Thursday, May 9, 2013

Regatta Dieting

Sailing is a physically demanding sport, where you will expend a lot of energy throughout a day of racing.  Not only do you have to have the strength to do basic physical movements such as hiking, trimming, rolling, etc, but you must also have the energy to think tactically and make decisions during a race.  The instant your body starts to run low on fuel, you will start to break down mentally, prior to losing your physical strength.

Every person’s dietary needs are different, but one thing is true for every person: You need more food, when you are sailing, than you typically eat in a single day!  This is true in all wind conditions, but especially true if it is windy.  Furthermore, how you eat when you are on the water at a regatta is different than how you eat when you are off the water at a regatta.

When you are on the water, you should eat many smaller meals every 2-3 hours, or in between races.  These meals should primarily consist of dietary products, such as energy bars, gels, shakes, as well as other small high energy snacks such as fruits and nuts.  The main reason for this is digestion.  It is well documented that your body uses about 10% of its energy simply digesting the food you eat.  Dietary products, like energy bars, shakes, gels, etc. digest much more quickly than normal food, using up less of your energy on the water.  Also, by spreading out the meals 2-3 hours apart, or between races, not only will your food digest faster, but you will sustain your energy levels throughout the day. In other words, you won't run out of energy in the middle of a race.

It is extremely important to drink a great deal of water when you are sailing as well.  This is true no matter how you eat on the water, but is especially true when eating sport supplements or dietetic products.  The reason for this is that they tend to contain a great deal of sugar, which will soak up a lot of the water you have in your system.  Sugar isn't necessarily a bad thing when you are racing, as it will get into your system to provide energy much faster than normal food.  However, you need to compensate for the negative effects it has with much more water than you typically drink.

Off the water, you should eat much larger meals that consist of “real food” packed with lots of nutrients.  Dietary products and sport supplements are missing a lot of the important nutrients that your body needs during the day, so it is important to make up for what you are missing during a day of sailing.  Usually, you will have one large meal before you start the day, and one or two larger meals at the end of the day.

Carbohydrates are essential for energy, focus, and protecting your energy stores.  When exercising, carbohydrates are the first energy source your body burns off.  Thus, you need A LOT of them.  Your larger meals should consist of complex carbohydrates with lots of nutrients and fiber.  This includes whole wheat pastas, grainy breads (bagels tend to have the most energy), some cereals, brown rice, beans etc.  Your smaller meals will include more simple carbohydrates that break down quickly.  This will include energy bars, gels, sport drinks, bananas, orange juice, etc.


Proteins help muscles recover, improve muscle function, and sustain the release of energy to your muscles.  Protein should be consumed throughout the day, not just at night.  Your body will only take in about 40-50 grams of protein in a single meal, and you need MUCH more than that to recover during a regatta.  Thus, you should have plenty throughout the day.  I personally like to include a lot of protein in every meal.  The best proteins come from fish, chicken, flank steak, protein shakes, Greek Yogurt, nuts, etc.


Many people have huge misconceptions about fats throughout the fitness world.  They are the greatest source of energy, and not including them in your diet will leave you far short of what you need to maximize your performance on the water.  For example one gram of carbohydrates or proteins has four calories.  One gram of fat has nine calories.  Thus, not having them will likely leave you well short of your needed caloric intake, and you will break down much more quickly on the water.

Instead of avoiding fats, eat plenty of the healthy fats that your body can use.  Thus, you want to eat a lot of unsaturated fats (Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat), and not eat a lot of Saturated or Trans Saturated Fat.  Unsaturated fats are much easier for your body to break down to use for energy.  The saturated and trans saturated fats are much stronger and harder to break down for energy use.  Thus, it is harder for your body to actually use them.  The best sources of the good fats are nuts, seeds, oils, and fish.  The bad fats are found in most red meat, ANYTHING with chocolate or candy coating (seen on some energy bars), butter, and peanut butter that uses hydrogenated oil (solid at room temperature).

Sample diet for four hour long races with short breaks:

- 12-16 oz. of Greek Yogurt (Protein)
- Whole wheat bagel (Carb) smothered in NATURAL peanut butter (Fat/Protein)
- Grapefruit or Orange Juice (Carb)

Meal 2 (Prior to Race 1)
- Energy Bar or Protein Bar (Carb/Protein & Carb)
- 16 oz. Water

Meal 3 (Prior to Race 2)
- Energy Bar or Protein Bar (Carb/Protein & Carb)
- Energy Gel (Carb)
- 16 oz. Water

Meal 4 (Prior to Race 3)
- Nuts or Banana (Fat & Protein/Carb)
- Ready to Drink Protein Shake (Protein)
- Sport Drink (Carb)
- 16 oz. Water

Meal 5 (Prior to Race 4)
- Two Energy Bars (Carb)
- 16 oz. Water

Meal 6 (Just off the water)
- Protein Shake
- 16 oz. Water

- Salmon (Protein/Fat)
- Broccoli (Carb)
- Black Beans (Carb/Protein)
- Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto (Carb/Fat)

EVERYONE IS DIFFERENT!  What works for one person may not work for another person.  The important thing to take away from this article is to eat plenty and often when you are sailing!  The amount of races you sail in a day, the length of each race, the wind strength, etc. is always changing.  There are also many substitutes for any of the foods on this list.  Experiment with different things, and find out what works best for you!

See you on the water,

Zim Coach

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