The Olympic Rowing Hopeful Who’s Obsessed With Salad, Chocolate Milk, and Ketchup

Throw in oranges, Crisp Rice cereal, and protein bars, and you've basically got Boathouse Row regular William Burstein's diet.

Olympic rowing hopeful

Olympic rowing hopeful William Burstein trains with the Penn AC Rowing Association at Boathouse Row. / Photograph courtesy William Burstein

Welcome to Sweat Diaries, Be Well Philly’s look at the time, energy, and money people invest in pursuit of a healthy lifestyle in Philly. For each Sweat Diary, we ask one Philadelphian to spend a week tracking everything they eat, all the exercise they get, and the money they spend on both. Want to submit a Sweat Diary? Email [email protected] with details.

Who I am: William Burstein, 24 and living in Brewerytown

What I do: I am a paralegal at the Public Interest Law Center, a nonprofit law firm in Center City, and a National Team and Olympic hopeful rower who trains with Penn Athletic Club Rowing Association at Boathouse Row.

What role healthy living plays in my life: I moved to Philly to train at Penn AC and adjusted my work schedule to accommodate our practices, so training is undoubtedly a central part of my life.

Health memberships: An annual membership at Penn AC for athletes training for the National Team is $450.


Olympic rowing hopeful

Hash browns and oranges are part of Burstein’s regular breakfast. / Photograph courtesy William Burstein

6:10 a.m. I wake up with my two alarms and eat two bowls of “Crisp Rice” cereal (store brand Rice Krispies) with two percent milk before biking the 0.9 miles to Penn AC on Boathouse Row.

6:35 a.m. — I arrive at the boathouse and begin stretching and using a foam roller to prepare for this morning’s workout. We only row on the water when it’s above approximately 30 degrees, when the winds are below about 20 mph, and when the flow rate is below 15,000 cubic feet per second or so. This morning doesn’t qualify, so we’re on the erg machines.

7 a.m. — The team begins warming up for the workout. Everyone’s warmup is different, but I like to do about 30 minutes of firm paddling (“steady state” in rowing parlance) with a few 10-stroke high-speed bursts peppered in.

7:30 a.m. — The workout begins, and it’s a tough one: two 16-minute sets of one minute on, one minute off at a speed faster than our goal pace for 2,000 meters (the standard racing distance in rowing). We rest for about 10 minutes in between sets.

8:10 a.m. — We finish the workout, and I crawl to the stationary bike for a 30-minute cool down.

8:40 a.m. — I stretch and change before biking home (the same 0.9 miles but all uphill this time).

9:05 a.m. — I arrive home and cook an omelet with four eggs, cheddar cheese, spinach, and arugula as well as a large serving of frozen hash browns, all dressed in a concerning amount of ketchup and washed down with a glass of chocolate milk. I have a sliced navel orange after that and check my email before showering, packing my bag, and heading off for work.

10:10 a.m. — I arrive at my office in Center City (a 1.7-mile bike ride with a handful of near-death experiences on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway), unload a week’s worth of groceries into our mini-fridge, and find a surprise in my inbox. Today is one of my coworkers’ birthdays, and we’re celebrating with Federal Donuts. I limit myself to one — cinnamon brown sugar.

12:15 p.m. — I somehow have not gotten sick of my daily lunch yet: a chicken breast, Swiss cheese, and garlic hummus sandwich toasted on sourdough bread, with a black cherry Greek yogurt on the side. I have yet to come up with a way to incorporate vegetables into this routine.

3:05 p.m. — Second lunch is the best meal of the day. I have a bagged Asian Chopped Salad from Aldi, with cabbage, lettuce, kale, carrots, and onion, although I’m really just here for the sesame dressing. There are technically three and a half servings per bag, but I eat the whole thing.

4:45 p.m. — I leave work a little early to get my second workout in before a 7:30 p.m. dinner reservation. It’s a one-and-a-half mile bike ride from my office to the boathouse.

5 p.m. — I arrive at the boathouse, stretch, and do two x 10,000 meters on the erg. This takes me about an hour and 15 minutes with my break in between, and I stretch again before hustling home.

6:50 p.m. — I arrive home, shower, change, and bike the twoish miles to Abe Fisher for dinner. One of my oldest friends works in New York and is in town for business, which means a nice meal (veal schnitzel tacos!) on his company’s dime. One of the golden rules of living in Philadelphia is that you should never turn down a free dinner at a Michael Solomonov restaurant.

9:30 p.m. — I bike home and am in bed with the lights off before 10 p.m.

Daily total: $0


Olympic rowing hopeful

Burstein makes time for healthy dinners. / Photograph courtesy William Burstein

6:10 a.m. — I wake up with my alarm(s), eat a banana, and bike to the boathouse.

6:30 a.m. — I arrive at the boathouse and begin my standard routine of stretching and rolling out. Although the temperature is a hair under 30 degrees, there’s very little wind. That, combined with the fact that it’s supposed to be brutally cold for the rest of the week, motivates us to get in one last session on the water. We take out quads (four-person boats in which each rower has two oars) and row about 14,000 meters. Afterward, I do a core circuit (four x one-minute planks, four x 30-second spideys, and four x 20 pushups) and stretch.

9:20 a.m. — I arrive home, cook the same breakfast as yesterday, shower and leave for work, arriving by 10:15 a.m.

12:40 p.m. — Same lunch as yesterday. (I am nothing if not consistent.)

2 p.m. — Second lunch.

4:05 p.m. — I eat some baby carrots, garlic hummus, and a Babybel cheese wheel as a snack.

4:55 p.m. — I leave work and head to the boathouse.

5:15 p.m. — I arrive at the boathouse, stretch, and begin my lift: 10-12-9-6-3-6-9-12 of squats, 10-12-9-6-3-6-9-12 of dead lifts, 10-10-8-8 of bench press, and 10-10-8-8 of shoulder press. I cool down with 30 minutes on the bike, stretch, eat a protein bar, and head home.

7:30 p.m. — I start cooking dinner: a large bowl of brown rice, grilled chicken, red peppers, and broccoli, with my customary glass of chocolate milk and navel orange, and capped off with two bowls of Crisp Rice.

8:35 p.m. — I fall asleep after showering and packing my bag for the morning.

Daily total: $0


Olympic rowing hopeful

/ Photograph courtesy William Burstein

4:45 a.m. — My alarm is set for 5 a.m., but I wake up on my own and check my email for 15 minutes before getting up and taking an extra hot shower. This morning’s workout is hard race preparation (six x 1,000 meters at race pace), so I’m getting up a bit earlier to make sure my body’s awake. A shower not only wakes me up mentally but also is the equivalent of a 10-minute warmup on the erg for your muscles (or so I’ve heard).

5:15 a.m. — I begin making breakfast, probably waking up my roommate in the process. Today it’s two slices of wheat toast with peanut butter and Nutella and two cups of black coffee. I also do some laundry, clean my room, empty the dishwasher, and take care of a few other things around the house before leaving for the boathouse.

6:15 a.m. — I arrive at the boathouse and begin stretching and rolling out to the tune of Boom 103.9 FM.

6:50 a.m. — I begin warming up in earnest, doing about 30 minutes of steady state (rowing at a continuous intensity for a set distance) with a handful of breaks to stretch.

7:30 a.m. — We begin the workout.

8:30 a.m. — We finish the workout, and I hop on the spin bike for a 30-minute cooldown. I rehydrate and eat a banana, stretch, change, and head home.

9:30 a.m. — I arrive home and begin cooking the same breakfast as the last two days, except I only use three eggs instead of four. Note to self: Buy more ketchup and chocolate milk.

10:15 a.m. — After showering and packing my bag, I head to work.

12:35 p.m. — I ran out of Swiss and used Gouda instead.

2:45 p.m. — Asian Chopped Salad over everything.

5:15 p.m. — I leave work. We have the afternoon off (ours is a merciful lord), so I decide to bike the one mile or so to Win Win Coffee Bar for Sherrie Cohen’s campaign launch for an at-large seat on the City Council. I eat about six vegan tacos with smoked mushrooms, fried tofu, pico de gallo, rice, beans, lettuce, and Cotija cheese, plus chips and a slice of pizza.

7:30 p.m. — I leave for home, a 2.1-mile bike ride away. With temperatures in the neighborhood of 10 degrees, this is not pleasant.

7:45 p.m. — I arrive home, defrost, eat an orange, and shower.

8:50 p.m. — Bedtime.

Daily total: $0


Olympic rowing hopeful

When Burstein can’t make it out onto the rower, he puts in meters on the erg.

6:10 a.m. — Rise and shine. Banana.

6:30 a.m. — I arrive at the boathouse and begin stretching and rolling out. Today’s workout is high-volume and low-intensity: two x 50 minutes on the ergs. This ends up being close to 27,000 meters, followed by a quick stretch, a protein bar, and another frigid ride home.

9:15 a.m. — I arrive home but not before stopping by the corner store to buy some ketchup. I cook my usual breakfast, except I’m out of arugula.

10:15 a.m. — I leave for work.

12:15 p.m. — I’m spending the middle of the day with a client in Mount Airy, which means I’ll be deprived of my usual lunch. Fortunately, I packed a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich on wheat bread.

1 p.m. — Another banana.

3:15 p.m. — I’m back at the office and eat my Asian Chopped Salad.

5:15 p.m. — I leave work for the boathouse

5:30 p.m. — I arrive at the boathouse and stretch and roll out. This workout was originally scheduled to be a lift, but our coach changed it to a pretty easy interval workout: two sets of five x four minutes at varying rates. This only ends up being about 11,000 meters, so I jump on the spin bike for 25 minutes before grabbing a protein bar and biking home.

7:40 p.m. — I arrive home and quickly prepare chicken, peppers, and rice for dinner, followed by an orange for dessert.

8:40 p.m. — Sleep.

Daily total: $3.94 (ketchup)


Olympic rowing hopeful

Burstein trains at Boathouse Row, either on the erg or on the water, every day. / Photograph courtesy William Burstein

6:10 a.m. — Pre-dawn banana before I leave for the boathouse.

6:35 a.m. — The workout is 20 strokes “on” at 26 strokes per minute, followed by 15 strokes of light paddling, for 8,000 meters. This takes about half an hour, and I get five minutes into the second part of our workout (40 minutes of steady state) when I get called for a meeting with our coach. That lasts about 15 minutes, after which I start from scratch on the 40 minutes.

9:05 a.m. — I arrive home and eat the same breakfast as yesterday sans the chocolate milk. I also eat two bowls of Crisp Rice and Honey Nut Cheerios after my orange. Then I shower, change, pack my bag, standard stuff.

10:15 a.m. — I arrive at work.

12:35 p.m. — The same lunch as Wednesday.

1:45 p.m. — The daily Asian Chopped Salad.

3:15 p.m. — I have a meeting with one of my coworkers, who keeps candy in a ceramic jar on her desk. I eat three Krackels, two Hershey milk chocolates, and one Mr. Goodbar because I’m weak.

5:15 p.m. — I leave work to go to the boathouse. Tonight’s workout is 100 minutes of cross-training, so I erg for 30 minutes (about 8,000 meters) and then spend about an hour on the spin bike. Stretching, protein bar, bike ride home.

7:50 p.m. — I arrive home and begin to cook an unconscionable amount of spaghetti. I get impatient while the water’s boiling and eat an orange, followed by a handful of potato chips. I eat the spaghetti with vodka sauce, Parmesan, and spinach before showering, packing my bag for the morning, and reading for a bit.

9:50 p.m. — I go to bed. (Practice is at 8 a.m., rather than 7 a.m., on Saturdays, which is why I get to stay up a little later.)

Daily total: $0

Weekly Totals

Money spent: $3.94

Meters erged: 107,000

Meters rowed: 14,000

Miles biked on a real bike: 34.8

Hours biked on a spin bike: 3

Asian Chopped Salads: 4


Let’s get social! Join Be Well Philly at: