Sprint Canoe/Kayak

Elite sprint canoe and kayak athletes typically train 2-3 times per day, 6 days per week.  Training usually involves a combination of on-water, resistance training and cross-training sessions.  On-water sessions may include endurance or aerobic training as well as near maximal or race-pace efforts.  Both individual and team boat training will be incorporated. 

About Sprint Canoe/Kayak

Sprint Canoe and Kayak is an Olympic sport performed over 200m, 500m or 1000m distances, in individual and team boats of two or four paddlers. At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it has been proposed women will race Canoe events for the first time. At previous Olympics, women race over 200m and 500m in Kayak and men race over 200m and 1000m in Kayak and Canoe. At the World Championships, men and women race over 200, 500 and 1000m.

Kayak athletes sit facing forward in the boat and use a double bladed paddle while Canoe athletes kneel on one knee and use a single bladed paddle, stroking on one side. All distances are fast paced, high intensity events. Australia has achieved several medals at the Olympic level in Kayak and continues to perform well internationally.

Races last for approximately 30 seconds to four minutes so both anaerobic and aerobic demands vary. Athletes will often have heats, semis and finals for each event they compete in and regattas are usually held over 2-3 days.

Elite Sprint Canoe/Kayak athletes typically train 2-3 times per day, 6 days per week. Training usually involves a combination of on-water, resistance and cross-training sessions for both individual and team boat training. On-water sessions may include endurance or aerobic training as well as near maximal or race-pace efforts.

Training diet

The training diet should be focused on fuelling for training and recovering appropriately prior to the next session. Energy requirements are individual, but are often high due to maintain a high level of lean muscle mass and the meet the needs of a high volume and frequency of training.

Sprint Canoe/Kayak is not a professional sport and many athletes have to self-fund or part fund training and/or competition expenses. It is often difficult juggling the high-energy needs and being prepared with appropriate training snacks around busy training and work/study schedules.

Requirements will vary according to daily training sessions and the individuals body composition goals however, in general, the training diet should comprise of a balance and variety of wholegrain and low GI carbohydrates, with lean protein, low fat dairy and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Ensuring adequate and appropriate nutrition around training sessions is critical for recovery. Eating a carbohydrate and protein containing meal or snack before and after training will assist to optimise gains in muscle mass and maximise training adaptations, whilst replenishing glycogen stores for the next training session.

Carbohydrate intake should reflect daily training demands. For example, carbohydrate needs are lower on days with skill-based/low intensity training sessions, rest days and when tapering training for competition. During moderate to high intensity training and competition, athletes should increase the amount of carbohydrate rich foods in their diet as they are the primary fuel source during high intensity exercise. Eating additional carbohydrate focused snacks before training and at meals will help. Some pre-training snack suggestions include:

  • Cereal with low fat milk and a banana
  • Muesli or nut bars
  • Fruit smoothie or flavoured milk
  • Sandwich with lean meat/cheese/peanut butter
  • Tub of yoghurt or glass of milk and a piece of toast
  • Wholegrain crackers and a tin of tuna or chicken
  • Wholegrain toasted sandwich
  • Handful of dried fruit and nuts
  • Hummus with crackers and vegetable sticks
  • Homemade muffin or muesli slice or bliss balls

Hydration needs for canoeing and kayaking

Since canoeing and kayaking are outdoor summer sports, maintaining good hydration practices is important. Fluid requirements will vary depending on individual sweat rates and the athlete’s ability to drink during training.

Dehydration can impact performance and when races are won or lost by hundredths of a second, it is an integral part of nutrition for performance, particularly when fatigue sets in after multiple races over a regatta.

Individual athlete fluid plans will often include a combination of electrolyte drinks, sports drinks and water to maintain optimal hydration depending on hydration status, weather and training session/race day demands. Drink bottles should be taken in the boat for on-water training sessions and should be sipped regularly during breaks.

Water is suitable to meet hydration needs in low-moderate intensity training and temperatures. Electrolyte drinks, which contain sodium to replace those lost in sweat can be helpful when athletes are dehydrated or when training/racing in hot temperatures. Sports drinks are most useful when extra fuel (carb) is required.

What to eat before competition

Sprint Canoe/Kayakers will usually have several races per day. There may be as little as 30 minutes, or as long as several hours between events. A carbohydrate containing meal 2-4 hours before the start of competition is a good chance for a final fuel top up before the day begins.

Suitable options should be something that has been tried before and something the athlete enjoys. For example:

  • Wholegrain cereal with milk
  • Toast / crumpets / raisin toast + tub of yoghurt
  • Pikelets with banana and ricotta
  • Fruit salad and yoghurt
  • Eggs on toast plus piece of fruit + glass of milk

Athletes who feel very nervous or struggle to eat solid food before racing may prefer a liquid breakfast (e.g. fruit smoothie, flavoured milk or liquid meal replacement). To avoid stomach discomfort, foods low in fibre and fat may be preferred.

Fluids are also important in the 24 hours leading up to competition. Monitoring urine colour leading into an event is effective way for athletes to ensure they are well hydrated. Urine should be pale yellow in colour the day before and on race day, remembering to avoid drinking too much fluid the night before which can disrupt sleep with toilet trips.

What to eat and drink during competition

Competitions usually consist of several races (heats, semi’s and finals) over the day; therefore recovery snacks after a race can double as pre-event snacks for the next race. As there is often only a short amount of time between races, paddlers are advised to snack on small snacks over the day rather than large meals. Printing a copy of the race program and highlighting opportunities to eat is a good strategy as the time available as it will differ every regatta.

Paddlers should pack snacks rather than rely on competition venue facilities where suitable options may not be available. Some suggestions for portable snacks between races are:

  • Fresh or tinned fruit
  • Muesli or nut bars
  • Trail mix with dried fruit/nuts/seeds
  • Sandwiches with honey/jam/banana/cheese
  • Flavoured milk poppers
  • Tub/pouch of yoghurt
  • Creamed rice tins
  • Crackers or rice crackers
  • Low fat fruit muffins or bliss balls


Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate (fuel), some protein (for muscle repair and development) and plenty of fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses.

A recovery meal or snack should be consumed soon after exercise period, remembering that recovery nutrition extends well beyond the initial hours post-game, particularly when the next training session or game is the next day.  Fluids should also be consumed, based on estimated losses. Some recovery food options are:

  • Egg/tuna/ham/chicken, cheese and salad sandwich
  • Dairy based milkshake
  • Dried fruit & nut mix plus piece of fresh fruit
  • Burgers with beef, cheese, avocado and salad


Other Nutrition Tips

  • Body composition Often muscular strength and power are more critical than low body fat levels so paddlers are encouraged to focus on fuelling their training effectively, and allow their body composition to alter more naturally as a result of quality training along with balanced eating.


*Content in this fact sheet should be considered general advice only and may not suit your circumstances. Before modifying your diet, consult an Accredited Sports Dietitian. All content is regularly peer reviewed before publishing.