Home Economics - Why is nutrition important to sports people?

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In order to obtain an idea for a task I could research, I decided to do an initial brainstorm of all the areas that would be possible to complete the project on (see fig1, next page). The factors that would affect my decision of what area to choose, were how easy it would be for me to research the topic, whether I knew people I could speak to about it and whether it was something that interested me. Because of these, I decided to research into nutrition for rowing. This was because I am a rower myself which meant that it would interest me, I would already know about the topic and I knew a variety of people who would be able to provide information and help on the subject.

For research:

To start the project I needed to carry out some preliminary, general research into the sport and its demands. The following are some things I needed to research:

o Sports nutrition

o Nutritional requirements of a normal person

o Nutritional requirements of a rower

o What a rower should eat on the day of, and during the week before, a race.

Preliminary research


To ensure that I could gat a balanced set of information I decided to use data from several media types. These could include magazines, people, websites, books and companies. The following are some sources I thought would be useful:

o ARA (amateur rowing association)

o Internet - including rowing websites, BBC website, nutrition websites etc.

o Sports magazines

o Books form library

o Olympic foundation

o IOC consensus statement on sports nutrition 2003.

The majority of the following initial research was obtained from the Australian International Rowing website, published ARA information and Amanda McCulloch (a sports nutritionist who often specialises in rowing, who gave a talk to my rowing team and allowed me to interview her).

Why is nutrition important to sports people?

The nutrition of an athlete is very important to their success at the sport. All sports place specific demands on the athlete and these are usually controlled through the diet. The key to success in any sport is performance which is obtained through reaching all the necessary energy and protein requirements as well as the vital vitamins and minerals. The IOC consensus statement on sports nutrition says "The amount, composition and timing of food intake can profoundly affect sports performance. Good nutritional practice will help athletes train hard, recover quickly and adapt more effectively with less risk of illness and injury. Athletes should adopt specific nutritional strategies before and during competition to help maximize their performance."

Characteristics of the Sport

Rowing events are usually held over 2000 metres, and typically take 5.5 to 7 minutes depending on the crew. Crews are identified by the number of rowers in the boat (singles, doubles, fours, eights), whether there is a coxswain steering, and whether the boat is sculled (two oars per person) or rowed (one oar each). Rowing involves lightweight and heavyweight competition. In the lightweight division, athletes' weights are restricted. Rowing places great demands on both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and requires great power and strength.


Rowing requires a unique mix of technique, power and endurance from both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. This requires long hours of intense training even though events only last 5-7 minutes. Elite rowers train 8-10 months of the year. A typical rowing session covers 20km with 1-2 sessions being held on the water each day. In addition, rowers undertake gym sessions 3-4 times per week to develop strength and muscular endurance. Some rowers may also include additional aerobic sessions such as cycling or running. In an interview with a rowing coach I found out that, "skill and performance in rowing is improved through the quality of training. The harder a rower trains, the more they will get back from it".


Regattas may last from two days to a week. Competitors must progress through heats and semi-finals to earn a place in the finals. Rowers who do not make it into the semi-final are often given another chance in a repechage. Generally rowers will only take part in one event per day. Light training is undertaken on any rest days. Lightweight rowers must weigh-in on the morning of the event, to ensure that they are within the weight restrictions.

Physical Characteristics

Heavyweight rowers are tall and heavy with strong muscles and long limbs. While muscle should account for a large proportion of body mass, the total mass is important, therefore body fat levels are often relatively high. Lightweight rowers aim to keep body fat levels low to maintain a good power-to-weight ratio.

Common Nutrition Issues

Training Nutrition

Rowers have very high energy and carbohydrate requirements to support training loads and meet body weight and strength goals. All rowers need to work hard to recover between training sessions. During this period they need to ensure they replace the large energy loss and aid muscular recovery.


It is an advantage to be heavy and strong in heavyweight rowing. As body weight is supported in the boat, higher body fat levels are not as great a disadvantage as they are in other weight bearing sports. However, at times, it may be necessary for heavyweight rowers to reduce some fat levels. In lightweight rowing it is more important to maintain low body fat levels. Rowers needing to loose fat must target excess energy in the diet. In particular, excess fat, alcohol and sugary foods should be targeted and replaced with more nutrient dense choices.

Iron Status

Rowers can be at risk of poor iron status. In particular, females and adolescent males can struggle to meet their iron needs. Regular checks of iron status are recommended. Rowers should include high sources of iron in the diet on a regular basis. Advice from a sports dietician should be sought if a low iron status develops.
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Fluid Needs

Long training sessions on the water lead to significant sweat losses, particularly when undertaken twice a day. As with all sports, because there is such a large fluid loss this needs to be effectively replaced so as not to hinder performance or health. It is very important for a rower to try and remain hydrated; however, it is one of the most difficult sports in which to do so.

Competition Nutrition

Rowers should go into each race with fluid and fuel stores at full, and feeling comfortable after the last meal. With the ...

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A detailed piece of work based on high quality research and specific knowledge of the issues facing athletes who row. There is a necessary focus on energy supply in the writing, and the planning of meals. 5 Stars