Category: Training & Nutrition

Rowing Training & Nutrition Video of the Week

Video of the Week: Nutrition for rowers, pt. 2

A couple years ago I posted a video on nutrition for rowers that included a ton of great info on getting the proper nutrition to fuel your training. You can check that post out here. Above is another video from a rower who talks about his diet, general nutrition strategy, and some of the different approaches that are out there (some good, some not). If you’re heading to college in a few weeks and are trying to figure out how you’re gonna get the calories you need (especially if you’re faced with the prospect of not having your mom cook all your meals anymore…), this is a good video to watch.

Coxing Q&A Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

I was talking to my coach about what boats I was in consideration for going into the following year, and I got some really great news – he’s looking at me for our V8+ (top boat at my club)! The only bad thing is what came after that. Basically he said, “you could be coxing the V8+ … if you get your anxiety under control.” At first, I thought that was way out of line, but honestly, the havoc my anxiety wreaks on my overall mental health and well being is debilitating, and there’s really no way improving that could hurt in any capacity, so I’m realizing he’s probably got a point. How do you suggest dealing with overall rational requests of a coach when they entail changing something a bit more personal than technique like this?

This is a great question. I definitely see how your first impression was that it was out of line but if you’ve got a good (or at least cordial) relationship with your coach and they didn’t say it with any biting undertones then I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. I’ve said pretty much the exact same thing (with varying tones of empathy and frustration depending on the situation) to one of the MIT coxswains but we’ve had a great relationship for the last three years so even when she’d get pissed at me for saying it, she knew it was coming from a friend who genuinely had her best interests in mind.

I deal with anxiety too and agree that it wrecks havoc on pretty much everything … and the fallout from that just creates even more stress. When it comes to managing it in the context of coxing for example, it seems like a common mistake (that I’ve definitely made too, numerous times) is finding ways to deal with it only in the context of coxing rather than trying to identify and address the actual underlying causes/issues. Like, you can get better at steering or whatever if that’s something you’ve struggled with but if you still suffer sudden and intense bouts of anxiety when you’re on the water, basically all you did was the equivalent of putting a band aid on a bullet wound.

Here’s a couple suggestions – some traditional, some anecdotal – that you might consider.

The first approach is to talk to someone. Not just anyone either, someone who ‘s trained in dealing with stuff like this. If you’re in college, reach out to student health or whatever your version of student support services is and make an appointment. You typically get a certain number of free appointments each semester or year before your insurance takes over so take advantage of it. Similarly, most athletic departments will have a sport psychologist on staff or they’ll have a relationship with one in the local community that they can set you up with.

If you’re still in high school, on your parent’s insurance, etc. … basically if you’re in a situation where you can’t seek treatment without their consent/approval … that’s obviously tough. And yea, it’s probably tempting to not say anything at all because you think it’s embarrassing or whatever but you’ve gotta gauge your personal situation and make that call. Some parents are cool about working with you on stuff like this (and not making a big deal out of it, which is key), others not so much. I think most parents are decent enough though that they’ll get you the help you need if you talk to them about it (as frustrating or awkward as that conversation might initially be).

The second approach ties into the first but in terms of managing your anxiety, behavioral therapy or medication are two options. I know people who utilize CBT, others take medication, some do both, and a couple do neither. One of those friends was a coxswain and he took medication to manage the day-to-day symptoms while also working with a sport psychologist and doing CBT during the school year to help him develop strategies to deal with the rowing-specific symptoms.

Another friend (who didn’t row but did track & field for four years in college) takes a very #millennial approach and uses two apps – Headspace and Pacifica – to help her keep things under control. She said she’s been using Headspace since her senior year but just started using Pacifica after her anxiety got worse while studying for the bar exam two years ago. She didn’t have time to make regular appointments with a doctor or deal with any potential side effects from medication (on top of not having health insurance) so that’s why this approach made the most sense for her.

The bottom line is that stuff like this is just as much of a normal medical problem as any other illness we encounter and we should treat it as such. Have you ever gotten a cold and ignored it because “it’s not like I have pneumonia, it’s not that serious” but you were miserable as fuck for the duration of it, even though you could have knocked it out in two or three days if you’d just gone to the doctor? Whatever preconceived notions you might have about whether people will take you seriously, judge you for asking for help, or think you’re “just not tough enough”, you’ve gotta put that out of your head and not let that keep you from doing what’s best for you. Coxing only lasts for a short period of time but you’ve gotta live with yourself forever so, like you said, it’s not like taking steps to improve your overall wellbeing can hurt.

Below is an email I got from a college coxswain about her experience with anxiety, how she handles it, and how having less-than-supportive coaches can undermine your efforts to get better. There’s a whole “devil’s advocate” discussion to be had about taking someone out of the boat for a short period of time vs. actually kicking them out of it permanently that I won’t get into right now but for the coaches that are reading, seriously, don’t be dicks about shit like this. If your athletes are confiding in you, especially on the recommendation of their doctor, maybe work with them instead of kicking them while they’re down. I can’t believe that’s something that even needs to be said.

“I’ve been coxing at the collegiate level for over two years now..and I’ve had my current coach for two years. I was encouraged by the sports psychologist at school to tell my coach, as she said he couldn’t use it against me. Despite my better judgement, I went ahead and told him. Things were great at first, but I went from being with the top two boats to not having a boat.  He brings up my anxiety every time we talk, and I have come to feel as though he’s put me in a corner as a result. My psychologist at school is actually going to be talking to him about this because the fact that he always brings it up, makes me anxious. It sucks and it’s not fair.

I have really bad anxiety and have played sports competitively my entire life. I’ve always managed to “face my fear” and have learned that by doing so, it makes my anxiety a little more tolerable. It’s not something that goes away(even though I take medication for it and use various techniques as well), but rather something I’ve come to accept and make the most of. I try to remember that they’re only feelings, although easier said than done.

I don’t recommend telling teammates, as they have never been able to understand and basically have just used it against me and underestimate my ability to cox. Especially when it comes to racing, which is one of the times I know how to handle my anxiety best(from experience and sports background). I kick ass when it comes to racing, but it’s more so practices that are a bit of an issue. I tend to second guess myself a lot because of my anxiety, and don’t allow myself to take as much credit as I should. For example, I am notorious for my ability to steer a great course, however if I think about it too much, I start worrying and begin to snake.

Anxiety is a real bitch, but I’m learning to “stay in the present” which has been really helpful. There’s a super short and helpful book that I recommend to just about everyone (those who have anxiety as well as those who don’t) called “F*CK Anxiety; Hardcore Self-Help” by Robert Duff. He’s so funny and down to earth, yet helps you better understand your anxiety regardless of the type. He provides helpful tips for what to do when you are anxious and how to essentially prevent your anxiety from taking the joy out of things. For those looking to understand anxiety a little better, I highly recommend it. This book has changed my ability to cox and has helped me better cope with my shitty anxiety.

But as far as whether to tell coaches and teammates, that depends. Just know there’s a big risk in doing so, as I have learned the hard way. My last coach used it against me as well. I have one year of coxing left, and I’m determined to get a good boat. I wish someone had been able to provide me with this info back when I started, which is why I felt so compelled to share my experiences.”

A couple other coxswains (four collegiate, two junior – two guys, four girls) also emailed to say that they deal with varying levels of anxiety that have at one point or another kept them out of a boat they were in competition for. Even though the situations differed (coxing people they were unfamiliar with, feeling underprepared and overwhelmed, not feeling confident in a given skill (steering and technique being the main ones), etc.), the common symptom, side-effect, whatever you want to call it … was that they’d just shut down and not talk for the majority of practice. Two of them said they were actively taking medication and the others said they weren’t doing anything for it (either because they aren’t sure what to do, don’t want to bring it up to their coaches/parents, etc.).

So … you’re not alone in this. I think we all experience anxiety to some extent during our careers but not all of us know how to get help or handle it so hearing the perspectives of our peers can make a huge difference. Like you said, your coach’s request was a rational one that can only benefit you in the long run so I hope there’s something up there that helps. Feel free to shoot me an email though if you wanna talk more about this and if anyone else has any other advice they wanna share, please leave it in the comments!

Q&A Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

Hi! I am a recently graduated high school senior that, due to my birth year, has to race U23 this summer. Do you have any tips on how to make the transition from junior to intermediate rowing easier? I will be competing at some major races this summer (IDR, Henley) so any info on how to get into a U23 training mentality would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!

I think the best/most important piece of advice is to just go into it with an open mind and be coachable. You’ll definitely be pushed at a level higher than you probably have been thus far so your mentality has to be one of holding yourself accountable to doing the work more than anything else. Don’t overlook the simple stuff either – Wes Ng talked about this at one of the camps I was at last year and it’s all great advice that would definitely apply to your situation. That post is linked below.

Related: 10 simple things you can do to be a better athlete

One of the things I remember friends in college saying about moving up to U23s (and college rowing in general) was how much more seriously they had to take their recovery. The changes in training were obvious but if you don’t follow that up by adapting how you recover, the training itself will be less effective.

They all also kept pretty detailed training journals but one also kept a separate recovery journal where he detailed the different routines/recovery methods he tried before finding the “sweet spot” of what worked, in addition to laying out his thoughts on how he was feeling mentally about training, what hurdles he was facing and how he overcame them (particularly when it came to hitting new PRs), etc. Ultimately I think that journal (which was a physical notebook compared to an Excel doc for his training journal) proved to be the most useful tool for him simply because of the introspection it allowed. It’s not something that works for everyone, which is fine, but it’s definitely something worth trying to see if it helps you too.

For him (and a lot of other rowers I know), being more in touch with the mental/emotional side of training helped in a lot of different ways (the least of which being able to train smarter) but it all went back to holding himself accountable to keeping those journals in the first place so he could track his progress/mentality throughout the season.

Coxing Q&A Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

Hi! I’m a coxswain who just finished my second season (as in I’ll be varsity next season). My novice 8 did very well, placing at Midwest Youth Championships! I’m so proud of them, and I really love coxing, but as the season goes out, I’m wondering, is it the best thing for me? I feel a lot of pressure to be at the 110-pound minimum, and so when the Tuesday before the race I weighed in at 116, I was devastated. I spent the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of that week living only of multivitamins and one bottle of water a day. The Saturday and Sunday of racing, it was virtually the same, except I ate one clementine each day as well. I did meet minimum as I hoped I would, and was actually under, being sandbagged for 0.8 pounds, but I recognize this is incredibly unhealthy, and unfortunately, it falls in line with other unhealthy behaviors I’ve had a tendency to engage in for a few years now. I truly love coxing but I’m not so sure my mental health would do at all well if I continue. Thoughts/advice?

Eating Twix bars and pizza for a week is unhealthy. A single bottle of water and a multivitamin for five straight days is stupid and dangerous. I don’t say that to be an asshole either, I just really hope you recognize that there’s a big difference between the two.

The simplest and most straightforward piece of advice I can offer is that you’ve gotta do what’s best for you. And I get that that probably seems like a vague non-answer but it really is the only thing you have to consider here. If you notice yourself involuntarily (or even voluntarily) falling back into self-destructive habits then I think you need to take a step back and reevaluate what you’re taking away from the sport vs. what the sport is taking away from you.

Being around your friends and “having fun” is great and all but way too many people use that as an excuse to stick with sports when it’s clearly not a good thing for them as an individual. That’s my other piece of advice – forget your friends, teammates, coaches, parents, whoever you think will be pissed if you stop coxing. (They won’t be.) Whatever decision you come to has to be made for youby you and not influenced by what you think other people would want.

I don’t wanna get into all the reasons why you feel pressured to be at 110lbs (especially since you were coxing novices…) because it just makes me very rage-y but I will say this: if you stick with coxing and feel similar pressure going forward, the kind that makes you want to go on a water + multivitamin diet for a week, you really need to stop and ask what’s going to allow you to be the most effective coxswain on race day. Being 116lbs, clearheaded, and energetic or 109lbs, stressed, and lethargic? Don’t let the “boat servant” etymology get in your way here. Yea, you’re there to do XYZ for the team but you can’t do any of that if you’re not in the right frame of mind to begin with. Been there, done that and trust me, it’s hard as hell trying to focus on getting your boat out of racks, let alone down the race course, when you’re dehydrated, dizzy, and exhausted from not eating all week just for the sake of being able to say you’re under 110lbs.

If you haven’t, check out the video above. It’s from a camp I was at two years ago and there’s a good anecdote/wake up call at the end from Marcus about a coxswain who took similarly drastic measures to cut weight over the same period of time as you. Also check out this article from ESPNW that came out a few weeks ago. It’s no secret how much issues like this get under my skin so I was thankful they asked me to be a part of it. It’s a good read and an eye-opening one at that so definitely check it out when you’ve got a sec.

Coxing High School Q&A Teammates & Coaches Training & Nutrition

Question of the Day

I am a freshman in high school cox and I am friends with an 8th grade cox. She isn’t done growing but is worried that she will be over the weight limit (aka minimum) when she is so she is trying to lose weight. She claims to just want to eat healthier but she does not eat lunch, has mentioned cutting sodium and fat significantly, and is tracking her calories. I think she has an eating disorder, which I have had before and don’t want her to go through. What should I do? I want her to be safe. 😦

I touched on this in a similar question a few months ago (linked below) but I think you’ve gotta be careful about assuming someone has an eating disorder just because they’re changing their eating habits. I get what you’re saying and can see why you might be concerned, especially since she’s only in 8th grade, but I wouldn’t jump to the worst possible conclusion just yet.

Related: Hello! I’m a collegiate rower currently at a D3 school. Recently I’ve noticed that my team’s top coxswain has seemed to have lost a lot of weight in the past few months. By this, I mean she seems to have lost 10 to 15lbs, which is a lot considering she’s 5’4″ and wasn’t over the 110lb minimum by more than 7 or 8lbs last season. I don’t believe she eats very often but when I do see her eat she doesn’t seem to have an eating disorder. I’m not sure whether or not I should be concerned about her weight loss and if I should bring it up with someone?

If you’ve dealt with an eating disorder and can see her starting to fall into the same habits you did, point that out (without being accusatory). There’s nothing wrong with tracking what you’re eating or cutting back on unhealthy stuff but there’s always the risk of taking it too far, sometimes without even realizing it, and having someone else point out that they can see you doing the same things they did can be the wake up call that gets them to reassess their approach. Point is, I’d be much more responsive to someone that said “hey, I’ve dealt with disordered eating, it started off as just wanting to lose a few pounds but I got really caught up in counting calories, it spiraled out of control pretty fast, etc. and I’m concerned because I see you doing some of the same things I did, which I now realize was doing more harm than good…” than someone who said “you stopped eating lunch, you stopped eating salt, you must have an eating disorder”.

The response there will either be “I’m good” or “…hmm”, in which case you should drop it if it’s the former (I mean, keep an eye on it if you’re really that concerned but don’t hover or keep belaboring the point) or offer her some advice if it’s the latter. If you’ve since recovered or are recovering from your eating disorder, talk with her about what you’re doing now to be healthy and maintain a good diet. If talking with a nutritionist, one of your coaches, etc. helped you, recommend it to her as an option if she finds she wants or needs help.

Also point out that as a freshman (presumably novice) coxswain, no one gives a fuck what you weigh. It’s literally the least important thing when you’re just learning how to cox. None of you are competitive enough at that stage for your coxswain’s weight to make any sort of difference in your speed. As long as you’re under like, 135 max (there’s gotta be a line somewhere), you should be perfectly fine.

Look, you’re closer to this situation than I am so you have to use your best judgment based on whatever you’re seeing. There is no perfect, step-by-step way to handle stuff like this. If you’re afraid to confront her directly, maybe ask your coach if they can address coxswain weight in general to all the coxswains (that way she’s not being singled out) and dispel the myth that they must weigh 110lbs or 120lbs on the dot every day of their entire high school career or else they’ll never get boated ever. Maybe hearing that will alleviate some of her worries.