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Understanding the Calorie Requirements of a Junior Rower

“Jason is always hungry, especially after practice. I have to go to the grocery store three or four times a week just to keep my kitchen stocked. He eats so much food!” says Jennifer, his mom. Fifteen-year-old Jason was training most days of the week as a junior rower and Jennifer wasn’t quite sure what to expect with his eating habits. She knew teen boys were famous for eating a lot of food, but she was unprepared for the volume and frequency with which her son was eating.

What Jennifer didn’t understand is that rowing is an energy-demanding sport, especially for the growing rower. Simply said, the growing rower is hungry because the energy demands associated with the combination of growth and sport surpasses those of the adult rower and the teenage non-athlete.

The dynamic process of growth places a substantial energy demand on the junior athlete and may be under-appreciated in the teen rower. Depending on age and gender, energy needs for normal growth vary greatly. A male teen’s requirement for growth alone can equal 3,200 calories per day, while a female of the same age may need around 2,400 calories per day. A larger teen will need more calories than a smaller teen, due to more body mass, and males will need more than females, due to higher musculature.

On top of this, all athletes, regardless of the sport, have additional calorie requirements that reflect the level of intensity of their exercise, the duration of the workout and its frequency (from a few times a week, to multiple workouts each day).

While we understand the energy requirements for growing teens, defining the specific energy demands of rowing in this younger population is not as clear-cut. This is due to a lack of research studies in this age category. We do, however, know that young adult rowers can burn up to 1,000-2,000 calories per training session.

A general rule of thumb that is used for other young athletes is 10 calories burned per minute of intense exercise (consistent rowing, swimming, running, etc). So, a 60-minute session of continuous rowing would burn roughly 600 calories. This is only an estimate, and there will be variation based on body weight, intensity and other factors. The true definition of matching calorie requirements is overall weight stability throughout the training season.

During a competitive race, studies show that the total energy burn is much lower – up to 180 calories for a 2,000-meter race lasting an average of 6.5 minutes (around 18-22 calories per minute). However, even though the total calorie burn is a low number, it is a high per-minute calorie burn!

Clearly, consistently meeting the calorie requirement during training is an important part of training and an edge toward success on race day. A nutritious and calorie-sufficient training diet will prepare the body, especially the muscles, with the needed energy to optimize performance when it counts the most.

Tips to meet daily calorie requirements:

  • Offer 3-4 wholesome, nutritious meals per day. Try to represent all food groups during the day including lean meat, low fat dairy, fruit, vegetables, grains and healthy fats.
  • Fuel your pre-workout with snacks including carbohydrate and protein combos such as whole grain bread and nut butter; Greek yogurt and fruit; nuts and dried fruit; Fig Newton and cheese; or a protein-rich cereal bar.
  • Recover post-workout with foods like flavored milk; yogurt or kefir drink; hard-boiled egg and bagel; or cheese and crackers.

If staying on top of your appetite and maintaining a stable weight is a challenge, include more calorie-dense foods like nuts and nut butters, avocado, full fat dairy products, dried fruit or granola. These foods pack a lot of nutrition in a small volume, so getting too full is minimized.

Jill Castle, MS, RDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist and childhood nutrition expert. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School and creator of Just The Right Byte, a child and family nutrition blog. She lives with her husband and four children in New Canaan, CT. Questions? Contact Jill at Jill@JillCastle.com.

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