Nutrition for rowers

Nutritional information for rowers and rowing parents
by Dan Meade, Hamilton Boys' High School

I’ve been asked to put some information together about nutrition for your active boys. I’ll try and keep it as simple as possible but depending on your son’s goals, his nutritional needs may be slightly different.

What we want to achieve is an increase in lean muscle mass while keeping body fat relatively low. For some boys who are already pretty lean and highly active, an increase in calories is going to be beneficial.

For other boys, who carry a bit of extra weight, calorie intake should be a bit lower with less fats and carbohydrates in their diet.

Athletic success is largely dependent on two main factors; quality training and quality nutrition. Think of these two things as the wheels of a bicycle – no matter how good one wheel is, if the other is flat or bent you’re not going to go far or you’re going to be left behind by the competition.

Some quick background info about fuel sources

Carbohydrates: Slow release carbohydrates are the primary fuel source used in high intensity training. Quick release carbohydrates are good for helping with recovery immediately after intense exercise.

Protein: Used for muscle growth and repair.

Fats: Some fats can be beneficial and help in the absorption of nutrients and, when training loads are very heavy. They can also help young athletes maintain their bodyweight through increased calorie intake.

Fruits and veges: Massively important for the vitamins and nutrients they contain to keep immune systems high and athletes in good health.

Attached is a list of foods high in each fuel source and an example meal plan for an active rower trying to increase lean muscle mass and athletic performance.

In order to keep metabolism high, athletes should be eating every 2.5-3 hours and getting high amounts or carbohydrates and protein in throughout the day.

Prior to training, athletes should have a snack high in carbohydrates with a protein component.

Post-training session, athletes should have a high protein snack and some quick release carbs such as lollies, jam sandwich on white bread etc.

Hydration is also hugely important and an electrolyte drink can be beneficial after a particularly hard session, especially in hot weather. Otherwise water is magic.

Boys should be getting into the habit of carrying a water bottle everywhere and getting through a couple of litres a day during heavy training and competition. Balancing nutrition is no easy task but really will benefit athletic performance. On other fronts, parents and rowers often ask about supplements.

For students serious about their training I recommend the use of a ‘clean’ whey protein powder. This a concentrated form of a protein derived from milk.

The benefit of protein powder is it provides the athletes with the extra protein they need for muscle growth and repair and is quickly absorbed. It is also cheaper and more convenient than a steak or chicken breast. Ideally it is taken with 20 minutes of a workout.

In my opinion, for boys under the age of 18 no other supplements are necessary, they will experience huge physical gains if they can nail their training, nutrition, sleep and flexibility training and don’t need to put anything else into their bodies.

A few more quick points  

  • Get organised!: You consume three meals a day while at school. You must organise yourself (probably the night before) to ensure you’ve got the right fuel to put in your body for the day. 
  • Drop the sugar, push the water: Save Powerade/R-line etc. for regattas and after really intense sessions when you’ve sweated a lot and need to replace the electrolytes you’ve lost. Get in the habit of carrying a water bottle and sip away throughout the day. 
Key nutritional issues for rowers


  • Look into adequate carbohydrate consumption
  • Look into adequate iron intake and consider seeing a doctor to ascertain iron levels
  • Ensure adequate hydration
  • Consume recommended foods pre- and post training 

Failure to build muscle

  • Investigate adequate calorie intake, especially protein and complex carbs. 

Difficulty decreasing body fat

  • Complete a food diary and have DM look at it to review diet. 

Hopefully you’ve found this information beneficial and can try and incorporate some of the ideas into your son’s diet. For any questions or further information please contact me on email at: dmeade@hbhs.school.nz


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