Dec 7, 2018Changing sports, changing nutrition plans
A lot more goes into switching sports than simply trading one jersey for another. And many of these inherent changes affect an athlete’s fueling strategies.
When the athlete in question is a collegiate female cross country runner transitioning to the role of a coxswain on the rowing team, her nutrition plan must account for new levels of physical activity, training schedules and weight expectations.
“Amy” started her athletic career at the University of Pennsylvania on the cross country team. She was 5-foot-4 and weighed 116 pounds with 17% body fat. Each week, she ran 65 miles, had two interval workouts and participated in two strength training sessions. Naturally, she required a high number of calories to fuel this level of activity. A sample day’s intake included around 2,400 calories, 325 grams of carbohydrates, 115 grams of protein, and 70 grams of fat.
After two seasons, Amy chose to end her distance-running career and become a coxswain for the rowing team. A coxswain’s role is very different from their shell-mates. They are in charge of steering the boat, providing guidance and rhythm for the rowers, and executing the race strategy, but they do not actually pull an oar. Coxswains also often attend strength training sessions with the rest of the team, but any other physical activity must come outside of scheduled practice times.
Because of this, a big factor to consider when putting together Amy’s coxswain nutrition plan was figuring out her new activity level. She came up with a workout regimen consisting of 30 to 45 minutes of cardio four days a week, in addition to the team’s twice weekly strength sessions. Coming from her cross country background, this represented a significant reduction in overall training volume, so Amy’s revised nutrition plan had to include decreased calories, carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The proportions of calories from each of the macronutrients needed to change, as well.
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Another consideration was how Amy’s switch from a cross country runner to a coxswain affected her meal and snack timing. Penn’s cross country team practices at around three in the afternoon, while the rowing team typically meets at 6:30 a.m. Although Amy was not physically active during the early morning session, she still needed to fuel beforehand to perform optimally. She then had to dutifully space her meals every three or four hours for the rest of the day for maximum performance and recovery both on the water and in the classroom.
The third issue that affected Amy’s new nutrition plan was the coxswain position’s weight expectations. U.S. Rowing rules require coxswains to weigh at least 110 pounds for women’s events and at least 120 pounds for men’s events. Although they can weigh more, most are expected to stay as close to the minimum as possible, since the other rowers in the boat have to carry their weight.
Putting everything together, Amy’s revised nutrition plan took into account her new sport’s training load, schedule and weight expectations. She decided to set a goal of losing four pounds over the course of seven weeks. This expectation was tailored to her ability to safely obtain and maintain the weight, and she planned to drop between half a pound to a pound each week.
To support Amy’s reduced training and assist with her weight loss goals, her daily intake was reduced to 1,700 calories, 100 grams of protein, and 55 grams of fat. Her carb consumption also decreased from six grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day to four.
Here’s a comparison of what Amy’s meal plan looked like as a cross country runner and how it changed when she became a coxswain.
Cross country runner
Breakfast: Greek yogurt, two hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup of oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of raisins and five almonds, and water
Lunch: Whole wheat pita stuffed with 3 ounces of chicken, bell peppers, spinach, one quarter of an avocado, and 1 tablespoon of feta cheese; baby carrots; an apple; a handful of almonds; a handful of pretzels; and water
Afternoon snack: Banana and 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, one part skim string cheese, and water
Dinner: 3-ounce grilled turkey burger on a whole wheat bun, medium baked sweet potato, side salad with balsamic dressing, one cup of grapes, and water
Bedtime snack: 1/2 cup of cottage cheese, 1/2 a cup of pineapple, and 2 tablespoons of flaxseed
Pre-practice snack: One slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, Greek yogurt, and water
Breakfast: Two hard-boiled eggs, 1 cup of oatmeal with 2 tablespoons of raisins and five almonds, and water
Lunch: Whole wheat pita stuffed with 3 ounces of chicken, bell peppers, spinach, a quarter of an avocado, and 1 tablespoon of feta cheese; baby carrots; and water
Afternoon snack: Banana, one part skim string cheese, and water
Dinner: 3-ounce grilled turkey burger on a whole wheat bun, side salad with balsamic dressing, one cup of grapes, and water.
Amy was quick to adjust to her new meal plan because it focused on fundamentals that she was already familiar with. It emphasized getting a good balance of food groups, as well as including a mix of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fruits, and vegetables into each meal. No food group was eliminated or off limits to her — the proportions of certain foods were simply adjusted when needed. This overall approach helped Amy view the changes in a more positive light and put the focus on improving her performance rather than weight loss and calorie restriction.
After following the revised meal plan for seven weeks, Amy met her weight loss goal. She is now thriving with the rowing team and has fully integrated her new fueling strategies into her everyday life.