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The Globe and Mail

Special foods and energy drinks improve training performance

World-class rowers are physically intimidating specimens.

They have low body fat, and most have a heart that can pump 40 litres of blood per minute. Scientific data has shown that rowers have the highest absolute maximum oxygen uptake of any group of athletes and can process as much as 300 litres of air per minute. That's some heavy breathing.

They also burn a lot of energy. On average, a rower of Malcolm Howard's stature (6 foot 6, 234 pounds) will burn 7,000 to 9,000 calories per day in training.

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To replenish themselves, rowers eat nutrient-dense foods and consume various energy drinks. For example, after workouts on ergometer rowing machines, the crew will consume drinks with whey and high in carbohydrates to facilitate a liquid recovery. Energy drinks that have been tested for banned substances are also used. And the athletes eat specially prepared food. The whole process, dubbed Gold Medal Meals, is subsidized by the 1994 Commonwealth Games legacy fund.

"We noticed athletes going through the program that by Wednesday of every week they were getting tired by the sheer volume of training," says Rowing Canada's high-performance director Peter Cookson. "We figured if we could ensure they got the proper nutrition it would help with their recovery, and we've noticed an improvement [in the athletes' training performances]"

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