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.
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Daily Calorie Consumption
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).
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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.
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Eating Rules and Specifications
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.
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