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The Magic {Nutrition} Bullet for Summer Rowing

Many rowers look forward to spring, summer and fall when they can be out on the water. But rowing outdoors, especially in the summer when the air is warm and the sun is hot, increases the risk for dehydration.

Dehydration is an athlete’s enemy. Muscles work best when they are hydrated; muscles contract well, respond to work demands quickly, and cramp less. Dehydrated muscles, on the other hand, may cramp, tire quickly, and respond slowly. Not only can dehydration negatively influence the rower’s athletic performance, it may cause headaches, confusion and poor judgment.

Fluid is the “magic bullet” for rowers. Fluid, especially water and electrolyte replacement fluids such as a sports drink, helps rowers stay hydrated while avoiding the negative effects of dehydration. A hydrated rower will almost always have a competitive advantage over a dehydrated rower.

Even a slight dehydration of 1% (a 1# weight loss after exercise in a 100# rower) can impair athletic performance in a junior rower. Teen and adult rowers may see negative effects on performance when 2% dehydration (3# weight loss after exercise in a 150# athlete) occurs.

Some rowers become dehydrated because they don’t realize how much fluid they need in a day: about 2 liters for daily living and an additional liter or more for exercise, depending on rate of sweating, body weight, and age. Urine that is a clear color is the sign of adequate hydration.

Thirst may be a good indicator of when the rower should drink, but sometimes thirst isn’t fully recognized, especially in young rowers who may be distracted by their friends or the environment. Coaches can help young rowers by reminding them to drink fluids before, during, and after practices and competition.

Research has teased out how much and when to drink in order to prevent dehydration in the youth athlete as follows:

To prevent dehydration, drink 6 ml per pound of body weight per hour (a 100# young rower needs 600 ml or 20 ounces of fluid, per hour). Drink this amount before and during exercise.

To replenish fluids after exercise, drink 2 ml per pound of body weight per hour (100# rower needs 200 ml per hour or ~7 ounces, per hour). Drink this amount 1-2 hours after exercise.

All beverages and some foods (juicy fruits, soups, and yogurt for example) help satisfy hydration needs but the best drink for the rower is water. Water should be the primary fluid and should be consumed throughout the day before practice, during practice, and afterward.

Sports drinks provide sugar, fluid and electrolytes to help beat dehydration. They are perfect for a long workout (greater than 1 hour in duration), or for extremely hot weather conditions. Because they are flavored, they encourage drinking, which is a good thing, but electrolytes can also be replaced with water and salty foods like pretzels. If you choose to drink a sports drink, keep it to a small bottle (12 or 20 ounces).

It isn’t wise to drink sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sugar-added fruit drinks, large amounts of juice, or even too many sports drinks as a primary fluid around exercise. These drinks may help keep rowers hydrated, but they can have a negative impact on overall diet quality, offering too much sugar and calories.

Most importantly, the choice of fluid should be something the rower likes to drink, as drinking adequate amounts and staying hydrated is critical to health and athletic performance.

Written by Jill Castle, MS, RDN | Jun 02, 2015

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian and youth sports nutrition expert. She is the author of Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete. Learn more

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