Eating disorders are present throughout society, but as an athletic community, rowing can be particularly susceptible to the challenges of eating disorders as rowers and coxswains attempt to “make weight”. To help support healthy athletes, this post provides advice on weight management to inform athletes on how to make smart choices when eating and training with a target weight in mind.
The first step is to set realistic weight and body-composition goals. This pertains both to weight loss and weight gain. It becomes very frustrating and demoralizing as an athlete if your target weight and body-composition are too far outside of your body’s training weight. With this in mind, choosing a competition weight that is within 2-3% of a suitable long-term training weight allows for realistic weight management. Athletes that follow this procedure can maintain good eating and hydration patterns while also supporting effective training and a good relationship with food and the athlete’s body image.
Athletes must understand that low energy intake will not sustain high-caliber athletic training and performance. Therefore, if an athlete begins to significantly cut back on caloric intake in order to lose weight, they will not experience positive adaptation from their training because they will no longer have the energy to perform. While this individual may lose weight, this athlete is also suffering a decrease in performance. An athlete hoping to lose weight should not reduce energy intake by more than 10-20% of normal intake. This approach allows the athlete to lose weight without becoming overly hungry or nutritionally deprived. Some tips to reduce energy intake is to replace whole-fat foods with lower fat foods, reduce the intake of energy dense foods by eating more vegetables and fruit, maintain portion awareness, and find other activities to perform besides eating if you often eat when you are bored but not actually hungry.
Diets to reduce weight become more difficult to maintain when it causes athletes to deprive themselves of their favorite foods. Allowing yourself to continue to eat your favorite foods helps to prevent prescribing unrealistic dietary rules or guidelines. Likewise, do not create “bad” or “good” food lists. Simply understand that as you work to reduce your body weight, you want to slightly decrease your energy intake. This does not mean cutting out some of your favorite energy-dense foods entirely, it just means moderating your intake of these foods and replacing some of those portions with less energy-dense options. Similarly, if you are prone to snacking constantly throughout the day, stick to meals every three hours and drink tea or other low calorie fluids in between meals. Regardless, weight loss should not be a stressful experience. Through sufficient awareness of your caloric intake, it becomes easy to begin reducing your body weight in preparation for a regatta or race season.