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ROWING - Guidelines to a Healthful Diet

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International rowing events are held at 2000 meters and typically take 6 - 8 minutes to complete. Rowing competitions include lightweight and heavyweight categories. Crews are distinguished by the number of members in the boat (singles, doubles, fours, and eights). Most Hong Kong rowers are in the lightweight category. In the lightweight division, male athletes are not permitted to exceed 72.5 kg with a crew average of 70 kg. For female athletes, the maximum individual weight is 59 kg with a crew average of 57 kg. Rowing places great demands on the both aerobic and anaerobic energy systems and requires great power and strength.

Rowing training involves skill, power, and endurance. Even though the competition only lasts 6 – 8 minutes, rowers need to train 4 – 6 hours each day.

Rowing competition may last from few days to a week. Lightweight rowers must pass weigh-in two hours before competition.

Physical Characteristics

Rowers are muscular, tall and have long limbs. Lightweight rowers aim to keep low body fat level to maintain a good power-weight ratio.

Common Nutrition Issues

Rowers have very high energy and carbohydrate requirements to support training loads. Since rowers are required to train 2 – 3 sessions each day, recovery between sessions is crucial to maximize training gains. Rowers need to plan their training and eating schedules. The elite rowers of Hong Kong usually have a regular meal following each training session. The meal should be rich in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and low fat in order to meet the requirement of recovery and weight control.

Common Concerns with Weight Control

Most rowers who need to control weight have the following concerns:

  1. Worries that weight reduction will lead to a decline in power.
  2. Worries that weight reduction will lead to a loss of muscle mass.
  3. Rather lose weight in a short period of time.
  4. Worries that weight reduction will lead to feeling hungry all the time.
  5. Tempted by foods
rowing team

Rowers will not encounter the above problems if they lose weight at a suitable rate (0.5 - 1 kg/week). However, if rowers have too little energy intake in order to make weight for competition, they will lose power and muscle. Therefore, rowers' diets should include carbohydrate-rich, moderate protein and low fat foods. Rowers should aim to consume 1.2 - 1.7g protein/kg body weight/day in order to preserve lean body mass. Rowers need to consume adequate amount of protein in conjunction with resistance exercise in order to promote muscle growth. Rowers who need to make weight should consume small frequent meals to avoid feeling hungry. They should also aim to lose body fat primarily and preserve lean body mass. Male rowers who need to make 72.5 kg should consume about 3000 kcal each day and female rowers who need to make 59 kg should consume about 2000 kcal each day. The following example is a dietary plan for weight-control:


Male Rower

Female Rower

Foods Portion size Foods Portion size
Breakfast White bread 2 slices (small) White bread 2 slices (small)
Fruit jam 2 tsp Fruit jam 2 tsp
Corn flakes 30 g Corn flakes 30g
Skimmed milk 2 cups Skimmed milk 2 cups
Lunch Rice 2 bowls Rice 2 bowls
Green vegetable 1 bowl Green vegetable 1 bowl
Fish 4 oz Fish 2 oz
Soymilk 1 cup Orange juice 1 cup
Banana 1 item Apple 1 item
Snack White bread 2 slices (small) White bread 1 slice (small)
Fruit jam 2 tsp Fruit jam 1 tsp
Orange 1 item Sport drinks 1 cup
Sport drinks 1 cup    
Dinner Rice 2 bowls Rice 1 bowl
Green vegetable 100 g Green vegetable 100g
Beef 4 oz Beef 2 oz
Orange 1 item Orange 1 item
Banana 1 item Low fat yogurt 1 cup 
Ritz plain cracker 5 pieces Ritz plain cracker 5 pieces
Energy 3074 kcal   2110 kcal  
Carbohydrate 458 g (60%)   333 g (63%)  
Protein 117 g (15%)   77 g (15%)  
Fat 86 g (25%)   52 g (22%)  

Pre-race Eating

Every lightweight rower must pass weigh-in before competition, otherwise he/she will be disqualified for the race. Once the rower passes the weigh-in, he/she should immediately replenish nutrition for the competition. The following procedures may be considered as race day preparation:

  • Rowers should meet the target body weight as early as possible before competition. Rowers should not be still fighting to lose weight before competition.
  • Rowers should measure body weight after waking up.
  • Rowers can either eat or do some warm up exercises depending on the body weight. For example, jogging and then measure body weight.
  • After weigh-in, rowers should consume:
    • Carbohydrate/electrolyte drinks
    • Easily digested and familiar foods. Avoid consuming unclean and unfamiliar foods on the race day
    • Foods should be eaten within first hour after weigh in

The following foods or drinks are suitable for rowers to consume after weigh-in:

  • 1 - 2 L of sport drink and other foods (provide 2g of carbohydrate per each kg body weight)
    • Female rowers: 57kg x 2g/kgBW = 114g of carbohydrate (456kcal)
      •   Energy replacement drinks
        •   Pocari Sweat 1L → 60g of carbohydrate
        •   2 scoops Polycal → 10g of carbohydrate
      •   1 Powerbar→ 45 g of carbohydrate
    • Male rowers: 70kg x 2g/kgBW = 140g of carbohydrate (540kcal)
      •   Energy replacement drinks
        •   Procari Sweat 1L → 60g of carbohydrate
        •   7 scoops Polycal → 35g of carbohydrate
      •   1 Powerbar → 45 g of carbohydrate
  • Rowers may also consume sandwich or cereals

Eating During Competition

During competition, rowers should maintain adequate energy and fluid intakes and avoid overeating. In order to recover between sessions, rowers should consume foods that are rich in carbohydrate, moderate in protein, and low in fat.

Fluid Needs



Rowers need to train 2 – 3 sessions daily, therefore sweat losses can be high. Rowers should pay attention to fluid loss after exercise. Each kilogram of weight lost is the equivalent to 1L of fluid. To fully rehydrate, rowers should consume 150% of fluid loss over the next few hours in order to replenish fluid loss. For example, if a rower lost 1 kg after training session, the rower should consume 1.5L of fluid so that hydration level is good for the next training session.

Tips for Hydration

  • Adequate fluid replenishment can improve performance. For example, drink 2 cups of fluid 2 hours before sleep and 2 cups of fluid upon awakening in the morning in order to prevent dehydration before training.
  • Drink ½ cup of fluid 10 minutes before training.
  • Drink ½ - 1 cup of fluid every 15 – 20 minutes during exercise.
  • If a rower lost ½ kg (1 lb) after exercise, the rower should consume at least 2 cups of fluid. Drinks that contain carbohydrate and electrolytes are preferred since they can aid to replenish muscle glycogen and electrolytes lost in sweat.
  • Bring sufficient fluid to training. Water bottles can be kept on the coach’s boat or the dock for top-ups.
  • Sport drinks (eg. Pocari Sweat and Gatorade) are recommended during exercise
  • Being at a fluid balance state during training and competition is important because it can maintain endurance and prevent muscle cramping. Therefore, do not dehydrate to make weight for competition. Dehydration also affects the quality of training.

A good dietary habit not only ensures health but also brings out your potential that paves the road to victory


The above information is provided by the Sport Nutrition Unit of the Athlete and Scientific Services Division. All information is for reference only.

Reproduction of materials is welcome with prior permission. Acknowledgements are required.

For enquiry, please contact: 
Sports Science Department.
Tel: 2681 6277

Hong Kong Sports Institute
25 Yuen Wo Road,
Shatin, N.T., Hong Kong
Tel: (852) 2681 6888   Fax: (852) 2681 6330