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Good Nutrition For Sailors

Sailors stoke up on carbohydrates and protein by chowing down after sailing in the St. Croix International Regatta.
A couple of six packs of beer and loads of chips, dips, and other lip-smacking junk food, that's how one of my friends provisions whether he's setting out for a day of racing on the bay or a weekend sail. But trust me, from personal experience I know that packing a galley full of good food is worth the effort if you're interested in enhancing the performance or pleasure of any sailing trip, even a daysail.

So, what is a "good" diet? The concept of a good diet has changed radically over the past few decades. Anyone mildly interested in nutrition knows that the meat-and-potatoes, Four Food Group, guide of the 1950s has been replaced by the Food Guide Pyramid, which is grounded in a base of whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, and vegetables, with lesser amounts of animal protein and dairy foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans urge less fat, salt, cholesterol, and sugar intake; more fiber; and alcohol in moderation, or not at all. Of course that won't be a popular notion for sailors, but remember, those are just "guidelines."

Though it's never the first thing that comes to mind, eating well is as crucial to winning a regatta as is practicing starts and spinnaker sets. To fuel up for maximum sailing performance, eat a good basic diet that goes modest on the protein, heavy on carbohydrates, skimps on fat, and is liberally sprinkled with fluids.

Protein    Gone are the days when athletes focused exclusively on protein, but there are three occasions when you might need more of this nutrient than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA): (1) when your calorie intake is low; (2) if you're out of shape or a beginning sailor; and (3) for endurance events lasting two hours or more. There exists very little sports nutrition research directed solely at sailors, but most sports nutritionists and trainers equate sailors' needs with those of cross-country runners and cyclists. Therefore, sailors who are actively training and racing likely require more protein than the RDA. However, the amount of extra protein is easily consumed by eating a typical American diet providing 15 percent of total calories. For a sailor who eats a 3,000-calorie diet, this quantity translates into 110 grams of protein—the amount found in two four-ounce servings of lean meat, chicken, or fish plus two cups of skim milk.

Vegetarians can easily fulfill their needs with soy foods, nuts, and beans in addition to other items from the Food Guide Pyramid.

Experienced charter skippers and their mates know that healthy foods make for a better voyage and a more satisfied charter guest.
Protein and amino acid supplement powders are expensive, compared to natural food proteins, and potentially detrimental because your kidneys have to work overtime to rid the body of the extra nitrogen they contain. Remember, protein does not build muscles or strength; these attributes come through exercise and training.

Carbohydrates    Carbohydrates are an athlete's number one fuel source. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are found in fruit, milk, and candies. Complex carbohydrates come packaged in whole-grain breads and cereals, pastas, crackers, dried beans, and vegetables. For sailors, 60 to 70 percent of the day's caloric intake should come from carbohydrates, with one-fourth or less from simple sources and the remainder from complex carbohydrates. Again, on a 3,000-calorie diet, this amount of carbohydrates could come in: four slices of bread, one and a half cups of flake cereal, 12 saltine crackers, two cups spaghetti, one baked potato, two cups tossed salad vegetables, one cup broccoli, one cup carrots, three cups 100-percent juice, one orange, and one banana.

Simple sugars eaten directly before an event can lead to the light-headed and dizzy symptoms of hypoglycemia about two hours later. However, sipping or munching on simple sugars, whether it is juice or a granola bar, about an hour into the competition or immediately after, can help replenish muscle carbohydrate (called "glycogen") stores. Eating complex carbohydrates before competition or training has the advantage of stocking the muscles full of stored glycogen and providing many vitamins and minerals. Unlike simple sugars, consuming complex carbohydrates before competition will not lead to hypoglycemia.

Fats    During endurance activities, fat's importance as a fuel source decreases as the intensity of the exercise increases. Therefore, only 30 percent of calories in the diet should come from fat. This makes good sense regarding the health of your heart too. The emphasis should be on unsaturated, low-cholesterol fats like plant oils. Avoid fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and especially the often-unrecognized fats in processed foods and bakery goods.

Fruits and vegetables essential elements in a nutritious dietare often plentiful in the remote ports that cruisers frequent.
A diet that supplies fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein foods, and dairy products will serve up a sufficient amount of vitamins and minerals for most sailing activities. Extra vitamin-mineral supplements will not: (1) enhance performance, (2) increase strength or performance, (3) prevent injuries or illness, (4) provide energy or (5) build muscles. Keep in mind that a one-a-day type supplement can be beneficial, but it will not make up for a poor diet.

Fluids    Inadequate fluid intake can hurt athletic performance in as little as 30 minutes, which is an important issue whether you're a racer or a cruiser, or just out daysailing. Muscles are made up of 70 percent water, and sailing on a hot, humid day can result in the loss of more than two quarts of body water per hour. Unfortunately, thirst is not a reliable indicator of the body's fluid needs while exercising. The best bet is to consciously drink fluids before, during, and after an event, practice, or other strenuous sail.

The ideal beverage to drink is water. Prior to an event, drink enough to quench thirst—then a little bit more. In addition to water, other good dietary sources of fluid are milk, fruit juice, soups, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Avoid excessively caffeinated sodas and alcohol. Both of these beverages have a dehydrating effect. Sports drinks, like Gatorade, offer sugar, few minerals, and little other nutritional value. Fruit juice is a better choice for replenishing what your body needs. Juice supplies natural sugar and the mineral potassium. And though athletes tend to lose a significant amount of sodium, this is easily compensated by foods in the normal American diet.

"Health professionals caution that long bouts of vomiting due to prolonged seasickness can lead to serious dehydration. Sailors who are prone to mal de mer need to rehydrate regularly."
Dehydration and seasickness are two issues that regularly crop up with sailors. The remedy for racers who are sidelined by seasickness is simply returning to shore when the race is done, but this isn't easy for anyone committed to sailing offshore for a few days, week, or more. Long bouts of vomiting can lead to serious dehydration. Instead of sipping on plain water, fruit juice, or sodas, health professionals at the Travel Well Program at Georgia's Emory University suggest a homemade beverage that provides essential elements like potassium, sodium, glucose, and bicarbonate that are often lost through vomiting. I make a concoction for this purpose that I call the "Mal de Mer Cocktail." Here's the recipe: eight ounces of apple, orange or other fruit juice, a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon honey or corn syrup, or one tablespoon sugar and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda. Just combine all the ingredients thoroughly. The professionals at Emory recommend sipping small quantities of this cocktail at room temperature frequently for the best effect.

Provisioning for Cruisers    While performance isn't the goal of provisioning for cruisers, pleasure is. To achieve that, I recommend you start by making menus, even if it's just a loose sketch of the entrees you'll eat for the duration of the trip or until the next provisioning stop. Be sure that you have something from at least three of the five food groups—breads and grains, fruits, vegetables, protein foods, and dairy—included in each meal for good, balanced nutrition. Then use your menu to create your shopping list, taking care to check what you already have on hand. At the supermarket, don't be afraid to deviate from the list if you find something better priced, fresher, or tastier when you get to the store. Just make the adjustment on your list, and then post the list in the galley as a reminder of what's for dinner each day. Keep the list from week to week or trip to trip as a jump-start for provisioning or a way to fine-tune the amounts of certain foods you truly need.

This doyenne of the galley keeps her vessel well stocked in a logical fashion so that she doesn't spend inordinate amounts fo time hunting for items she might need.
Creating a storage plan for your groceries can make the difference between tricky or trouble-free meal preparations. Look at your menu and pack the refrigerator or cooler from the bottom up accordingly, meaning the items you'll use last should be on the bottom and the foods for the first night's meal on the top. This will ensure that you're not rummaging around to find what you need. Gear hammocks are great for storing fresh fruit, as well as potatoes and onions. Do be careful about placing potatoes and onions, apples and carrots, or bananas and apples next to each other for long-term storage. Each of these items gives off ethylene gas that causes the other to ripen faster than you'd like. Keep dry items like rice, pasta, and flour in plastic food storage bags or containers since moisture can easily seep into cardboard packaging.

If your first few hours at sea are expected to be rough, you should definitely jump-start meal preparation. And have plenty of high-nutrition, easy-to-eat snacks readily at hand, like fresh fruits, single-serve packages of pretzels, peanuts, and dried fruits, as well as trail mixes, breakfast or granola bars, homemade muffins, or oatmeal cookies. Consider packing along a homemade frozen casserole and defrost it for the first day's meal. You might also want to prep vegetables ahead of time and store them in plastic bags. Create pre-bagged mixes that you can cook or bake. My favorite is a fiber-rich whole wheat bread-in-a-bag. Not only does this trick save measuring out individual ingredients, but kneading the dough in the bag works great for those interiors where counter space is scarse.

Food Safety    When you're out on the water, keeping food safe in the glare and heat of direct sunlight can be a big safety problem. The danger zone—from 40 to 140 degrees F—is where bacteria multiply rapidly. Foodstuffs can become unsafe if held in this temperature range for over two hours. At 90 degrees F or above, food can become dangerous after only one hour. In direct sunlight, temperatures can climb even higher than these, so stock foods in the refrigerator or bring along plenty of ice and keep the cooler shaded or covered with a blanket. Better yet, bring two coolers: one for drinks and snacks, and another for more perishable foods. The drink cooler will be opened and closed a lot, which lets hot air in and causes the ice to melt faster. Pack your coolers with several inches of ice, blocks of ice, or frozen gel-packs. Store food in watertight containers to prevent contact with melting ice water. Perishable foods like luncheon meats, cooked chicken, potato and pasta salads are among those foods best kept chilled. Remember, there are enough gremlins out there on the water intent on upsetting you, and having a bout of stomach illness is the last thing any sailor should have to deal with.

Take Five
If you're at a loss regarding the five major food groups and what representative items might be, don't worry. Here's a breakdown of those items with an emphasis on healthy foods:

Breads, Cereals, and Grains    This group includes unsweetened hot and cold cereals, granola, cereal bars, whole-grain bread and crackers, whole-grain pancake mix, bagels, English muffins, pasta, cornmeal, brown rice, tortillas, pretzels, and popcorn.

Fruits Fresh    Fruits (of course), canned fruits in their own juice, 100-percent juices, dried fruits, and 100-percent fruit jam.

Vegetables    Canned vegetables, 100-percent vegetable juice, dehydrated vegetables, tomato or spaghetti sauce, and salsa.

Protein Foods    Canned meats, poultry or fish in water, textured vegetable protein (TVP), soy granules, canned or bagged dried beans, nuts, peanut butter, and seeds.

Dairy    Canned or boxed skim milk, skim milk powder, low-fat cheeses.

By the way, if you'd like to make the bread-in-a-bag mentioned above, here's the recipe:

1 (gallon-size) heavy duty zip-lock top plastic bag
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 package rapid rise yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup whole-wheat flour

Into the plastic bag, put: 1 cup of the all-purpose flour, yeast, sugar, nonfat dry milk and salt. Close bag and shake ingredients. Pour water and oil into the bag. Close tightly, pressing out all the air. Knead bag for 3 to 5 minutes. Open bag, add remainder of the all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour. Close bag and continue to knead until mixture pulls away from the side of the bag. Set aside and let dough rise for 10 to 15 minutes. Take dough out of plastic bag, fit into a greased 9-by-5 inch loaf pan and let it rise for 20 to 30 minutes. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. 

Variations in the basic bread recipe are endless. You can add savory seasonings like parsley, chopped onion, and garlic or sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and dried fruits like raisins.

Suggested Reading:

The Well-Equipped Galley by Kathy Barron

Stowing the Provisions by Beth Leonard

A Safe and Sound Galley by Joy Smith

SailNet Store Section:  Refrigeration Systems

Carol Bareuther is offline  
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