Food is fuel

On the water rowing sessions are increasing and butt-kicking.  Saturday one of my rowing pals brought up how she is looking forward to taper week. I don’t blame her, but in my mind, taper week is nothing compared to the week after.  Sure, the workout intensity decreases but in the week before the competition you still have to watch what you eat!

Sound nutrition is important for everyone, but it’s especially critical for high performance athletes.  Top tier rowers can burn around 800 calories in an hour of high intensity work; for us amateurs it’s still intense.  I estimate one intense hour on-the-water rowing practice is burning up around 500 calories. For some people, that’s a license to go all out at Popeye’s.  Unfortunately, the motto “you are what you eat” is true.  Eating slow-digesting oily carbs makes for one slow, poor performing rower.

For the last few weeks my secret mantra has been “food is fuel.” I need it when I go to the grocery store, when I’m browsing through the pantry, and when I’m tempted by those delicious delights created on Cupcake Wars.  Stepping on the scale every morning is another reminder–rowers are concerned about weight.  We race in two categories: lightweight and heavyweight.  Lightweights are especially concerned with their diet to make weight. Lucky for me, there’s no chance I would ever get below 130 lbs with my svelte body structure and wide hips.  Even though I’m in the heavyweight category, an extra ten pounds is still an extra ten pounds being carried down the course.  Top rowers try to be as lean and efficient as possible.  I believe my optimal racing weight is 145; I’ve been carrying a few extra pounds since May and with Masters Nationals closing in, I must shed the extra.  I’m about two pounds away right now and it must be dropped from what I eat.

As a result, I’ve been eating some strange concoctions lately to try and fuel my body as optimally as possible within what I believe about healthy eating.  I don’t believe taking a no carbs approach. Sorry, but fruit has essential nutrients that to me outweigh the sugar.  At least it’s natural sugar. And oatmeal is a balanced source of slow-digesting carbs.

Here’s some of the recipes I’ve been eating in the last few weeks to fuel my body for rowing training.

Melon Soup

Food is fuel

This melon soup was very simple to make and is gluten-free!  The original recipe called for watermelon, but I used cantaloupe instead.  There’s fresh grated ginger, simple syrup, a squeeze of lemon, and mint all blended up finished with an optional dollop of low fat vanilla yogurt.  Great for hot summer training and a desert.

Banana Nut Muffins: Gluten-free and Vegan

The banana nut muffins were an experiment.  I had one banana ready to shrivel into a brown gooey mess if I didn’t take action soon.  I found a simple one-banana nut recipe. After committing to the bake, I discovered my flour jar was empty.  I had rice flour on hand so I swapped it and created gluten-free banana nut muffins.  I liked it so much on the second attempt I made the recipe both gluten-free and vegan by dropping the egg and butter.

Food for Athletes

Athlete Nutrition


After a hard morning on the water, my usual breakfast is a protein-packed smoothie. It’s quick, easy, and simple which is great because by the time I get home I am ravenous.  The last thing I want is to wait for breakfast to cook.

Normally my concoctions are all fruit.  Bananas for potassium, orange juice for Vitamin C, maybe some mango, strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries.  I have read about spinach and kale smoothies for a long time and finally decided to fight the gross green factor and make one.

The first concoction was a spinach, blueberry, banana, and orange juice mix.

Food is fuel

Admittedly, it wasn’t bad and even my husband took a swig.  I made two more spinach smoothies with pear and banana.  Word on the street is spinach and blackberries make a great smoothie, but I haven’t sprung for that yet.

I found my first spinach recipe on Incredible Smoothies.

Athlete Nutrition

The second picture is a recipe I stumbledupon late in bed.  It was tempting enough for me to give it a whirl and see how it would go.  It’s a avocado-based vegan smoothie that turned out rather tasty and filling, perfect for late in the day when my sweet tooth attacks.  It uses almond butter and almond milk and calls for agave, but I cheated and used honey instead.  The trickiest ingredient to incorporate well is the dates, but I have the cheapest model of blenders. A high quality blender may not have that issue.

The recipe uses only half an avocado.  I used the other half the next day to create a simple avocado desert that was equally and surprisingly delicious–but forgot to snap a picture!  Essentially it’s just avocado, sugar, milk, and vanilla blended together into a mousse and refrigerated for about twenty minutes before eating. I used almond milk in the recipe.


Food is fuel

Every time I visit my parents, my Dad makes me pancakes with blueberry compote.  Why? Because everyone in my family knows I despise eggs.  I’m a breakfast chef’s worst nightmare.  On the other hand, it really saves time when deciding what to eat because all the menu options are sliced in half.

Athlete Nutrition

After reading and researching and reading some more, it became clear that if I wanted to reduce the number of carbs I was consuming, I’d have to learn how to like eggs.

Food for Athletes

I began with egg sandwiches, which are just okay to me.  Two egg recipes I don’t mind so much disguise the rubbery texture a little better.  The first two are egg frittatas; the top picture is a frittata with red pepper oil and the middle is a zucchini and bell pepper frittata with swiss cheese.  The recipe is jammed with vegetables, like an omelet or a quiche, I suppose.  The bottom is a egg on top of a quinoa vegetable hash.  I diced the egg and mixed it into a quinoa so it resembled fried rice.  Both the frittata and the quinoa hash were pretty easy to make, which is essential for me. I hate complicated recipes because I’m methodical in the kitchen–in other words, slow. I like recipes that are fast and easy.


Food for athletes

Around two or three I always get hungry.  Sometimes I stick with a cup of green tea, or, find some type of fruit to munch on.  The item of choice right now is frozen green grapes.  A few weeks ago, I had a watermelon left over, so I created this snack based on a recipe I found somewhere online.  It’s simply cucumber and watermelon sprinkled with a pinch of salt.  Perfect as an appetizer or right after a workout when browsing for something to refuel that is light.  The original recipe called for a sprinkle of feta cheese, which I did not have.


I bought ground turkey intending to break it into smaller portions to make turkey tacos and turkey burgers, but I forgot to do it before freezing.  I found this recipe for Ground Turkey Shepard’s Pie.  I already had mashed potatoes, so this was super easy and lasted for four meals.  I liked the spices that made it different from a beef-based sheppard’s pie.

Athlete food

Ever since I saw this recipe, I wanted to give it a shot.  I finally broke down and bought sweet potatoes and cubed swiss.  It’s Sweet Potato Cakes with a cube of swiss pressed into the middle.  The cakes are stuffed with cubed bread, onion, and fresh parsley. They are lightly crisped in the frying pan before finishing the oven.  I made enough for three meals and they were easy to reheat.

Food is fuel

Save the best for last

Food is fuel

I love sweets and sugar.  My latest craze has been gummies, especially Swedish Fish.  I know too much sugar is not ideal for an athlete’s diet, so I try to avoid added and processed sugar during the week with maybe a splurge on rest day.  A few weeks ago we had some friends over that follow a gluten-free diet, so I gave this recipe a go.  It’s a Flourless Chocolate Cake, essentially a soufflé, made with eggs, melted better and semi-sweet chocolate chips,  a sprinkle of cayenne, and a dash of my secret special dessert liquor. I topped the finished product with a light dust of powdered sugar and raspberries.

Food is fuel

Many of my recipes came from The Feed Zone Cookbook by Allen Lim and Biju Thomas at Skratch Labs.  Others I find in boredom on StumbleUpon, or I take an ingredient I have, like avocado, and google it to see what I can find that looks tasty and has high ratings.

Right now I’m in a phase of eating as many vegetables as possible while keeping carbohydrate intake low and protein intake higher. I try and eat the largest meal in the middle of the day and the smallest at dinner.  Sometimes I have a craving for something.  I try not fulfill it so I don’t dwell on it, but if I can, I make it a better choice.  For instance, instead of ice cream I have a fruit popsicle. Cucumbers are great when I need texture or a satisfying crunch.

For all the talk about food for athletes, I can’t forget to mention water.  Staying hydrated is a crucial part of being an athlete.  Right now it’s no ginger beer, no wine, no hard liquor, maybe a cup of green tea and once a week I have a cider. Even with solid eating, a dehydrated athlete isn’t an athlete at all.  My body protests with massive migraines when I do not consume my daily gallons of water.

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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