One problem that most rowing parents do not usually have is persuading their child to eat! However, it’s also important to know what to eat and when, as the effect of diet on performance is significant. Equally, as young rowers are also going through periods of rapid growth it is vital to ensure that their high level of physical activity – in terms of both duration and intensity – does not compromise their normal development. Good eating habits and a diet that supplies the right nutrients to support their level of energy expenditure will ensure that your sons grow well and keep healthy.
The following information is general advice. However, if your child needs a special diet (for example, for diabetes) consult a dietician and/or your medical practitioner. This also applies if your child loses weight, is not eating properly, or seems exceptionally tired or lacking in energy.
These basic principles for good diet for sport apply equally to the general population:
- Have regular meals; don’t miss breakfast!
- Make sure that about two-thirds of your energy is supplied by starchy foods i.e., bread, potatoes and pasta.
- Avoid foods that are high in fat, especially saturated fat.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
N.B. There is no need to increase the amount of protein in the diet as most people in developed countries consume more than they require.
- It is extremely important for athletes to DRINK ENOUGH (water, not alcohol!).
Energy for exercise is best provided by carbohydrate foods, which is stored in the form of glycogen in muscle tissues. It is better that the energy comes from starchy rather than sugary foods. It is also very important to know that the body’s ability to form glycogen from food is greatest immediately after exercise. Glycogen stores are reduced by exercise and are built up at a much slower rate than they have been used, so the sooner you can eat carbohydrate after exercise (preferably within 30 minutes) the better. Inadequate replenishment over several days leads to a decline in performance, tiredness and the symptoms of “over training”. Performance is also affected by dehydration (see point 2 below).
For many youngsters, the main challenge is finding enough opportunities to consume the quantity of food required for maintaining energy requirements. This gets increasingly difficult as they get bigger! However, if they establish a good eating pattern early on, the volume of food can be adjusted appropriately, according to body size and level of activity.