Improve your nutrition to boost your performance

Nutrition should not be overlooked if you want to perform at your best. Jacqueline Birtwisle provides advice to an amateur rower who wants to improve

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Samuel Kavanagh is keen to make every possible gain to maximise his performance. The Bedford rower is 5’7”, weighs 72kg, and would like to know how he can improve his nutrition.

Sam’s day

6.30 – Baked beans on two slices of wholemeal bread with ham and salami
8.00 – 4.3km of cycling
9.00 – One litre of water
13.10 – 420g of pasta and tomato sauce with sweetcorn. Cake and custard
Twice a week an hour of weights
14.00 – Half a litre of water
16.00 – 3km of cycling
16.15 – A two hour water or rowing machine session. Half a litre of water
18.00 – A 3.5km cycle followed by two litres of water
18.30 – A chocolate and banana muesli bar
19.40 – Grilled peppery pork and apple with mashed potato
20.50 – A doughnut peach
21.30 – Two slices of wholemeal bread with chocolate spread

Jacqueline’s analysis

A snapshot summary of Sam’s diet shows that there is clear room for improvement.

These five nutritional priorities could improve your performance over the longer term

  • Wholegrains
  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Oily fish
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Timing of food in relation to training

While any changes are not likely to have an immediate effect, over time making good choices alongside the appropriate training will see your performance improving.

Jacqueline’s advice

For extra wholegrains, choose thick-cut rather than medium slice bread. You’ll get more carbs, protein, fibre and more nutrients such as folate, vitamin E, potassium and zinc – important for the immune system as well as protein synthesis.

Include more fruit and vegetables eg. fruit (fresh, frozen or tinned) rather than cake with custard and make it a ‘rowing rule’ to try and include a green vegetable each day. This would boost nutrients such as folate and vitamins A and C, currently not major features of the day analysed.

Why not stir baby leaf spinach through pasta sauces, add a handful of kale to every stir fry or into scrambled eggs? Include some oily fish two to three times a week – try smoked mackerel, boiled egg and potatoes with green beans; tinned sardines on toast rather than a chocolate spread toastie. Include a handful of any unsalted nuts daily for a nutritional boost– perhaps with a banana as a snack choice.

Ditch the high fat salami at breakfast and add in some fish, chicken or eggs at lunchtime before your twice-weekly weights and then allow for a recovery snack afterwards. Maybe also some skimmed milk with a banana or a chocolate milkshake – both provide protein with carbs.

Finally, going nearly seven hours between your lunch and evening meal is unlikely to be optimal for refuelling if you train hard on a daily basis.

This article first appeared in Rowing & Regatta magazine.