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On the 1st March 2017 I will finally, weather permitting, set off to row the Atlantic Ocean. Now I know what some of you will be thinking - ...

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Counting Calories

Although the concept of calories began in the mid 1800s, they first came into the public conscience in the 1960s as part of the whole “Weight Watchers” movement. It was a simple concept - food is fuel and gives a certain amount of energy when consumed. This energy is either used by your body to function or stored by your body in the form of fat. If you eat more than you use you’ll get fatter and if you eat less than you use you’ll lose fat. It was a fairly simple idea and suddenly the back of every food packet was a series of numbers with first in the list “Kcal” or calories. It was suggested a man should consume around 2500 calories a day and a woman around 2000. Although this were fairly arbitrary numbers, they soon became taken for gospel and it was suddenly time to measure, calculate and count every piece of food and drink that entered your mouth. The concept was popular and calorie counting as a weight loss tool became very popular.

Calories or course still exist today but as a dietary method have been replaced by far more trendy ones such as Atkins, Caveman, 5/2 etc not to mention the move towards Gluten-free, Vegan, Dairy-free (the list goes on and on). But let’s go back to the poor, now nearly forgotten calorie. It’s estimated that an average man’s body will consume around 1400 calories a day even doing “nothing”. That is just to fuel your basic body operations with the brain accounting for the vast majority of these. An hour’s moderate rowing will account for about 500 calories. So on the race, given we’ll be rowing for 12 hours a day, we’ll consume around 7400 calories if we row for 12 hours and do nothing else for the other 12. Sadly we’ll be doing things like boat maintenance, preparing food, eating, ablutions etc. So conservatively, we’ll be using around 8000 Kcals per day. Given the average man consumes around 2500 Kcals per day, that would be quite a deficit to run. Luckily, ocean rowers are not “average” men in any meaning of the word. Notably, in how many calories we consume per day. During the race we’ll be looking at around 7000 calories per day, largely through freeze dried food and high calorie snacks such as nuts and chocolate. And despite this ferocious amount of food intake we’ll still probably lose between 10kg and 15kg in weight per man during the Atlantic crossing. So rather than risk losing important skeletal muscle through near starvation, we have to try to gain as much weight as possible before race start. Although we aim to gain as much of this as possible through muscle gain, ultimately, fat will do if needed. And how do we gain so much weight? By eating. A lot. The problem being, the increased training in preparation for the race consumes a significant portion of these extra calories. So the game of cat and mouse continues. I’m now 82kg having gained around 8kg in 6 months. In truth I put that on in about 6 weeks but since then the increased levels of training have clearly offset any further gains. It’s just one of many challenges we face between now and French Guiana.  

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