The Science behind the transformation and success of 4-time SEA Games Gold medallist and 1 of TeamSG's newest Olympians, Ryan Lo!
(TeamSG Sailor Ryan Lo - Photo from Ryan Lo's IG Acct)
By Dr Ricco Swinbourne and Ranald Joseph
Olympic athletes work hard and hard work requires fuel. For Olympic sailor Ryan Lo, fuelling his training for the last 4 years to build towards representing Singapore at the Tokyo Olympics has meant eating real food, and a lot of it! In 2014, Ryan weighed 69kg and packed on a solid 11 kilos between August 2014 to August 2015 with the help of his Strength and Conditioning coach Ranald Joseph, Physiologist Joel Pang, and his Sport Dietitians at the Singapore Sport Institute (SSI).
“Ryan has learnt what a quality food plan looks like, how much fuel he needs to power through his training, and how to recover so he is good to go again the next day. He’s also had to learn how to eat 5 to 6 times a day, including adding smoothies before bed and taking food out on the boat, to ensure he consumed enough calories to maintain his weight” says his Sport Dietitian Dr Ricco Swinbourne.
(Ryan Lo at Tokyo 2020 - Photo by Sport Singapore)
Ryan has been travelling internationally for many years, and in recent time, has found himself in Croatia enjoying the strong sailing conditions of the Mediterranean. Living alone meant Ryan had to learn to cook for himself and enjoyed many cooking lessons with Ang Sin Hwee, sport dietitian at SSI. Learning to shop for fresh ingredients, follow a recipe, cook in simple but nutritious ways and have a fantastic meal full of flavour, was as important as Ryan’s training.
Meals were designed around protein foods for growth, and abundant fruits and vegetables for carbohydrates and antioxidants. Breakfast is a favourite meal for Ryan, and often features oats, fruit, nuts and yoghurt. If Ryan needed a boost to his energy, this breakfast could be blended with ice, milk protein and even berries and consumed as a snack. Organisational skills are a must for the 4-time SEA Games Gold medallist, to ensure he has pre-prepared hydration bottles during training, a protein shake ready afterwards, and a full fridge and pantry for meal prep. And while he is sitting in ice recovering from training in the blistering heat of Tokyo, there’s always time to enjoy a nice pot of hot noodles too!
(Ryan Lo in ice recovering process - Photo by SSI)
Sailing has many different boat classes, hence they require different physical needs for sailors to succeed. Ryan Lo sails in the Laser Standard class - a class that requires a great degree of upper and lower body strength, power, strength endurance, cardiovascular fitness and a body weight range of around 80 – 84kg.
Working with the Physiologist and Sport Dietitians to help Ryan pack on lean muscle mass; compound/ multi joint lifts (such as the Barbell Back Squat or Trap Bar Deadlift) were complemented by accessory single joint lifts (such as Single Leg Knee Extensions or Bicep Curls). Instead of restricting the rep and weight ranges to one specific range, Ryan trained through a variety of weights (light to heavy) and repetition ranges (low to high repetitions) at different times over the years.
(Ryan Lo at weight training - Photo by SSI)
Furthermore, due to the demands of sailing the Laser Standard boat, a great deal of time was spent on building up his lower body strength, lower body power and his trunk (abdominals, obliques and back) strength endurance which is vital. That's because, Laser sailors have to move their torsos around with their feet anchored under straps in the boat and they also have to perform a manoeuvre known as hiking for long amounts of time when sailing.
Some specific modalities that were utilized within Ryan’s training programme to complement the main bulk of work were, Blood Flow Restriction (BFR) for the lower body and Isometric Strength Training (IST) for the upper and lower body.
During Covid times when Ryan was overseas and unable to access the gyms, resistance bands, suspension trainers and backpacks (and creativity) were utilized as forms of resistance.
(Ryan Lo at weight training - Photo by SSI)
Ryan’s schedule for his physical preparation has varied over the years due to National Service commitments or competitions or simply due to different stages of the sailing season. However, on average, over the last 5 years, Ryan has spent 4 to 6 sessions a week training in the gym and/or on his cardiovascular fitness, (and that’s not even counting the multiple sailing sessions)! All that hard work, sweat and tears over the years contributed to Ryan becoming this strong, powerful, mobile and enduring Olympian!
Dr Ricco Swinbourne is the Team Lead, Sport Nutrition and Senior Sport Dietitian at the Singapore Sport Institute. And Ranald Joseph is a Strength & Conditioning Coach at the Singapore Sport Institute.