Extreme Dieting: Ocean Rowing

Last year saw me write about my experiences of following a nutritional plan after meeting up with Rin from PND consulting (http://www.pndconsulting.co.uk/) to get me up to the recommended weight to row an ocean. Not only has she worked as a dietician for a number of years but she has also put it into practise completing expeditions and multi-day races around the globe from the arctic to the desert. This I believed gave her great insight into what was required before I set off on my row as well as how I would go about hitting my targets.

It had been a challenge to hit these targets initially as the amount of exercise I was doing was burning a huge amount off. Something that I hadn’t talked about previously was how this process makes you feel incredibly hungry every couple hours and then very stuffed following gorging on far too much food and then just sitting in front of a computer. Now I could have spread the eating across more meals than just the main three and some “small” snacks. Ideally I would have but just convenience wise having maybe five to six smaller meals through a day would have felt like I never stopped eating. I’m also not sure that work colleagues would have appreciated the constant crumbs and debris round my desk following trying to cram as much in as quickly as possible as I tried to complete whatever needed doing between each meal.

Those last few calories
Those last few calories

Towards the end of the year this did mean eating everything in sight to the point where we went round to friend’s houses and they would insist on third helpings or more. Seconds had become the norm by this stage. Importantly however I was making good progress in this final big push to hit the magic 95kg. It’s safe to say between the Christmas celebrations and then the pre-row time in Gran Canaria that this magic number was easily surpassed. One family member saw a picture of me and described it to me when I got back “I didn’t recognise you in the picture, you looked….. chubby”. This had always been the plan with Rin to strike the right balance between lean muscle and some useful fat supplies. I may have taken the supplies side slightly too far but it did make for a very enjoyable Christmas.

The "chubby" start
The “chubby” start

So over the row we joked initially that we were not losing weight as we went across. We had 6000 calories to eat per day and were not generally managing to eat all of these despite eating at all times of the day. I had a reputation for cooking up regardless of the time so super noodles in soup at 2am became pretty normal. However soon we could all notice that the weight was beginning to be shed and pretty rapidly at that. Physically we had all changed shape quite drastically over a short period of time. In particular our legs which had begun to lose their size quite a lot, mine ended up looking like a long distance runner’s legs; skinny, lean and sinewy.

By the end of the trip I had lost around 15 – 17kg in 35 days, a huge amount given it had taken the best part of a year to gain that weight. My kilt had not fitted so well since it had been bought although this didn’t last long. Being given steak at 4am when we arrived washed down with a couple of cold ones was all that was required for our bodies to kick into overdrive and to start eating up everything in sight a bit like Labradors for anyone that has had one. Within weeks most of us had wee pop bellies; I think we all put this down to our bodies still maintaining that we needed 6000 calories a day. Or it could have been that it was amazing to taste everything that we hadn’t done for a month at sea and were just making up for lost time.

The weight loss in progress
The weight loss in progress

Overall the plan we had put in place with the amount of weight gain had worked a treat as throughout the trip I didn’t dip too far below the weight I seem to naturally sit at. This I think means that I could continue to perform despite the weight lose. Although I have wondered what if I had stayed quite lean whether the weight loss would have been as extreme, I just couldn’t afford to risk reaching part way across and finding that I was becoming weaker and too skinny.

James with his minimal 7kg weight loss
James with his minimal 7kg weight loss

If you have stories of extreme diets to increase or drop your weight then would be great to hear. If you want advice on achieving your weight or dietary goals and particularly if your preparing for an event or expedition I would definitely suggest checking out Rins website and getting in contact with her.



2 thoughts on “Extreme Dieting: Ocean Rowing”

  1. Interesting post Benno, I personally am not convinced about the positives of ‘bulking up’ before an event. I found on everest in 2012 where a lot of people report weight loss of 10 – 15 % over 60 days that I went in lean and strong, looked after myself in there and lost about 1kg when I got back feeling fantastic still. Maybe different body types respond differently but I prefer to focus on getting my bodies systems like immune, respiratory, digestive in great shape by eating lots of good quality super foods and supplements for general health before I go on expedition rather than bulking up too much. It would be very interesting to try rowing an ocean with this view and maybe one day I may have to put the theory to the test!

    Kind Regards,

    Grant Rawlinson

    Sent via my BlackBerry from SingTel!

    1. That is very interesting to hear as I had heard about people loosing weight and their appetite when doing altitude climbing. Had you done lots of acclimatisation? Would you recommend climbing everest?
      I certainly think it would be very interesting trying it out on an ocean row, I think you could probably do a test row of a week or 2 to get a pretty good idea before going for it. But if everyone on board didnt bulk up and focused more on getting themselves in tip top condition then it would probably be far more efficient and on a larger team boat that could make a huge difference in the amount of weight you are pushing through the water.

      How is preperation going for the new zealand challenge?


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