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Paddler Health



Don’t get cold. You will need all your energy to paddle 111kms so don’t waste energy on keeping warm. Stop and add extra layers of clothes as soon as you start to feel the cold (it can be as low as 4 degrees on the river at night so be prepared).


Carry warm clothes in your boat where you can reach them. You will need to put your warm clothing on around check point B. Keep them in dry bags or double wrap in shopping bags to keep them dry.


Wear a cap or beanie. Remember you lose 30% of your heat through your head.


Wool is warmer than cotton. Woollen business type jumpers are great for paddling as they are tight fitting and warm when wet. It is also important to have a paddling CAG (or waterproof jacket) to help keep you dry and warm. This is extremely important if it is windy.


Paddle at an easy, sustainable pace. Don’t go like crazy at the start. It is a 111km classic not a 10km sprint. Paddle at a nice easy pace.


Keep sipping water. Prevent dehydration by drinking about 2 litres every 35kms. Water is the best fluid to keep you hydrated. 


Hydration products 

As a word of warning to the uninitiated who may be thinking about using hydration products during this year’s Classic or Wisemans Dash.

We strongly recommend that if you are going to use them, then you should train using the product and don’t  just use the products on the night.

Experience has shown that many paddlers who do not train using the product end up with very upset stomachs during the paddle.


Bring water from home. The water at Windsor has a high chlorine level and is shocking to drink.


Eat a nice light meal about 2 hours before the start. This will help keep your energy reserves up. Pasta and rice are good.


Talk to your landcrew about what you want and where. The landcrew will have to walk about 500m from the car to the checkpoints so they need a backpack to carry all your gear. It should include – 2 litre bottle of water per paddler to top up your drinking system, paddling snacks, a blanket (to put around you when you are at the checkpoint to keep you warm), seat, stove for hot drinks / food and your special paddling requirements.


Ensure there are snacks in your boat. Bananas and muesli bars are paddlers’ favourites as they give you sustained energy. Chocolates and sugar foods are not as good as they give a high (good) and a big low (bad).


Wear your Lifejacket. Apart from being mandatory within the rules, your Lifejacket will help you float if you go for a swim (normally because you are exhausted) and may even save your life. Your Lifejacket must be worn at all times.


Follow instructions on crossing the Ferry Cables.


Everyone involved in the Classic is a volunteer. Unlike most charity events nowadays there are no paid employees involved. So say thanks by ensuring you raise as much sponsorship money as you can.


Carry any medication with you. Ventolin puffers and other medication should be carried in your boat (even if you haven’t used it for a year)


What to eat

For a long distance event like the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, diet is a vital consideration. The right foods and fluids are essential for optimal energy and preventing the unpleasant sensation of “hitting the wall”.

What is the ideal diet for an event such as this? The answer will vary from individual to individual, however we do know that there are a number of dietary guidelines that apply to all paddlers. Keep in mind that, like your training regime, good eating must start a long time before the event to ensure that your body has the ability to maximize fuel stores and to facilitate gruelling training regimes leading up to the event.

The foods you eat before, during and after the event are also important, and should be experimented with well before the Classic begins. This is the time to sort out the myths and misconceptions surrounding sports nutrition. Beware of supplements and diets that promise incredible results without too much effort! There is no substitute for good eating and a healthy lifestyle.

The key dietary strategies for optimal paddling performance may be summarised as follows:

  • Fill up on carbohydrates

  • Forgo the fats

  • Drink, drink, drink (not alcohol)

  • Shape up

  • Eat for action


Fill up on carbohydrates

Carbohydrate is the body’s limiting fuel, and when stores are depleted, fatigue sets in.

It is well established that a high carbohydrate diet will allow rapid recovery of glycogen stores (the muscle’s main fuel) and prolong the time to exhaustion in endurance exercise.

When you are training, carbohydrate needs will be high, and it is important that you replace carbohydrate stores after each training session to optimize your fuel stores.

All paddlers should be aiming for a diet with at least 60% of energy from carbohydrate, however it is often easier to estimate individual needs based on body size.

During regular training, you will need around 7 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight each day, e.g., a typical 70kg person needs 490 grams.

In the 3-4 days prior to the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, your intake may need to be closer to 8 – 10 grams of carbohydrate per kg of body weight per day.

For recovery after training sessions, aim for 1 gram of carbohydrate per kg of body weight, within 15-20 minutes of finishing and again 1 hour later.


Forgo the fats

We all know that a high fat diet is a problem for heart disease and certain cancers. These are important issues, but perhaps more importantly in the short term; a high fat diet usually means a diet that is too low in carbohydrates. For the paddler, this translates to low performance.

To meet your carbohydrate needs, you should be aiming for no more than 30% of total energy per day from fats. For most people this will mean no more than 60-80 grams of fat per day. If you are trying to keep body fat levels low, you may need to aim for less than 40 grams per day.

Purchase a fat counter from your local newsagent and check from where you are getting excess fat, and look for low fat alternatives.


Drink, drink, drink

Even a small degree of dehydration will result in poor performance, leading to early fatigue. Adequate fluid is essential not only in hot weather, but whenever you are exercising.

To get rid of heat produced by your muscles during exercise, you need enough fluid for evaporation from the body, as sweat.

How much fluid you lose and hence how much you need to replace depends on many factors. Environment, your size, exercise type and intensity and caffeine intake are just some factors influencing your fluid needs.

To determine individual fluid requirements, weigh yourself before and after training sessions.

For every 0.5kg you lose, you need to replace 0.5 of a litre of fluid. Ideally, this should be replaced before, during and after exercise. Remember that thirst is no real indication of being dehydrated. You need to develop habits early in your training schedule.

It is also important to practise drinking fluids during training to find those you feel comfortable with.

During the event itself, you may find that you need more variety with fluids, therefore, it is wise to trial different drinks during training, including a variety of sport drinks, cordials, flat soft drink and even low fat flavoured milks. This is also the time to set up a fluid delivery system and practise using it. Many paddlers rig up drink tubes so that the drinking doesn’t interfere with paddling. Backpack-mounted drink systems are becoming quite popular and are commercially available.

A cheap alternative is to buy some clear plastic tube, feed it through a hole in the lid of an old soft drink bottle. Tape the feed end to the hook of a wire coat-hanger, then bend the coat-hanger to sit comfortably round your neck

There are some fluids that just don’t quite fit the category drink, drink, drink!

Caffeinated drinks and alcoholic drinks both cause the body to get rid of fluid. Alcoholic drinks also have a few other unpleasant short and long term side-effects that are not compatible with peak performance. Avoid consuming alcohol before or after exercise, and ensure that you recover properly after the event (i.e., eat a high carbohydrate meal and rehydrate well before you open the champagne to celebrate).


Shape up

Carrying excess body fat can hamper your paddling performance, as well as putting unnecessary stress on your body. On the other hand, trying to lose weight rapidly can also impair your sporting performance and your health.

By combining a low fat, high carbohydrate diet with appropriate training, you will find getting in shape is an added bonus to your preparation.


Eat for action

Most paddlers benefit from carbohydrate loading prior to the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic. This dietary technique has the effect of super loading the muscles’ glycogen (carbohydrate) stores to increase the time to fatigue. It involves 3-4 days of a very high carbohydrate intake (8-10 g/kg body weight) along with tapered exercise. On the last day fibre intake is often reduced to allow adequate carbohydrate without abdominal discomfort during the event. Contact a sports dietician for a regime designed to meet your needs.

On the day of the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic, make sure that you have a good breakfast based on cereal, toast, fruit and baked beans, spaghetti or pancakes for a hot choice. Aim for pasta or rice based dish with a very low fat sauce or sandwiches, toast, muffins, crumpets or pancakes for your pre-event meal around 3 hours before the event begins. Make sure you include lots of fluid with all these meals. Avoid excess fibre (i.e., choose white bread, pasta, rice, canned fruit and peeled vegetables and plain breakfast cereals) to prevent unnecessary pit stops during the race.


During the Classic

The food and fluid you consume during the event is critical to ensure problem-free paddling. You’ll see competitors with all sorts of amazing things taped to the decks of their boats; what you use is a very individual choice, however, it’s important to maintain a steady food and fluid intake throughout the event. You need to provide your exercising muscles with carbohydrate and fluid. This becomes particularly important as your glycogen stores become very depleted and your body relies on the carbohydrates from the foods you are eating. Make sure that you try different foods during training to see how you react to these during exercise. Some foods that go down well at the dinner table may leave you nauseous in the event.

You should be aiming to ingest around 50 grams of carbohydrate each hour you are paddling. Begin your fluid intake regime early in the Classic, and aim for around 150-250ml of fluid every 15-20 minutes.


Storage of food

A plastic box taped in a handy position for your food supply can be ideal but this will depend on your boat and your preferences. On a surf-ski for example, you have little choice, but boats styled more for touring usually have plenty of room under the deck to store your gear and food. The main priority is to have your food accessible and dry, since there is nothing worse than wasting time fishing for something, to find that it is saturated when you do get hold of it. Some paddlers have a number of small plastic containers and swap them over at the checkpoints, so they have a fresh supply of food.



If you are unsure of how to translate these guidelines into a personal eating plan, contact a sports dietician for individual advice.


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