed with sprint intervals and power lifting.  And a lot of food in my stomach.

Of course I can't just be powered by any food.  I do feel lucky that I can eat basically whatever I want, but my body won't respond well to junk food and soda.  I replace my burned calories with well balanced meals.  I don't follow a strict diet but I do make sure that the meal that I eat immediately after a workout is healthy.  That is the one strict rule I stick to.  Nutrition is key in athletic performance and your body is depleted from practice and needs something good to build it back up.  In fact, 30 minutes after a workout is one of the most important.  

I usually drink a GU recovery drink or eat a granola bar or banana after I get off the water.  Sometimes when the coach's meeting goes too long after practice, we jokingly remind our coach, "Excuse me, but my glycogen window is closing!!"

In general I eat lots of protein, some carbs, and some fat.  My healthy meals consist of meat (chicken, beef), lots of vegetables (spinach, carrots, peas, tomatoes, etc.), whole grain (oatmeal, quinoa), fruit (lots of bananas, apples, berries) and last but not least dessert in moderation.  I definitely snack and hydrate throughout the day because as an elite athlete you should never be hungry or thirsty!  I personally don't think there is any secret or correct diet.  Some of my teammates are on the paleo diet (caveman style- unprocessed foods and milk- and gluten-free), others are vegetarian, and a few are on restricted calorie intake.  We are all a little different with what works for us, but we also have to be compromising sometimes.  Traveling abroad to races throws a monkey wrench in our nutritional routine, but we do our best to adjust.  I'll leave some of those stories for another blog.

Even across different cultures the typical meals of elite athletes differ.  In England the rowers eat Shepherd's Pie made of lamb mince with tomatoes and carrots, Yorkshire pudding with sausages, and snack on Nutella.  In the Netherlands they eat pancakes and stamppot, a dish made with endives, kale, carrots mixed with meatballs.  The staple of the Argentinians is asado or BBQ'd pork while the Mexican rowers eat tortillas, quesadillas, and refried beans.  The Aussies 'throw another shrimp on the barbie' and eat lots of seafood including fish, prawns, calamari, and crayfish though the Japanese prefer sushi and ramen noodles.  Iraqi rowers stick to kebabs, falafel, and lots of fruit.

Hands down the most interesting diet is that of the Chinese rowers.  A

2008 NY Times article revealed the Chinese rower's ate "chicken feet, tofu with cabbage, and pork-filled sticky buns" Yum!

The UK Times also wrote about Chinese athletes being required to eat bull penis, herbal infusions, and antler soup because it was believed to give them unparalleled strength.

Thankfully in this country we have the freedom to eat whatever we want.  Though I must say I have had chicken feet in soup and they are quite tasty!

Thinking about my diet, I decided I needed to figure out how much I really was eating.  With all of the new technologies available to us, I started tracking the number of calories I ate using an easy phone app called FitnessPal.  I recorded every single piece of food that went into my mouth.  Now I can finally answer… I eat over 4000 calories a day!  Raarr!  So the next time you see a hungry rower coming towards you, throw that sandwich or muffin towards them and no one will get hurt.