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Fuelling the Elite: Rowing

Physiological and Physical Demands

Rowing is a technical and physiologically challenging sport, requiring a significant amount of muscular strength and endurance to overcome oar-water interactions and achieve the high-power outputs necessary during a race. Races are divided into sculling and sweep with heavyweight and lightweight divisions. Depending on the competition, specific discipline, and number of competitors, athletes must be prepared to compete in two to five races across 2-8 days. Competitive rowing events are raced over 2,000m requiring athletes to have highly developed aerobic and anaerobic systems. 



Elite rowing incorporates a demanding training load and a substantial amount of endurance training, due to a large contribution of the aerobic energy system. Elite rowers undertake up to 14 training sessions per week which can amount to approximately 24 hours per week. Training will predominantly focus the development of aerobic and anaerobic capacity, lactate tolerance, as well as strength and power. Training will include a combination of both ergometer and on-water sessions. An extensive amount of emphasis is placed on resistance exercise training, which is incorporated 2-3 times per week. 


Table 1. Sample general preparation training week (Boegman & Dziedzic, 2016).


Morning session 1 Morning session 2 Afternoon session
Monday Row: 14km technical: zone 1 aerobic Ergometer: Power session: zone 3 anaerobic capacity Row: 28km basic endurance: zone 1 aerobic
Tuesday Row: 24km basic endurance: zone 1 aerobic Row: 14km technical: zone 1 aerobic + zone 3 anaerobic capacity Off
Wednesday Row: 18km technical: zone 1 aerobic + zone 2 lactate threshold Off Row: 18km race endurance: zone 1 aerobic + zone 3 anaerobic capacity
Thursday Row: 28km basic endurance: zone 1 aerobic Row: 18km zone 1 aerobic + zone 2 lactate threshold Strength
Friday Row: 24km basic endurance: zone 1 aerobic Row: 14km technical: zone 1 aerobic + zone 3 anaerobic capacity Off
Saturday Row: 18km technical: zone 1 aerobic + zone 2 lactate threshold Ergometer: Power session: zone 3 anaerobic capacity 18km race endurance: zone q aerobic + zone 3 anaerobic capacity
Sunday Row or cycle: 28km basic endurance: zone 1 aerobic Off Strength



Here is a typical day for an elite rower…

Time Schedule
06:15 Wake up
06:30 Breakfast
07:45-09:15 Morning weight workout (Five sets of five reps using heavy loads, with balance, core, stabilising and stretching work around the main sets).
09:35 Post-training breakfast
11:00-13:00 Rowing on the water session (up to 28km: Medium intensity, aiming for a heart rate of around 140bpm).
13:10 Lunch
15:00-16:00 Rowing (on water session)
16:10 Post-workout snack
19:00 Dinner
22:00 Bedtime



To support high intensity training, rowers need to consume sufficient carbohydrate of approximately 6-12g/kg. Carbohydrate is vital to providing energy for the working muscles and supports the neuromuscular metabolic processes which helps to prevent cognitive exhaustion. This is of particular concern when the rowers perform heavy strength and conditioning and technical on-water sessions. Therefore, during training rowers should be fuelling with easily digestible carbohydrate sources for example bananas, oat bars, dates and sport drinks. Overall contributing to the carbohydrate requirements needed and enhancing exercise performance.  

Timing of nutrient intake should be prioritised in relation to training sessions. When recovery time between sessions is limited, glycogen resynthesis needs to be supported with carbohydrate intakes of 1.2g/kg within the first 60 minutes after training. High carbohydrate intake should be maintained on high intensity training days, whereas less carbohydrate needs to be consumed on lower intensity training days. Due to the high intensity of training mainly focused around endurance with a significant amount of strength and power, recovery plays a key role in the development of performance. If recovery nutrition is not taken into consideration it will have a negative impact on training intensity and adaptation, as well as an increased risk of illness and injury. It is recommended for rowers to distribute protein intake of 0.4g/kg of protein per meal spread evenly throughout the day. This will stimulate muscle protein synthesis and promote a positive protein balance. 

One of the most relevant nutrients to the health and optimal performance of a rower is iron. Iron plays a vital role in oxygen transport and storage, mitochondrial energy production, and eventual work output. The high training loads combined with limited between-session recovery undertaken by elite rowers has been shown to negatively impact iron reserves. Therefore, rowers should aim to optimise iron status through an intake of iron-containing foods, avoiding co-consumption of iron inhibitors (tea/coffee) as well as ingesting foods that enhance iron absorption (vitamin C). In some cases, supplementation may be required to restore or maintain iron stores.



Boegman, S., & Dziedzic, C. E. (2016). Nutrition and supplements for elite open-weight rowing. Current sports medicine reports15(4), 252-261.

Typical day:

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