Weight management – on and off the water

I’d like to share some experience in managing my body weight from the last 18 months, and offer some thoughts for Crossfitters that you may not be aware of.

I’ve found that historically (since about age 25), my ideal racing weight for rowing is about 196-198 lbs. Less than that and I lose strength, more than that and it’s usually due to body fat, plus I am too heavy for my Hudson racing boat, which is designed for a 90kg sculler.

When training indoors on the Concept2 ergometer, body weight is not an issue unless the shape of your body physically shortens your stroke – it’s all about power and length, your weight is supported by the machine.  On the water, excess "dead weight" makes your boat ride lower in the water, and the increased inertia can work against you unless your technique is perfect (mine is not!).  Based on a quick calculation of these effects at a body weight of 220-238 over the last year, I estimate that I was probably losing a half-second over 1000m of racing.  Wait a minute – I lost 2 races last season by less than a half-second!

I used to approach excess body fat by upping overall training hours and mileage.  Rowing 100 miles a week will lean you out, but is very hard to maintain without injury, especially if you have a full-time job and family.

About 2 years ago I attended a presentation by Joe Dillon at a corporate offsite meeting.  Joe is (obviously) not a crossfitter but is an advocate of some of the same principles in the Primal Blueprint – healthy fats, low glycemic food, and minimally processed food.  I decided to incorporate some of the things I learned, especially since a friend of mine who is a former Canadian Olympic sculler was doing research on measuring rowing performance on a low-carb diet instead of the traditional "carbo-loading" approach.

I didn’t go overboard, especially since I also have a family to feed, but where I was eating on my own I tried to GRADUALLY do things like substitute agave nectar for sugar, reach for a pack of Trader Joe’s raw almonds instead of a PowerBar, substitute wild rice for pasta, and wean myself back onto some healthy fats like fish oil and hemp oil.  By the time I heard about the "paleo" or "primal" approach to nutrition adopted by many Crossfitters, it wasn’t that big of a deal because I already liked many of the foods.  There are still some things I am working on, such as an addiction to chocolate milk 🙂

I am currently maintaining 198 lbs., and one of my full-year goals on the whiteboard at Crossfit Ignite is to maintain body weight at <200 lbs.  I have been at 198 for 60 days, with no real effort other than maintaining existing eating habits.  No hardship there.  Bottom line is that I didn’t know about the "paleo" approach until a couple of months ago, but I can testify that attacking body weight through diet instead "mileage" has been a success for me.  I am stronger than ever, I will fit in my boat, and I’m ready to get back on the water in a couple of weeks!

Some links I like (I cherry pick ideas rather than try to go whole-hog, and make progress over time):

Mark’s Daily Apple

Food Renegade

The Joe Dillon Difference

BioRow (Rowing Biomechanics Newsletter, Australia)

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