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How to Eat Like an America's Cup Sailor

Photo by Chris Cameron.

Emirates Team New Zealand chefs Romeo Dowling-Mitchell and Harry Lynsky preparing a meal on the ETNZ base. Photo by Chris Cameron.

What’s it like preparing food for 100-plus members of the Emirates Team New Zealand (the challenger to Oracle Team USA for the 34th America's Cup)? Never-ending, that’s for sure. I was recently given a tour of the ETNZ base and got to meet with Harry Lynsky, the chef for the team, and learn about what it’s like to manage the diets of such an energy-consuming and expending group (about half of the 100 team members are on the water).

The kitchen crew (which also includes chef Romeo Dowling-Mitchell, who joined the team in SF) works out of a shipping container that has been converted into a kitchen (it was shipped over with the rest of the base’s gear). There are also a couple external refrigerators that are always stocked with bottles of Waiwera water, fruit, and yogurt.

The energetic output of the sailors is massive—it has been said it can fall in the neighborhood of 6,000 calories on a training day, although it’s hard to say for sure. The energy expended sailing the AC72 catamarans is also greater—Harry mentioned 45 minutes of racing in the current boats is equal to two-plus hours racing in the previous monohull boats.

The sailors are weighed constantly: They have to make a weight limit on the boat, which is 92kg per man, although the grinders clock in at 115kg (all the others have to be under that weight). There is a range of body types on the boat, but the collective weight on the boat is what matters, so the team is very diligent about tracking if the weight is trending up and down. Interestingly, the sailors are older than you’d think: the youngest is in his early thirties.

Their diet is protein-heavy, but mostly with lean proteins, like fish. Breakfast is served from 6:30–8:30 am, and after a warm-up, the sailors tuck into a breakfast of eggs (poached or scrambled), lox, and pancakes; they get styled with bacon once a week.

On a race day, the sailors eat about ½ to 1½ cups of food an hour to an hour and half beforehand, and it’s usually some rice or pasta and salad. The race can last 35–45 minutes, and as soon as it finishes, they will consume some power gels, bars, shakes, and electrolyte drinks that the chase boat will transport to them. (They also drink protein drinks throughout the day.) On a two-race day, maintaining energy and hydration levels is key.

Lunchtime can be around 3 pm (after disassembling the boat), and is usually comprised of brown rice, white rice, potatoes, and grilled meat and fish—a meal low in fats and high in carbs. Then they’ll go through some cool-down moves and massage (I offered to help with the massage, but alas, they’re all pretty much married, wah wah).

While eighty percent of what the crew eats is provided on site, for dinner, they are on their own. Since many have been sailors for over 20 years, and training since 2007, they know what they need (and it’s okay for them to have some wine or beer with dinner). Harry said happiness is an important part of their diet.

A big focus is on the timing and quality of the nutrients throughout the day. Recovery and hydration are key, and supplements are another huge factor (a couple of their suppliers are Musashi and PowerBar). Another sponsor is Nespresso—caffeine is built into their diets as a supplement, and is closely monitored so they don’t spike and then crash. In fact, there’s even a Nespresso machine on the tender/chase-boat! Harry said supplements add up to around $10k per man, so they're very useful sponsorships and suppliers for a team to secure.

Organics play a large part in their meals, and the crew was (happily) shocked by how little fast food there is in San Francisco—nope, our city is not like the rest of America. The chefs have enjoyed integrating some local companies into their menu, like nearby Acme Bread Company and Golden Gate Meats. Harry said the crew has been so pleased with how friendly everyone is here—they get stopped all the time and cheered on. As he neatly summed up, “It’s the best place for a regatta.”

The 34th America’s Cup finals begin this Saturday September 7th.

Marcia Gagliardi is the founder of the weekly tablehopper e-column; subscribe and get more food news and gossip at tablehopper.com. Follow her on Twitter: @tablehopper.