Rowing Nutrition & Sports Supplements for Rowers

rowing-nutrition-and-sports-supplements-for-rowersRowing is one of very few sports that actively engages all major muscle groups, and because of this, it is considered by many to be one of the most physically and mentally demanding sports in which to take part.

Regardless of whether you are a beginner, an elite rower, or train regularly at club level, preparing and building up your physical capability for this demanding sport will always present a tough challenge.

In general, successful rowers tend to be tall with long limbs and a large muscle mass.

As a rower you are not only required to develop basic physical strength and stamina, you also need to build-up aerobic and anaerobic endurance together with skill, grit and the determination to succeed.


Competitive rowers usually need to train every day, so preparation for an event can be physically demanding as it can place significant strain on all major muscle groups in the body.

Serious club rowers, for instance, usually train twice daily whilst elite rowers can train 3-4 times per day depending on whereabouts they are in the competitive calendar.

to optimise your competitive performance you need to make sure you understand the physiological demands that will be placed on your body and balance this with a well thought out nutritional plan

The majority of rowing competitions or regattas as they are often called, are usually held during the summer months between May and September and range from local town regattas to international events such as the World Rowing Championships.

There are also different boat classes depending on gender and the number of rowers in a boat, so each training programme will be different.

Developing aerobic and anaerobic capability

Because rowing places huge emphasis on both an athletes aerobic and anaerobic capabilities, rowers are required to train with many factors in mind.

Rowing training focuses primarily on the development of skill and rhythm, aerobic and anaerobic endurance, and muscular power; with many training sessions taking place out on the water or in the gym where the use of specialist rowing machines (ergometres) is common.

There is also resistance training and some cross training involved, and, for elite rowers, altitude training can also feature heavily in a programme.

Rowing nutrition

Because of the strict exercise routines involved, it is vitally important that as a competitive rower you prepare yourself both physically and mentally for the challenges ahead.

To optimise your competitive performance you need to make sure you understand the physiological demands that will be placed on your body and balance this with a well thought out nutritional plan before taking part in any rigorous exercise.

Also make dietary preparations specific to rowing itself as energy requirements tend to vary depending on what sport you are taking part in.

For instance, the actual energy cost of a competitive 2000m rowing race, lasting around 5-8 minutes, is only about 200 to 260kcal, but the lengthy training sessions involved to get you to this competition race pace places huge demands on your personal energy stores.

A typical 1 to 2 hour training session may use around 1000 to 2000kcal, meaning overall energy requirements for a 24 hour period can be very high depending on the type of rower and the intensity and duration of the training sessions involved.

It is fair to say, however, that this is just a general guide, as many factors including gender and physical build can also have a big impact on overall energy demands.

Energy consumption during competition

During competitive rowing races, an athlete will consume energy in a number of different ways.

For example; throughout the first 500m and final 300m of a 2000m race, the body tends to rely much more on anaerobic metabolism, whilst during the middle 1200m, aerobic metabolism will be dominant.

This means that 75 to 80 per cent of an athlete’s energy is delivered through aerobic metabolism and the remaining 20 to 25 per cent through anaerobic metabolism.

Because of this, training plans and nutritional requirements should be developed to suit specific circumstances.

It is well known however, that carbohydrates are a primary energy source and this is why many athletes will stock up on foods rich in carbohydrate.

In general, the recommendations for carbohydrate intake depend on the duration and intensity of training sessions, with requirements varying from between 7 to 12g carbohydrate per kg body weight.

You should therefore consider eating easily digested carbohydrate-rich foods, such as jam sandwiches or sports bars, in order build energy levels and prevent fatigue.

Pre-competion and training nutrition

Before you take part in any exercise however, you should ideally consume a light breakfast of say toast with jam or breakfast cereal with low-fat milk; and juice as this will give you sufficient energy for your first session.

You should then consider taking a “second breakfast” or recovery meal after this initial training, before you commence additional training sessions.

Ideal foods to eat for this second breakfast include; low-fat milk, natural yoghurt with fruit, baked beans, eggs, cheese and ham, as they all contain protein and carbohydrates.

Post-competition nutrition and recovery

After an intense training session or competition it is essential that you recover body carbohydrate and fluid stores before the next session.

The recovery process is vitally important and there are no two ways about it; rowers need to recover properly, especially if they want to keep their body fighting-fit and in the best possible shape.

Carbohydrate stores (glycogen) must be rapidly replenished during these periods to enable quality training and effective recovery to continue over extended periods.

There are three golden rules to a rowers successful rehabilitation; and we refer to them as the three R’s:

  • Refuel

    Refuel muscle glycogen (carbohydrate stores).

  • Repair

    Repair muscle tissue (for maintenance and development).

  • Rehydrate

    Rehydrate to replace fluids and salts lost through sweat.

Bodily carbohydrate stores (glycogen) must be quickly restored to allow performance levels to be maintained – the optimum time to restore muscle glycogen stores is during the first hour after competition or training and this is when you need to consume carbohydrates.

If you do not replenish glycogen stores adequately however, recovery may well be affected leading to unwanted fatigue and poor performances may then follow.

Therefore your ideal recovery meals and snacks must contain carbohydrate (for fuel), some protein (for muscle repair and/or gains) and plenty of fluids to replace sweat losses.

Rowing hydration

It is also important that you stay correctly hydrated, and in order to achieve this, fluids should be consumed before, during and after routine training.

Specially formulated sports drinks are a particularly good way of supplying both fluid and carbohydrate at the same time and are therefore highly recommended.

You should also be aware, however, that body fluid losses will vary depending on effort levels, training and competition times and locations.

Taking all this into account, rather than relying on your sweat rate or feeling of thirst to determine fluid needs, a much more reliable method of assessing body fluid losses is a “weigh-in” before and after competition or training.

For each kilogram of body weight lost, you should be encouraged to drink approximately 1.5 litres of fluid, either in the form of water or a specially formulated sports drink.

Weight management for rowers

For elite rowers, there are several additional factors to take into consideration when it comes to their bodyweight and managing their nutritional intake.

Lightweight rowers have the challenge of making the weight in their race categories and have to come in at a specified bodyweight at about 2 hours prior to the start of a race.

Whilst this, in some instances, is easier for some than others, a long term nutritional strategy is highly recommended to avoid last minute problems.

A plan of action for weight management over the rowing season is considered essential to prevent unhealthy eating practices.

It is therefore important that you try to keep your bodyweight fairly constant throughout the entire twelve months of the year and not just in the days leading up to a competition.

With this in mind, the International Federation of Rowing (FISA) have produced guidelines stating that an athlete be no more than 5kg above weight for five to six months before competition and no more than 3kg above weight for 2 to 3 months before competition.

And finally

It has to be said that rowing, regardless of whether you take part in competitions or just do it as a hobby, is an extremely rewarding but physically demanding sport that not only requires endurance,  real strength and physical power, but also commitment and courage from a mental perspective.

Despite this, however, anyone of any age can take part as the sport is highly structured and caters for a wide range of abilities.

From young children to veterans and from novices to hardened athletes, rowing has something for everyone.

Want to get involved?

If you’re not currently involved in rowing as a recreational activity or at a competitive level and are keen to learn more about taking part then read on. Here we’ve brought together a number of useful links to rowing organisations that may be able to help you.

  • British Rowing

    British Rowing, formerly the Amateur Rowing Association (ARA), is the governing body in England for the sport of rowing. It is also responsible for the development and organisation of international rowing teams representing Great Britain. Scottish Rowing (formerly SARA) and the Welsh Amateur Rowing Association (WARA) oversee governance in their respective countries, organise their own teams for the Home International Regatta and input to the GB team organisation. British Rowing is a member of the British Olympic Association and the International Federation of Rowing Associations, also known as FISA.

  • Scottish Rowing

    Scottish Rowing, formerly the Scottish Amateur Rowing Association, is the governing body for the sport of rowing in Scotland. It is responsible for promoting the sport in Scotland and also for selecting crews to send to the Home International Regatta and the Commonwealth Rowing Championships. In addition, Scottish Rowing also runs three of the major regattas of the year, Strathclyde Park Regatta, the Scottish Rowing Championships and the Scottish Indoor Rowing Championships.

  • Welsh Rowing

    Welsh Rowing (formally known as the Welsh Amateur Rowing Association) is the governing body for the sport of rowing in Wales. It is responsible for promoting the sport in Wales and for the organisation of all national rowing competitions held in Wales, including the ‘Head of the Taff’ and the Welsh Open Rowing Championships. Welsh Rowing is also responsible for choosing crews to send to the Home Countries International Regatta and the Commonwealth Rowing Championships.

  • International Rowing Federation

    The Fédération Internationale des Sociétés d’Aviron (FISA) is the International Rowing Federation which is the governing body for international Rowing. It oversees the Rowing World Cup, World Rowing Championships, and other such competitions.

  • Rowing in Wikipedia

    Rowing is the act of propelling a boat using the motion of oars in the water. The difference between paddling and rowing is that rowing requires oars to have a mechanical connection with the boat, while paddles are hand-held and have no mechanical connection…

Want help with nutrition?

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