Surfing Nutrition 101: What and When to Eat for the Perfect Wave Riding Session
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One of the most important decisions any athlete can make to improve their performance and wellbeing is to make wise food choices. Sports nutrition is not a fad. Knowing what to eat and when to eat is pure science, and nutritionists believe you should adapt your meals and snacks to the physical effort you plan to undertake.
Surfers look pretty darn awesome. That’s the main reason why they land so many modeling gigs – they’re an inspiration and they also fit the bill. What do they do to stay lean and cope with hours spent in the water? Besides training for surfing, a solid nutritional foundation is key. Giving your body what it needs and when it needs it is a great recipe for surfing better and for longer. Carbs, protein and fat can make or break your surf session.
Each person is unique and therefore has different dietary needs. To help you get started, this is the surf food and eating habits you need.
Going surfing - Photo by Nathan Rupert
You’ve had your last meal some four hours ago and now you’re thinking about hitting the waves. But you’ll need fuel to support your surfing, stand-up paddling, kitesurfing or windsurfing session. Your body needs fuel to sustain a prolonged surfing session. Now is not the time to run away from carbs, which are your primary source of energy.
Around 90 minutes before high-intensity workouts like surfing, you need to consume foods with a low glycemic index (GI). This means foods with nutrients that break down more slowly, producing energy for a longer time.
Examples of low GI foods:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Lean meat
- Brown rice
End of day - Photo by The Hamster Factor
There’s nothing like post-surf hunger and the appetite with which you eat that long-awaited meal. But it’s easy to succumb to your cravings and cause absolute chaos in your body. After a surfing session, proteins and carbs are what you should be eating. These help your muscles recover and restore energy levels.
It’s best to eat 30 to 60 minutes after a workout. This time around, you should opt for foods that are medium to high on the GI index. Sports dieticians advise eating foods rich in carbs, protein and salt to recover after surfing.
Examples of medium GI foods:
- Whole-wheat products
- Sweet potato
- White rice
Examples of high GI foods:
- White bread
- Corn flakes
- Brown rice
Have a solid nutritional foundation
Photo by Daniel D'Auria
The modern day diet is primarily comprised of processed foods that contain massive amounts of refined sugar and flour, which have a negative impact on our health. Processed foods not only lack essential nutrients, they also send your blood sugar levels skyrocketing, leading to all sorts of health-related issues.
Eat real, whole foods. This means food that actually grows, rots and eventually dies, not the kind that’s produced in a factory and can sit on a shelf for years. Real food is food in its natural state, without an ingredient label, such as fruits, vegetables and animal protein.
Eat full, balanced meals. Each plate should have all three macronutrients – carbs, protein and fat. This helps maintain optimal blood sugar and energy levels. The ratio depends on each person – some perform better on carbs, others on protein and fats. What is sure is that you cannot go wrong with having a huge salad each day.
There is a fat phobia right now in the world. But if we want to perform in the sport we are passionate about, in our jobs and life, we need to get over it and understand that fat is not the enemy. Saturated fats are not the sole cause of weight gain and health issues like bad cholesterol. In fact, the human body has become so used to consuming saturated fats that it needs them. Our bodies need both high-quality non-saturated fats as well as high-quality saturated fats in order to function properly.
Examples of healthy fats:
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Grass-fed butter
Many nutritionists deem oils like canola, soy, corn, cottonseed oils as toxic, even though they are often popularized as the healthier alternative.
Address any nutritional deficiency of vitamins, minerals, protein, water, fats. Any unbalance affects your metabolism, and without a functional metabolism, you will feel like crap. Even if you think you’re eating healthy, chances are you still have some deficiency. To find out if you have any specific deficiencies, consider taking a blood test.
Unfortunately, organic has grown to be a synonym for expensive. But you can find farmer’s markets, even if they may sometimes be outside of town, with far more reasonable prices that chain supermarkets. They’ll be worth the trip to stack up on some healthy food. Especially with fruits, veggies, eggs, dairy and meat, organic is the way to go if you want to get the most nutrients from your food. Make sure you look for high-quality products. After all, animal protein is only as healthy as the animal itself.
Drink plenty of water
This one’s a no-brainer, still many people tend to overlook the obvious. There are many reasons why you should drink more water. Some are downright obvious, others you might find surprising: a positive impact on your mood, on the aspect of your skin, the quality of your sleep and, of course, muscle performance.
By water, I mean pure water, not juices or sports drinks. You may see athletes flaunting them around, but they’re paid to do so. And even though it’s okay to have sports drinks after surfing, kitesurfing, SUP, windsurfing or an intensive workout, you should drink at least 4 liters of pure water each day. Please remember that there’s no such thing as too much water.
Invest in a good water filter. The water coming out of your tap can have many unwanted things floating around that can destroy your intestinal flora as well as your digestive and immune system. If plain water is too boring for you, add some flavor by squeezing citrus fruits in your glass or by making detox water.
Don’t run from carbohydrates
Carbohydrates have a bad reputation, but they’re not the only ones to blame for weight gain. A hectic lifestyle is often the true cause. Carbohydrates are essential for your muscles and liver. They maintain proper blood glucose levels, which can be translated into physical and mental performance. Carbs are fuel for the body, and going without them for a longer period can lead to an unbalance in the hormonal system.
Carbs are a surfer’s best friends. That being said, you should aim for nutrient-dense carbs. Instead of focusing on grains (and I’m not saying you shouldn’t have a bowl of white rice every now and then), shift your focus on fruits and starches (white potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, yucca, etc.). Limit refined carbs as much as possible. Of course, you can still indulge in a bit of bread, cookies, crackers or sweets after an intense surfing session or workout.
We all have our cravings, and we are certainly allowed to have a scoop of our favorite ice cream every once in a while. The trick is to try to minimalize junk food. With so many healthy alternatives, it can be easy to curb our cravings naturally. All we have to do is to try.
Discipline is the key to surfing better and stronger. So pay attention to your nutrition and keep track of your progress each time you hit the waves.