The Racing Sailor's Menu
Good nutrition can provide a performance edge
By Carol M. Bareuther
The optimal diet for a racing sailor depends on the kind of sailing being done and whether it requires more brainpower or brawn. Still, there are certain basic nutrition principles that apply to all competitors.
Before the Regatta Carbohydrates are your body’s primary fuel and should make up 50 percent of your caloric intake. If you regularly eat a variety of healthy foods containing carbohydrates (breads, cereals, pastas, rice, fruits, and vegetables), you’ll have ample stored glycogen to fuel a couple of hours of intense physical activity—even more if the activity is less strenuous.
Race Day At breakfast, concentrate on getting hydrated and consume plenty of complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of protein, and small amounts of fat. An ideal breakfast could be oatmeal, whole-grain toast with jam, milk, and a piece of fruit; or yogurt, granola, and an apple; or two boiled eggs, a bran muffin, and orange juice. If you can’t stomach much food in the morning, at least go for a yogurt, fruit, or a granola bar. If possible, eat 2 to 4 hours before sailing (less if you opt for lighter fare).
Eating pancakes swimming in maple syrup a few hours before racing can lead to a precipitous drop in your blood-sugar level and a corresponding plunge in concentration just as you’re navigating the start line. On the other hand, drinking fruit juice or eating some fruit may improve your concentration, according to recent studies.
On the Water Stay hydrated. Losing a mere 2 percent of your body weight via dehydration—that’s only 3 pounds on a 150-pound sailor—can impair physical performance and mental concentration by up to 20 percent. Water is best, but if you’re sailing longer than 90 minutes you should opt for a sports drink that provides electrolyte minerals (sodium and potassium) as well as simple carbohydrates. If you’re sailing for an entire day, pack easy-to-eat foods like sandwiches, cheese or peanut butter and crackers, fresh fruits, granola bars, dried fruits, and nuts.
Recovery Fuel Resist the urge to head straight to the bar, as alcohol and caffeine contribute to dehydration. Your goal after competing is to replace lost fluids and glycogen stores. To quickly replenish glycogen, which is important in a multi-day event where you want to perform at peak levels on consecutive days, eat a carb-rich snack (fruit, raisins, pretzels, and juice) within 30 minutes after finishing a race. Follow this up with a balanced meal within two hours. If you’re headed for the bar, drink plenty of water first.
Carol M. Bareuther is a registered dietician and freelance writer who lives and sails in the U.S. Virgin Islands.