Illness, Diet and Rowing - The ups and downs of a professional athlete

Illness, Diet and Rowing - The ups and downs of a professional athlete

Posted by Sarah Perkins on Jul 21, 2014 in #Ambassador Blogs.

Hello all,

Hopefully this post finds you in a slightly warmer, sunnier place then Geelong!

A few things I want to chat about today include Illness and winter, diet, weight divisions in my sport and of course the Rowing World Cup series that finishes this coming weekend. I hope they are of some relevance or interest.First off, I’ve actually been feeling pretty flat and weak for weeks, and foolishly continued to do my day to day exercise, erging and weights. My heart rate has been ridiculously high even when not exercising and in general I’ve felt muscularly weak. A couple of weeks ago I tested positive for Glandular Fever (again), a low positive of the same strain I had last year. I don’t feel that this time around is as bad, I haven’t had tonsillitis or as serious swelling and fevers, but the illness does knock you very hard. It’s hard to deal with being indoors and bed ridden for weeks, particularly during winter, and watch your fitness and strength slip. However, in the scheme of things this is just another obstacle to get over…a difficult one…but still important to be completely certain it’s gone.

I find winter a particularly difficult season, for my sport, rowing, it’s not overly enticing to get up at 5:30am and row in the cold and in the dark! It’s likely the same feeling for a lot of you who train outside. Despite how awful these mornings can seem, I do think it’s important to get out and do something in them before most people are up, it gives a sense of strength and will that is important during these cold months. So the colder, the darker, the wetter, the better….rug up and walk, run, row or ride!

Touching upon the monumental subject of diet and dieting, I think I’ve come full circle with this. I’ve been schooled byso many people on so many different ways of eating, what’s right, what’s not etc Vegan, Fruitarian, Paleo…and variations of calorie restriction. I actually really like the first three ways of eating, particularly fruitarian. The idea of being able to eat unrestricted amounts of bananas and fresh dates is my dream diet…however, from past restrictive eating I had a seriously suppressed metabolic rate when tested in January. So while I believe unlimited clean/natural foods are the ideal way…these eating lifestyles are long term. Probably something I’ll return to later and I recommend to others. Paleo worked very well for me whilst I was a lightweight, the issue I found with it wasn’t the lack of grains, dairy etc, just that it soon became about what I couldn’t eat not what I could. Currently I’m working with a new dietician, not because I don’t know what I should eat but simply so I am only following one voice and will have the support later down the road if things get a bit rocky.

Continuing on from diets, in rowing there are two weight divisions; lightweight and heavyweight (also called openweight). Lightweight for women is 59kg for the single scull and a 57kg crew average. Lightweight for men is 72.5kg for the single scull and a 70kg crew average. Do I believe there should be a middleweight division in rowing? Absolutely! At 5’9 (175cm) I am at the short end of the scale for a heavyweight and in rowing; height and length of levers can be an advantage. The majority of athletes I race against and row with in HW are over 6’. The year prior to the London Olympics I swapped divisions and raced as a lightweight. I am a completely different athlete in each division. As a lightweight I was at the other end of the height scale, it’s rare to see a lightweight woman over 5’9 for obvious reasons; every athlete has a point where they lose strength and power from too much muscle loss. I actually never came to this point, I’m still curious where it is for me. I have done well in both categories, however there are more seats available as a HW, on the women’s side they send a single, a double and a quad for sculling. There is only a LW double in the Olympics for women.

I have learned over the past few seasons that I go faster when I’m lighter, the general belief that bigger and stronger is faster does not work for me as it does for others. In rowing speed is about ‘power to weight’ ratio, height and length also has an impact…often (but not always) the top women scullers are tall and lean…in both weight divisions.

I am at a cross roads at the moment, I’m considering swapping back to lightweight, there are many pros and cons for both divisions. It’s the same question as before the last Olympics: Which crew am I most likely to have a chance of being selected in and from there winning a gold medal? Not an easy question to answer…

Leading on from that, most people don’t realise that whilst the Soccer World Cup was on, the World Rowing Cup Series was going as well. Rowing has 3 world cups spread from March through to July and a World Championships in August/September. The 3rd world cup is this coming weekend (can be viewed live on the World Rowing Website). I have rather mixed feelings about the event, I’ll admit it’s difficult to watch the team do well when you’re not in it! But at the same time I hope for strong performances. Australia has a number of crews expected to either win or medal, some even expected to win the series!

A lot of this seemed like a bit of a ramble, and I hope to have a bit more clarity on my direction over the next couple of weeks, first to shake off the Glandular fever and get well!

Signing off,



Favourite food this week: Oranges

BN product I’d recommend for this time of the year: Green Fusion

Favourite training song this week: Where No One Goes – John Powell (How to Train Your Dragon 2 OST)

Session to try this week: Good little workout from Crossfit; 100m of walking lunges, 800m sprint followed by 100 free standing squats. Very short and effective!

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