Nutrition is the basis for our existence. Any athlete realizes the importance of proper calorie intake previous to, during, and following competition. It’s how we sustain and improve upon our performance on the playing field. Today, fishermen are beginning to pay more attention to nutrition as part of their arsenal when they hit the water. In an ultra competitive sport anything that can give us an advantage over our opponent is worthy of consideration. Keeping in mind that nutrition is just one part of a comprehensive fitness program, the most successful athletes capitalize on the benefits of a healthy lifestyle that can continue to advance their careers well into adulthood.
When you consider the demands placed on today’s anglers it’s easy to see how nutrition can raise or lower your level of performance. Anglers are on the road for hours at a time traveling from location to location. They face challenges of finding places to eat both off the water and what to eat while on the water. They quite often get less than optimum amounts of sleep and spend up to 8-10 hours a day on the water preparing for and competing in tournaments. This makes what goes into their bodies even more critical to achieving a high level of performance.
Virginia native and Elite Series pro John Crews is one of a new breed of anglers that places great emphasis on fitness and nutrition as part of a competitive edge and healthy lifestyle. The 31 year old pro has been involved in fitness since his days in college and has always considered the importance of nutrition in his approach to pro angling. He’s coming off his first Elite Series victory at the Duel in the Delta completed in California on March 14th. John stressed the importance of keeping yourself properly nourished and hydrated during the day, so not to loose stamina or decision making skills when you may need them the most; like the last few minutes or the last few casts of a tournament. He proved he was right on target as he landed a kicker 5 pounder on his last flip on the Delta, which helped him edge out native California angler Sheet Reese by one ounce. So, just as every ounce counts in a major bass tournament, so can every calorie that goes into your body. You need to be at your best physically and mentally and great nutrition helps put you one leg up on the competition.
About 4-5 years ago John began working with Ken Hoover, founder of Athletes Outdoors (www.athletesoutdoors.com), a company specializing in fitness assessment and nutrition coaching. Ken currently works with 20 of the Elite Series pros and has a highly specialized program which addresses athlete’s individual caloric needs through a metabolic assessment he performs on each angler. With over 30 years experience in the field Ken has brought a great deal of focus and attention to the subject of nutrition as it relates to the specific demands of fishing.
John’s assessment revealed that he typically burns over 2600 calories a day in the boat and therefore he can plan his meals and calorie intake accordingly. As John put it, “If you are calorie deficient it not only affects your physical abilities, but it also has an adverse effect on your cognitive skills and decision making.” During the course of a one day tournament this may not be as critical, but for the pro angler who fishes multiple days and even weeks at a time without a break, the negative effect is cumulative. Each day takes a toll on the body and mind if the proper amount and quality of calories consumed aren’t maintained and replenished. And as anglers at every level know, the ability to focus and make key decisions on the water can make a huge difference at the end of the day. John keeps a consistent menu during practice days and a separate menu for tournament days. He’s found a program that works for him and he sticks to it. During tournaments he uses a pre-packaged menu prepared by Athletes Outdoors specific to his caloric needs of the day. And while Ken has identified that each person’s caloric demands may fluctuate slightly depending on several variables, it’s a menu that hits the target. John has also learned that many of the calories burned in a day are not necessarily exercise induced, but rather stress induced. Through a heart rate assessment Ken has helped anglers such as John understand the demands placed on their bodies such as driving the boat, the excitement of landing a big fish, or the added pressure of the final moments of a tournament day. All those factors contribute to heart rate fluctuations and caloric demands. And just as runners or cyclists must pace themselves and monitor their heart rate to understand their limitations and the calories needed to sustain a certain level of performance, fishing is really no different. The last thing a competitive angler needs is to forget to eat or eat improperly and find themselves “bonking” in the most crucial time of the day. As John points out, “Feeling properly nourished can give you that edge you are looking for which can add to your level of confidence.”
Eating on the road is another challenge that anglers face with all the fast food choices we have along the trail. Making smart choices there can go a long way towards a healthy lifestyle and weight management. Most fast food establishments now offer healthy choices and as John says, “It’s all about willpower and knowing what you’re putting in your body.” John emphasizes that if you don’t take poor food and hydration choices on the boat with you then you won’t have the opportunity to consume those poor choices during the day. Everyone realizes that a double cheeseburger and fries is not the healthiest choice as compared with a grilled chicken sandwich and baked potato. However, the old saying everything in moderation holds true. We all feel the need to splurge from time to time, and most everyone in the industry will tell you that it’s okay to reward yourself with something you want or desire; it’s only natural to do. It’s more about eating a small piece of cake instead of 2-3 slices at one sitting. Eating often during the day and eating smaller portions helps control the late afternoon urges that often lead to poor choices and overindulging. Many times anglers will forego meals during the tournament day only to gorge themselves on high calorie high fat foods just after coming off the water. Eating on a schedule will help reduce this urge as it takes the brain approximately 20 minutes to recognize that we feel full. So, less is more in this instance and can help prevent these pitfalls along the trail. Again, common sense can take you a long way towards great strides and fitness success.
Hydration is another key component to success on the water. Many anglers enjoy that morning cup of coffee and in recent years a multitude of energy drinks have taken the market by storm. The key here again is moderation. Both coffee and energy drinks are diuretics and can deplete the body of vital fluids during the course of the day. If you enjoy a cup of coffee to get you going in the morning just make sure you don’t overdo it with a 32oz. monster cup. It starts your day off in the wrong direction. Caution should be considered with energy drinks as well which typically pack a huge dose of caffeine as well as large amounts of sugar. What may seem like a great and immediate boost at 5am could very easily end up as a 9am crash when your blood sugar levels drop and the dehydration process begins. Water is a vital component to any nutritional plan and helps keep the body in balance throughout the long day on the water. There are now lower calorie sports drinks with less sugar that offer electrolyte replacement and added taste for those times when water just seems too plain. Consider those as an alternative to soft drinks or highly caffeinated energy drinks.
The days of chips and sodas on the water are over for a growing number of anglers. More and more emphasis is being put on planning ahead for the day on the water and gearing up the cooler and lunchbox with the same vigor and consideration that they gear up their tackleboxes. The results are anglers who fish with greater stamina, more confidence, and a mental focus that is unaffected by poor food choices. As you look around at many of the top anglers on the tour this year, it will become visibly obvious how the benefits of a healthy lifestyle have changed many of their physiques and psyches. Nutrition is just one more piece of that ever-evolving puzzle.