Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Nutrition for the Rower

If we’re going out for a nice 2-3 hour row, bring a bottle of water, a snack if desired and go. But, if we’re going oar cruising, maybe 25 miles a day for 4 or 5 days … we need fuel.

How much fuel?

For example, a 60 year old male, who weighs 180 pounds, is 6 feet tall, has a “somewhat active” lifestyle, is contemplating an oar cruise.
He believes he can row 55 minutes per hour, for 8 hours at an average speed of 3.5 mph (5.6 kph). He goes to Calorie Needs Calculator, (you will need to establish an account) clicks on “Tools”, “Daily Needs Calculator”, enters the basic information… completes “Minutes/day of additional exercise” (440 minutes in this example). He clicks “Water Sports”, “Canoeing/Rowing, 2.0-3.9 mph, light effort”.
The results show that ‘daily energy expenditure’ is 2610 calories and he’ll need 1552 additional calories per day for the oar cruise. This means he’ll need to eat 4162 (rounded to 4500) calories a day to fuel the oar cruise.

What kind of fuel?


Quantity depends upon body weight, ambient temperature, level of effort and humidity.  Camelbak has a hydration calculator. Using our example above and Camelbak’s calculator, we would need about 1 Liter per hour (34 ounces). This means, according to Camelbak, we would need to drink about 2 gallons of water a day.
In the Ocean Cruising Diet, each rower consumed 8 L (about 2 gallons) of liquid a day, of which 1 L came from the food they ate and 7 L from beverages.
Bottom line? Remember to hydrate.


In our example, we would need 4500 calories per day while oar cruising. The calories can be sourced from any food.

However, if the endurance activity is going to last for months (e.g., the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, a Rowing race across the Atlantic), then calorie sourcing should be balanced: 55% from carbohydrates, 35% from fats and 10% from protein, but verify with a registered dietitian. Also see Ocean Cruising Diet.

Vitamin Supplement
To ensure adequate vitamin intake, it is recommended that we take a daily multi-vitamin supplement.

Ingredient Suggestions

Following are a few suggested Ingredients, divided into five categories:
  • Water (with Supplements)
  • Breakfast
  • Snacks (Assume that the main meal will be at night, and therefore we must eat throughout the day, which is recommended for ‘endurance’ activities)
  • Main Meal
  • Spices and Condiments to supplement breakfast and main meal options.
Water (with Supplements) Options

  • One liter (1.1 quart) of water weighs 2.2 pounds and takes up 61 cubic inches (about 3.9” x 3.9” x 3.9”) 
  • One Gallon (128 ounces, 3.8L) of water weighs 8.3 pounds and takes up 231 cubic inches (about 6.1” x 6.1” x 6.1”). 
  • Coffee. Starbucks carries a wide range of their “VIA” brand of instant coffees: for example, “Columbia”, “Latte Vanilla”, “Pike Roast”, “Italian Roast”, “White Chocolate Mocha”.  Uses 8 ounces (236mL) of water per packet.
  • Gatorade Low Calorie G2 Powder. Three flavors, “Fruit Punch”, “Grape” and “Glacier Freeze”.  Nutrition per packet: 45 calories, 250mg sodium, 75mg Potassium and 12g carbo (sugar). Uses 20 ounces of water per packet.
  • Gatorade Endurance Formula Thirst Quencher Powder would be better for very hot conditions e.g., Texas 200, in which we are perspiring a great deal. Nutrition per 1.5 tbsp (22mL) of powder: 240mg Sodium, 140mg Potassium, 21g carbo and 80 calories, mixed with 20 ounces (590mL) water
  • Low-fat dry milk, 1/4 cup (4 tbsp, 2 ounces, 60ml) powder mixed with 8 ounces (240mL) water provides 215 calories
  • Cocoa, 2 tbsp (30 ml) in 6 ounces (120mL) of hot water, 20 calories.
Breakfast Ingredients
  • (Hot) Quaker Old Fashioned Oats (not instant nor quick-cook). 1 cup (234mL) dry (yields 2 cups cooked) for 300 calories with 1 cup of water. 
  • (Hot) Wheatena, 1/3 cup (78mL) dry provides 160 calories with 1 cup (235mL) of water 
  • (Hot) Farina, 1/3 cup (78mL) dry for 210 calories with 1 and 1/3 cups (315mL) of water 
  • (Cold) Quaker Granola, 1 cup (234mL) for 420 calories 
  • (Cold) Kashi Go Lean (different varieties), 1 cup (234mL) for 250 calories 
  • (Cold) Kellogg’s Frosted Shredded Mini Wheats, 1 cup (234mL) for 180 calories.
  • Freeze-dried fruits, such as Blueberries. Each packet provides 5-9 servings. Note that this is freeze-dried, not dehydrated. The latter often have additives, but not freeze-dried. And freeze-dried, although more expensive, has flavor equal to the raw fruit. Calorie content is the same as the raw fruit.
Snack Options
  • Oatmega bars, wide variety, one bar for 190 calories
  • Whole wheat fig bars, twin pack (two one-ounce bars) for 220 calories
  • Nuts and spice Kind bars, wide variety, one bar for 200 calories 
  • Banana, 200 calories
  • Apple, 65 calories
  • Orange, 85 calories
  • Peanut M&Ms, one packet is 250 calories
  • Beef jerky, each packet contains 3 ounces for 240 calories 
  • Dried fruit/nuts mix, ¼ cup (small handful) about 260 calories depending upon fruits/nuts used.
  • Peanut butter packets These are 1.15 ounces per packet (32g) for 190 calories. 
Main Meal Ingredients
(Note, each of these can be enhanced with one or more of the spices and/or condiments below.) 
  • Dehydrated beans (not dried beans) such as black beans . 1 cup (234mL) dehydrated beans with 1 cup of water for 405 calories. 
  • Quick cook couscous, 2/3 cup dry (156mL) with 1 (235mL) cup of water for 433 calories.
  • Quick cook brown or white rice, 1 cup (234mL) with 1 cup of water for 360 calories.
  • Dehydrated lentils, 1/2 cup of dehydrated lentils with 1 cup of water for 210 calories.
  • Dehydrated vegetables (aka soup greens), 40 calories per tbsp. For example, add to any of the four grain based meal options above.
Spice and Condiment Options
  • Seasoning blends. (Pre-package these in small zip-lock bags and use as desired)
    • Southwest: Smoked paprika, cayenne, cumin, garlic powder, dash of sea salt
    • Indian: Curry powder, garlic powder, pinch sea salt
    • Italian: Oregano, parsley, garlic powder, pinch red pepper flakes, and sea salt
    • Asian: put some individual soy sauce packets in a baggie.
  • Sea salt.
  • Black or Cayenne pepper.
  • Cinnamon
  • Honey packets Use instead of granulated sugar. Each of these 9g (1/3 ounce) packet has 27 calories.
  • Bacon Bits (real bacon, not flavored soy), 1 tbsp for 25 calories. 
  • Dehydrated onion flakes, 17 calories per tbsp. 
Assumptions in Formulating this Post
  • Weight, within reason, is not an issue as it is for a back-packer. Oar based cruising boats can carry over a 100 pounds of extra ‘stuff’ in addition to the rower, her/his sleeping/clothing needs and boat related equipment such as anchor, chain, anchor rode, spare oars, etc.
  • One person (assume double the food for two people).
  • Rower will stay in boat the whole time. There could be exceptions, but sleeping, meal prep and eating, etc. will be done in the boat, not camping on land.
  • It is reasonable to assume the rower will be able to prepare only one major meal a day… although that time may include preparation of later meals, stored in insulated containers.
  • No refrigeration nor coolers. 
  • Single burner stove, such as a backpacker stove.
  • Single pot. 
  • Appropriate knife, fork, tablespoon.
  • 8 ounce measuring cup for measuring water to be added to meals.
  • 12 or 16 ounce drinking cup/mug.
  • At least one insulated vacuum food containers, e.g. Thermos Stainless Steel King 16 Ounce Food Jar.
  • In preparation for this post, I consulted with a registered dietitian as well as a number of sites on the web, some of which are referenced below. I am NOT, however, a doctor nor a dietitian. Please contact your doctor and/or a registered dietitian if you have any concerns about how these suggestions could impact your health. 
  • Pack Light Eat Right, nutritional recommendations for endurance exercise.
  • The Good, Bad, and Ugly... planning and experience to help you maximize nutrition and calories while minimizing cost and weight.
  • All About Food and Nutrition, good overview of what makes sense for fueling the body for extended exercise. 
  • Comparison of Energy Bars.
  • Ocean crossing diet This is a highly researched and well documented paper on nutrition (including actual menus) needed for extended rowing... based on actual experience. 
  •  Nutrition information for virtually any food. You’ll need to establish an account in order to get nutritional information. This site also has a calculator for determining your baseline calorie needs as well as calorie needs for physical activities (such as rowing).

In the next Sunday's post, I'll show you some of the models in my 'boatyard'...


  1. Rowing, especially in Summer, needs plenty of water for sure. Dehydration is a real risk, then you get weak, can't row, heat stroke, etc. Luckily it's much easier to carry water rowing than backpacking.
    For food I try to eat what I usually do, not much extra. If I lose a few pounds in a week that's a good thing!

  2. For cooking, jetboil stove mounted into a cut-out in a folding table. The table can go on the sole as shown, up on the seat rails, or carried onto land.

  3. I was very surprised about the amount of fluid the cross-Atlantic rowers were consuming a day... Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

    I like the JetBoil mount... later in May, there will be a post on actual breakfast 'menus' and how to prepare... One of the issues is the safety in a small (rocking) boat and spilling boiling hot water on parts of you body... I'll be addressing that in the post... Your solution to steady the JetBoil in a hole in the table is a good one. Like it!

  4. "only one major meal a day… " What part of a day you use to make it when you're on the cruise?

  5. Hi Wojtek... Typically, wind is calm early morning, so quick breakfast and get rowing to take advantage of the calm... At mid-day, may not be at a location to anchor and it's the peak time for other boats in area (with resulting wakes coming in from all directions... so mid-day is not good... that leaves evening for taking the time for meal prep. And, if you want hot cereal (for example) for next day's breakfast, then can prepare that also, stored in a vacuum container... a forthcoming post will discuss that along with some simple breakfast menus.