If sailing conjures up images of Moby Dick, Dolce & Gabbana cologne ads, and weathered men in ascots, you're sorely out of touch with the sport of today. ORACLE TEAM USA has some of the world's fittest athletes—a few guys have less than 10% body fat, all train for hours in the gym and on the water, and one's even a former Olympic swimmer and Ironman. (Watch how the team is prepping and training for the 2017 America's Cup.)
The team can spend anywhere from 2-5 hours a day training, depending on the intensity, training goal, if wind conditions are cooperative, and if the boat stays intact. "We use a monitoring system called Zephyr that can calculate heart rate intensity (max, average, zones) and also mechanical force, allowing us to ensure we're not overloading the guys because this is really hard work," says Scott Tindal, head physiotherapist and team nutritionist ORACLE TEAM USA. "The World Series events are full-on for the entirety of the race, especially when the wind is up, so guys on the handles (grinders) will be working well above lactic threshold and near max for the majority of the race."
Research from the Journal of Sport Sciences actually delved into the demands of racing and the physical characteristics of the sailors. Data was collected from 92 professional male America's Cup sailors as well as fitness data from a top-4 and a lower-7 ranking team during the 32nd America's Cup. Over the 135 races, the average race lasted 82 minutes. Grinding bouts averaged about 5.5 seconds long for a total of 143 exercise bouts per race, and an exercise-to-rest ratio of 1:6. Intensity of exercise varied depending on how close competing boats were and the role of the athlete. But for grinders, the guys essentially powering the catamarans, their work is predominantly anaerobic: The short duration and intermittent nature of grinding is incredibly taxing. Strength and strength endurance (as well as quick reflexes and maneuvering) are some of the main indicators of who comes out on top.
Daily caloric intake for the team differs from guy to guy and depends on the time of year. "For sailors who, at the start of the campaign, need to put on extra muscle and mass, energy consumption will be higher; if we're preparing for a World Series event, then there's a weight limit of 193lb per sailor as an average and 964.5lb per boat," Tindal says.
But 193lb isn't the average across the board. Grinders are taller, heavier, and usually stronger, coming in at about 200-205lbs, because they need more mass and muscle, whereas the tactician, helmsman, and wing trimmer can all be in the range of 185-196lb, Tindal explains. A grinder might eat 3,500-4,000 calories a day, while a wing trimmer prepping for a World Series event will lower his caloric intake to about 1,500 calories in order to drop weight. Body fat is similar among sailors (the average is 13%, per the Journal of Sports Sciences research).
There are two chefs on-hand at TEAM ORACLE USA's basecamp (head chef Matty Pridham and sous chef Ben Bernado) whom Tindal liasons with to make sure all the nutritional requirements are being met. As you'll see on the slides that follow, the athletes—17 in all—are provided with breakfast, lunch, and on-water snacks, as well as specific products catered to hydration, energy, protein supplementation, and recovery.
But, even though they're eating the same foods, the amounts will vary by sailor as will the percentages of the macros. "It's really context-driven depending on the individual athlete, the period of time in the calendar year, and the intent of the sessions being performed," Tindal says. And since we're talking about professional athletes, their day and training is set up so they're getting their body exactly what it needs when muscles are low on fuel or in need of recovery.
"Day to day, the focus is getting their nutritional requirements for health and performance through food, first, and then topping up with science-proven supplements," Tindal says. More on the specific supplements they take on slide 26.
You may have noticed dinner's left off that list. While the team's bodies are damn near close to machines, they're not robots; they need variety and reprieve. That doesn't mean they're trucking through takeout (they are training in Bermuda afterall, so there's an abundance of fresh fish and local fare).
"The sailors are professional athletes and understand the importance of nutrition and how it can affect their individual performance," Tindal says. Besides, these guys are all vying for a spot on the catamaran when they race in the 2017 America's Cup (also in Bermuda), so they do everything they can to improve their personal performance and stay in the best possible shape.
"If the sailors can be excellent 80-90 percent of the time, then 10-20 percent is not too much of a problem," Tindal adds—something to remember in your own diet program or meal plan. Read on for the foods and drinks specific to breakfast, lunch, on-water snacks, recovery meals, competition prep, day-of competition fuel, supplements, and hydration.
ORACLE TEAM USA is heading to Chicago at Navy Pier June 10-12 to compete in a qualifying event—making history as the first-ever freshwater competition on Lake Michigan. This is the last time the team will compete in the U.S. (there will be more abroad) before the 2017 America's Cup kicks off in Bermuda next summer.
Chicken breast for breakfast might not be your first choice, but protein first-thing in the morning keeps you full longer and helps prime your body for workouts. A 35g protein breakfast can also keep your body fat in check by curbing hunger, lowering your daily intake of food, and stabilizing glucose levels.
Steel-cut or rolled oats are an incredibly satisfying, heart-healthy breakfast that spike your energy and keep you full. Plus, they act as a blank slate so you can shake things up every morning. Try adding chia seeds, peanut butter, and fresh fruit to pack on the nutrients and flavor.
Greek yogurt is a protein-packed breakfast option that can boost your metabolism and muscle size. Top with berries; they're a super-healthy source of carbs that will give you an antioxidant and energy boost.
White flour doesn't have the feel-good fiber and protein that whole-wheat bread does; plus, it digests rapidly, spiking your blood sugar and a resulting in a subsequent energy crash. Opt for a variety made with 100% whole wheat, barley, or oats; the essential nutrients and fiber will do wonders for a grueling training session.
Some store-bought smoothies are as bad as a Big Mac, hiding up to 98g of sugar and 600 calories (seriously, see a list of them here). Make sure you're conscious of what you're blending up. We recommend The Ultimate Peanut Butter & Jelly Smoothie—made with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, chia seeds, peanut buuter, frozen strawberries, and more.
"There is always a choice of two salads: baby leaf spinach with cashews and blueberries, or purple cabbage coleslaw and arugula with Parmesan shavings, balsamic, and red quinoa," Tindal says. Pair superfoods together to enhance their health benefits, keep your taste buds guessing, and get a good balance of healthy fat, vegetables, fruits (carbs), and protein.
"Two vegetables are served for lunch as well (e.g. sautéed mushrooms with onions, steamed broccoli, or spaghetti squash)," Tindal says. If you're like most Americans, you're not getting enough veggies in your diet. Keep an abundance of frozen and fresh (preferably in-season veggies in-stock at all times; you'll be more apt to reach the daily recommended value—especially if they're within site and easy to reach.
Nutrition is just as important on water as it is on land. "The food has to be simple, quick, and easy to eat," Tindal says. Pre-cut fruit like bananas, apples, and oranges deliver the right kind of fast-acting fuel.
Homemade protein balls and bars are easier to make than you'd think; plus, they allow you to control the ingredients, choose your favorite flavors, and experiment with combinations. Try a recipe for Nut Butter Protein Bites here, Thin Mint No-Bake Protein Balls here, and 3 protein bar recipes here.
"Hydration is something we're particularly interested in," Tindal says. "The sailors have charts placed above each urinal to check the color of their urine to monitor hydration status." The team also uses a "gravity specific urine tester" to ensure hydration is maintained throughout the day. "A urine specific gravity measurement compares the density of urine to the density of water," Tindal explains. The test takes about 3 seconds. The guys are recommended to check first-thing in the morning, but they also test during the day, too. Water, of course, is one of their main sources of hydration.
True Endurance is an electrolyte formula carbohydrate beverage produced by TRUE PROTEIN, ORACLE TEAM USA's supplement supplier. It's formulated for endurance athletes who train for long periods of time—like cyclists, long distance runners, and yes, sailors—and replaces electrolytes to optimize performance.
"The guys are out in the heat and humidity in Bermuda often during the hottest part of the day," Tindal says. "The chase boats do a great job providing the guys with fluids and snacks as often as possible, but it really depends on the guys having breaks." During these breaks, the athletes drink SOS—a powdered electrolyte sports drink that rehydrates and replenishes.
"The biggest concern always in professional sport is an athlete taking a supplement, vitamin, or medicine that may contain a banned substance," Tindal says. "We educate the sailors on this and have sessions reviewing WADA rules and regulations as these apply to the guys, too," he adds.
It depends on the individual sailor, but nearly all are using the following pre- and post-workout supplements: - TRUE PROTEIN True Pre with or without caffeine - TRUE PROTEIN True Post or True Post Low Carb OR specific combination of the following supplements - Creatine Monohydrate - Beta-Alanine - Whey Isolate Protein - BCAAs
"The guys are all educated on the importance of protein and carbohydrates for muscle recovery, especially after training in the gym or out on the water," Tindal says. "Many studies support the use of protein at least in the amounts of 25-40g per serving after training." The team will consume carbs in the form of True Post formula (contains 50g per serving) onboard, but Tindal says the aim is to get majority of carbs through diet—porridge oats, vegetables, and brown rice—when they're back on land.
For Competition: The Perfect Combination of Carbs, Protein, and Fat
"Competition is different and the focus is ensuring the guys have enough carbohydrate stores in the body, so this means eating plenty (8-10g/kg/bodyweight) the day prior and doing the same on the day of competition," Tindal says. They will get their carbs in the form of rolled oats, rice, pasta, bread, along with True Endurance drink formula. Plenty of protein and quality fats are eaten too on race day for breakfast and lunch, too. "Keeping routine is so important," he adds. They'll source suppliers and caterers in the cities where World Series events are being held to make sure the guys are eating similar to what they're used to in Bermuda.