When lightweight rowers’ eating goes wrong

A cautionary tale written by a 115lb “natural lightweight”.

Lightweight rowing…what do I really have to say about it? Not much, or so I thought, but looking back, this semester rowing has made an indelible impression on my life. Most of the rowers ignore me when it comes to weigh-ins. They don’t worry. I weigh 115 pounds, on a heavy day. I don’t worry. At least I don’t worry about me. My position on the outside of this mess has given me a unique perspective. I observe, but don’t interfere. At least I didn’t. The problem is that I study this stuff. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on athletic amenorrhea and negative energy balance. I’ve spent the last year of my life learning energy hormone upset by athletes who don’t eat enough. Every time I see my fellow crewmates sucking weight its hard not to say anything or not to sound like I’m preaching.

I guess others don’t think it concerns me. I think it does. How could it not? Often I am only among one or two others who eat or drink anything the day of weigh-ins. And this is not to mention the severe dehydration tactics. Frankly, I can’t imagine rowing a race like that. I get weak if I don’t have enough orange juice before practice, what must it be like to not eat or drink for a whole day before a race (never mind the three days prior that people barely ate). It makes me sick, sick when I see how tired they are, sick when I feel how weak the boat is, sick when I see them unable to stand, sick when we lose a race, and even sicker when I see the novice and those who don’t even have to worry getting carried into the disgusting cycle.

Tell me, does your erg time really matter when you race with a depleted body?

I asked our coach if we could weigh in for our next erg test. She loved the idea. I thought maybe then some of the others could see how much weaker they were after sucking weight. I guess it didn’t matter to one girl. She said it wasn’t worth it to her not to eat the night before an erg test. I wondered, then, how could it be worth it for a race? I couldn’t watch anymore. Even before I’d thought of crew or joined the team, I’d made up my mind to dedicate my life to preventing athletic under-nutrition and amenorrhea. Now I was faced with an ethical decision. I felt that by not saying anything I was selling myself short. I would no longer be a participant by way of inaction. I decided that I would not row after the next race.

Fortunately, or unfortunately as one may look at it, the coach to whom I had addressed this became involved and made a wonderful decision. The next morning there was a surprise weigh-in and anyone over a pre-set weight three days before weigh-ins would not row lightweight after that race. While this cut one rower’s lightweight days short, it did much to restore my faith in both the coaching staff and myself. While I feel bad about my involvement on a personal level, ethically I feel much better. I have already received some words of encouragement from other teammates, but I feel most proud that I did my part to help change something that I saw was wrong.

A food diary written by a 132 lb lightweight rower

A lightweight rower's food diary
A lightweight rower’s food diary

One thought on “When lightweight rowers’ eating goes wrong

  1. Caroline Turnbull says:

    Your 132lb lightweight has serious issues with her diet.On this sample she risks suffering from malnutrition – this is basically a junk food diet, with almost no fruit and vegetables, no fibre and far too much sugar. The effects of this are well known – a big sugar rush, followed by a downer where you completely lose your energy.

    If I were her coach and saw this food diary, I would send her to the nearest nutritional adviser and not allow her anywhere near the club until she had learned how to eat sensibly. She is letting everybody down – her crewmates, her club and worst of all, herself.

    Oh, and a cautionary note to the author of this piece – orange juice is also high in sugar and should be watered down, otherwise it will not hydrate you properly. It is also very acid and could cause an upset stomach.

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