Rio 2016: Nutritionist lifts the lid on real-life diet of Team GB rower

Great Britain rowing team's nutritionist Wendy Martinson lifts the lid on the eating habits of her athletes

The Sport Review staff
By The Sport Review staff

1) How many calories do GB rowers typically burn a day when training and in competition?

It’s very difficult to measure accurately, but the range is somewhere in the region of 3,000 for a lightweight and 6,000 for a heavyweight per day, although this is of course dependent on the type of training/competing that they’re doing. That information is based on estimates gathered from equations, which look at their actual calorie intake compared to how much they’re expending, as opposed to direct measurements of energy expenditure.

2) What is a GB rower’s typical diet on race days?

It varies, as the athletes are so individual. General principles across the board that the rowers would follow on a race day: first of all, we have to bear in mind that they’ll be nervous, so their appetite might not be as good as it normally is; they might actually struggle to eat anything at all. We’d focus on making sure that they’ve taken on board enough carbohydrates within their diet on race day, as that’s of course the main fuel source during the race. We’d drop fibre content a bit, which is for two reasons: firstly, in case their guts were a bit, shall we say, ‘overactive’, and secondly, particularly for the lightweights, we may just manipulate fibre so as their gut contents weigh less to help them achieve the weigh-in target. Fat content in race day diet would be lower, as fat sits in the gut for longer, which can be quite uncomfortable when you’re racing. And lastly, easily digestible protein. Essentially, foods that are easily digestible, that they feel comfortable with, and that they can get down if they’re feeling nervous.

3) How many calories will GB rowers consume in the 24 hours before a race?

Again, this is very variable, and there’s even not very much information in the literature on this. They’re likely to eat less in the day leading up to race day, and on race day, than on a normal training day. Simply, this is due to the volume of training leading into a competition being much less, so their energy requirement is smaller.

4) How has the increased use of data analysis in rowing helped you in your role at GB rowing team?

It’s definitely been beneficial, particularly from being provided with data by the physiologists in terms of athletes’ performance, such as the measurements that they take and the information that they record on the system. I then have the ability to liaise with the physiologists, and see what areas of performance need to be improved, and how nutrition can impact on that.

5) What role do you see data analytics playing in the future of rowing?

The more information that I’m provided with about how the athletes are performing in training and in competition, the more I can try and influence that through improvements and tweaks in nutrition.

6) How often do GB rowers eat when training?

They tend to eat 5-6 times a day, with the sixth meal being a bedtime snack – usually some kind of drink, but maybe solids.

7) Are there any foods that rowers aren’t allowed to eat when training or during competitions?

We tend to have a balanced approach to food; we don’t say: “you can eat this, but you mustn’t eat that”. There are some types of food that people like to eat – chocolate, fried foods etc. – and we believe it’s normal to have that in your diet in moderate amounts. When we’re designing menus for competitions when we’re away, then it tends to be not too much fried foods or high fat intake. Healthy fats are fine, just not lots of saturated fats. Good carb choices which have a low GI (Glycemic Index) are encouraged. Apart from booze, there aren’t really any no-nos.

8) With next year’s Olympic Games taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; does that present any issues for you in terms of allowing the rowers to maintain their diets?

Whenever we travel abroad, be it Rio or Beijing, there are always going to be challenges regarding the sorts of foods that we can and can’t source readily. Rio really doesn’t stand out as being a major issue. Largely, we stay in good places and the quality of the food tends to be of a high standard. One issue we do face wherever we go is hygiene: athletes will be exposed to different environmental viruses and bugs, so they need to be diligent in terms of washing their hands frequently, and who they mix with.

9) Team Sky use their own brand of extra virgin olive oil to boost muscle recovery; are there any innovative foods/drinks that GBRT use to aid recovery?

We are very much of the belief that there isn’t a magic bullet or a superfood, which is all-encompassing in terms of energising or recovery. It’s all about what they eat on a day-to-day basis, and keeping a balanced diet. Omar, our GB Rowing Team chef, creates fantastically varied food with plenty of fantastic protein, lots of fruit and vegetables for antioxidants, polyphenols, and great carbohydrate choices. It’s all about balance, rather than relying on a magic ingredient – that’s the key.

Omar Meziane and Wendy Martinson OBE were speaking on behalf of SAS – the leader in analytics software and services. SAS is the Official Analytics Partner of British Rowing and the GB Rowing Team as

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