Winning Nutrition: Dietary Needs of Elite Rowers

The sport of rowing presents unique set of exercise demands on an individual.  It is typically considered a power sport, however endurance is equally important.  A rower must have enough strength and power to push the pace as well as endurance to keep them from burning out before the finish line.  Indeed, rowers must be exceptionally conditioned to perform at high levels. 

Nutrition becomes ever more important for rowers to maintain energy balance and account for the large volume of energy expenditure from training and competition.  A review of nutrition and supplementation was published by the American College of Sports Medicine in the most recent issue of their journal titled Current Sports Medicine Report.  Several samples of elite rowers were used to compare dietary intake using food journals.  Men self-reported an intake between 3,700 to 4,900 calories per day while females self-reported between 2,380 and 3,000 calories per day.  Macronutrient guidelines were then composed as follows.

Carbohydrates -  Probably the most important macronutrient for performance to prevent fatigue.  The current guidelines suggest between 6-12 grams for every 1 kilogram of body weight, but there is evidence to suggest optimal levels between 8-10 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight.  Timing is important as well, and optimal glycogen synthesis occurs within one hour after a training session.

Protein - The high intensity and volume of exercise make protein important to promote muscle protein synthesis that repairs the muscle after exercise.  It was noted that 0.4 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight should be consumed at each meal and after training sessions.

Fats - While fats may be a significant source of calories to contribute to the overall caloric intake, high fat diets were not recommended.  Ketogenic diets have been known to worsen the ability to perform at high intensity, likely due to an impaired ability to use glycogen for energy. 

Micronutrient needs did not differ much from other athletic populations. The main ones to consider were:

Vitamin D – supports bone health, prevent injury and maintain immune function

Iron – essential for oxygen transport, energy production of the mitochondria, and work output

Probiotics – maintain immune function and digestive system

Other supplements commonly used to increase performance included:

Creatine – helps develop lean body mass and improvements in strength

Caffeine – Aids in skeletal muscle contraction, reducing fatigue and perception of pain

Beta-alanine and Sodium Bicarbonate – Helps to buffer hydrogen in the blood to reduce fatigue and maintain blood pH homeostasis.

Nutrition is a key component for athletic performance as well as overall health.  Talk with your physician if you are considering adding supplements into your diet.  SSMI also offers comprehensive metabolic testing in our fitness lab to determine your resting metabolic rate (RMR), fitness level (VO2 Max) and body composition to help determine your nutritional needs.



Boegman S, Dziedzic CE. Nutrition and Supplements for Elite Open-Weight Rowing. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2016, 15(4):252-261.