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Fuel For Champions: What Rowers Eat

By Peggy Shinn | Aug. 25, 2015, 4:45 p.m. (ET)

Grant James, Seth Weil, Henrik Rummel and Michael Gennaro compete in the men's four at the 2013 World Rowing Championships on Aug. 25, 2013 in Chungju, South Korea.

How do rowers balance their nutritional needs when they burn between 5,000 and 9,000 calories each day?

It helps if they work at a local juice store.

Seth Weil, stroke of the men’s four, was on the ground floor (literally) when his host family started Arlee’s Raw Blends, a local juice store in Princeton, New Jersey, that cold presses organic fruits and locally grown vegetables into a variety of blends. Weil’s host mom’s brother, Brian, began juicing in the basement and delivering it around town. Weil and another rower, Ambrose Puttmann, would help out when they could, mostly washing the vegetables and tasting the various juices.

“I would say we were the designated tasters for this operation, we probably tried hundreds of different juices,” said Weil, who will compete in his third world championships, which begin Aug. 30.

Felice Mueller’s three favorite juices — pineapple, turmeric and Kale

Weil now works at Arlee’s about two days a week, and so does Felice Mueller, who’s rowing with 2012 Olympic gold medalist Elle Logan in the pair at 2015 worlds.

“I didn’t even ask for a job, they just offered me one,” said Mueller. “They’ve just been the best. It’s hard to have employees that are gone months at a time racing.”

Mueller, 25, a multiple medalist from junior, U23 and senior world championships in every boat from the eight (as a junior) to the quad sculls (2014), was serendipitously paired with Logan, whom she calls her “rowing idol.” The pair will be a medal favorite at worlds.

The top 11 nations in the women’s pair at worlds qualify for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Mueller spends four to six hours on the water, rowing 32-42 kilometers each day, or in the weight room, and estimates that she burns 6,000-7,000 calories a day. Her favorite meal is “second breakfast” — first breakfast being a bowl of steel-cut oats, fruit and yogurt, or hardboiled eggs that she eats before going to practice at dawn.

“After morning practice, you can come home and make like five pieces of bacon and a bunch of eggs and toast,” she said. “Sometimes, I even will combine lunch and second breakfast. Then I’ll have a sandwich and salad on top of that. It’s amazing.”

Then she supplements her diet with Arlee’s juices, drinking up to a quart a day. Her favorite juice? Pineapple Blend – a mix of pineapple, apple, lime and mint juice.

“We get a 25 percent employee discount, so I like to say that I’m essentially working for juice,” she said with a laugh. “While I’m there, I say, ‘Oh, I need some turmeric [juice], my body is inflamed from pieces (rowing sets).’ Or ‘Oh, I really feel like I need some kale juice, I’m low on energy, and I really need the nutrients.’”

Weil (pronounced ‘wile’) — a 28-year-old who burst onto the national team in 2013 and is now stroke of the men’s four, the boat that won a bronze medal at the 2012 London Games — also likes kale juice. And there are three to choose from, Kale Blend, Kale Blend 2 and Kale Blend 3, with 1 having the most fruit (so it’s sweeter). Calling himself a “weakling in the juice world,” his favorites are Kale 1 and 2.

“I haven’t quite reached juice nirvana,” he joked.

Felice Mueller’s breakfast: four eggs, five pieces of bacon, kale,
broccoli, avocado and berries; not pictured: the banana, cashews,
chips and green juice I ate while preparing this.

He has also been known to drink up to a quart of juice a day but is down to about a quart a week now. Arlee’s regularly sells out, so the employees can’t raid the fridge like they once could.

He particularly likes beet juice when he’s racing and used to mix beet powder with water.

“Let me tell you, it was less than ideal,” he said, with an audible wince. “Now when we have erg testing or racing rolls around, I always drink beet juice. The Beet Blend that they have is delicious, so it’s not a chore anymore.”

Famished after morning practice, Weil’s favorite meal is also breakfast. And he reluctantly divulged a secret. Cooked bacon at Whole Foods’ hot food bar is less expensive than buying uncooked bacon (because cooked bacon doesn’t weigh as much as uncooked). He will buy an egg and cheese breakfast sandwich and an entire tray of bacon, then add the bacon to the sandwich. With his secret out there, he now hopes that the store won’t raise their prices.

Although he doesn’t keep track of calories, Weil estimated that he burns 5,000 to 9,000 per day.

When asked how he has time to prepare and eat that much food every day, he laughed.

“I would say most of the guys center their day around eating,” he said. “It’s not really too much of an issue when your whole life is rowing and eating.”

Weil and the rest of the crew in the four — 2012 Olympic bronze medalists Henrik Rummel, Charlie Cole and Glenn Ochal — have medaled in every international race that they’ve entered. With a bronze medal from 2013 worlds and a silver in 2014, they would like to complete their medal set this year. Acknowledging the medal progression is tempting fate though, said Weil.

A top-11 finish at 2015 worlds will qualify the boat for the 2016 Olympic Games. But the real goal is to perform at their best.

“It’s a slightly different shift in mentality,” explained Weil. “I want to race at the top capability of that crew. I believe that’s good enough to win.”

After worlds and until Rio, there are gallons of juice to drink.

For Mueller, her job at Arlee’s has helped her learn more about nutrition and what diet works for her.

“I feel like vegetables are a much more important source of nutrients in my diet now versus just trying to eat a bunch of carbs,” she said. “That is still happening, obviously, because I need the energy, weight and power. But just trying to eat more organic, local vegetables has been really helpful in the past couple months.”

And then there’s the bacon, too.

A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.