Influence of Nutrient Intake after Weigh-In on Lightweight Rowing Performance

From Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise via Row2K

Thanks to Row2K today for posting a link to this article. It is however quite a handful to make sense of, so I have provided some interpretation here. Your comments would be appreciated.

This is an interesting article looking at the best recovery methods after weigh-in for lightweight men needing to reduce body mass for racing.

The first effort (2 km erg test) was at their base weight - this is used as a control to see how they would perform without having to make weight.

Subsequent 2 km efforts had to be made at 5.2% below this weight - simulating a rapid weight loss - with 48 hours between efforts.

Different recovery drinks were used in the two hours between weigh in and the 2000 meter effort to simulate what many lightweights do - drop weight fast for the weigh in in the morning and do their best to recover to a better racing condition before hitting the water.

The three strategies tested were essentially:

Water only (and a small amount of sodium).
Carbohydrate/Sodium with little fluid.

What did they find? Not surprisingly athletes with restricted fluid intake (carbohydrate and sodium only) after making weight performed slowest compared to the other two treatments. Having carbohydrate and sodium in the fluid didn't help recovery much, compared to water only.

What does this tell athletes and coaches?

Well - not much really - no athlete in their right mind would restrict fluids as part of their recovery, so the message that fluids are needed is far from earth shattering. Of course this was hardly the authors' point. They were more interested in whether or not the carbs will help - and they didn't seem to.

Does this mean athletes should just make weight and drink some water before racing? No it doesn't mean that either. More to the point as long as the fluids are there the individual's own recovery strategy can be personalized - so do what feels right.

On the other hand, we need to wonder if the study tells the full story. I'd say no - it only opens the door for more work which I'm sure the authors realize. For example, how did the athletes make weight? Did they eat well-balanced meals and simply make weight by dropping fluids (restricting intake and/or a "sweat run")? Loss of fluid is the fastest way to lose weight and really nobody loses 5% of their mass any other way so quickly. In this case clearly replacing the fluids would be the most important part of recovery. On the other hand, if the athletes restricted calories as well, especially carbohydrates, as many inexperienced or junior lightweights often do, then I would be surprised if only taking water on board leads to the best performance. A measure of how depleted the athletes' glycogen stores were before weigh in would be the only way to tease this out.

What would I be interested in seeing tested after this study?

  • What amount of weight can be lost before weigh in while maintaining performance - 5.2% is a fairly significant amount. If a lightweight male came in at 162 pounds, for example, that equates to almost 8 and a half pounds. How would that compare to athletes only having to drop 2 pounds - or none at all?
  • This study looked only at men - there could easily be gender differences that would affect this study - so repeat this with women, please.
  • Does the athlete's intake of food before racing affect how hard it is to make weight (and maintain performance) for the next race?

So it is interesting work. Food for thought (pardon the pun). But carry on as normal - after weigh in replace fluids and take on some nutrients.

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