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Food, Rowers & “Normal” Eating

BY NANCY CLARK
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER

Once upon a time (before WW-II), daily life revolved around enjoying a hearty breakfast, dinner (at noon), and supper (at night). When women entered the workforce, eating patterns changed—lighter breakfasts and lunches, with bigger family-focused dinners. Fast forward to pre-COVID 2020, a time when youth sports and life’s busy-ness totally disrupted dinner-times. Structured meals got lost in the shuffle. Today, several weeks into the COVID shut-down, being stuck at home has shifted us back to a lifestyle with time to cook breakfast, enjoy lunch, and have family dinners. Yet, many rowers are at a loss to figure out how to eat:

“I’m hungry all the time.” …  “Seems like all I do is cook, eat —and try not to overeat given I am exercising less.” … “I’m sleeping until 11:00 a.m.. Should I eat breakfast or lunch when I get up?” … “I’m spending too much time thinking about food and grazing all day..”

   Confusion about how to eat begs the question: Just what is “normal eating”? To answer that question, I turn to eating specialist and author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family (a book every parent should read) Ellyn Satter (EllynSatterInstitute.org). Here are some of her thoughts on normal eating: “Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it—not stopping eating just because you think you should.” That is, did you stop eating breakfast today when the oatmeal in your bowl was all gone? Or when you were truly satiated? At the end of lunch, did you stop at your one-sandwich allotment even though you wanted more? Feeling “hungry all the time” suggests you ARE hungry and your body needs more fuel. Normal eaters consume satiating meals. “Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way.”

Rowers get hungry. Most rowers require fuel at least every 3 to 4 hours. Those who “graze all day” commonly under-eat at meals. A meal should keep you fed for about 4 hours. If you stop eating just because you think you should (not because you are satiated), you will be hungry an hour later. Solutions to mid-morning hunger include: eat the rest of your breakfast-calories at morning snack, eat an earlier lunch, or better yet, give yourself permission to eat enough satiating food at breakfast. Living half-hungry all the time is a less-than-joyful way to live. “In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food, and your feelings.” Many rowers very rigidly eat the same food every single day. A sports dietitian (RD CSSD) can help you add variety (i.e., more nutrients), flexibility, and more joy to your menu within the context of normal eating. Food should be one of life’s pleasures, both when training and in the midst of the pandemic.  Sports Nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD counsels both casual and competitive athletes via her virtual office (617-795-1875). Her Sports Nutrition Guidebook can help you learn how to eat normally and fuel wisely for sports. For more information, visit NancyClarkRD.com.

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