Nutrition for surfing athletes
Nutritional Needs and Physiological changes
Surfing is a multidisciplinary sports that involves skills in balance, flexibility, agility, endurance and power. Competing at all levels in surfing are varied in duration and can last from a couple of seconds of power to more than 60 minutes of endurance. This requires the body to adapt to physiological changes at any given chance thus nutritional requirements will vary. Competition days always vary depending on event, waves, weather and time of heat. Training and nutritional plans need to be made flexible and easy for surfers to ensure that nutritional needs are met to fuel surfers. Regardless, surfers spend hours in the water with break in between. This means that requirments can range from quality carbohydrates, proteins and essential fats.
Training and Competition Day
Before an event, food should be consumed 2-4hrs prior (or in this case, pre heat) to top up glycogen stores (available energy). Pre-heat loading of carbohydrates for surfing athletes falls between 2-4g/kg of body weight to maximise glycogen stores. Foods in-between heats or surf breaks should be easily digestable and familiar to the athlete to avoid any unwanted stomach discomfort should be consumed 30 minutes before the next heat or session. Pairing protein and carbs is also essential for a slower energy release to avoid those up and down sugar spikes (fruit and nut butters, seeds, sustainable muesli bars, protein balls, dont forget water) combinations or already sourced bars/bliss balls etc. After exercise or between heats, an estimated amount (can vary between individuals) of carbohydrates falls between 10 - 15g with varying other macro and micronutrients.
When I was competing, I would often be up at 6am surfing which doesn’t leave much time for food, but don’t panic…this can be great for the body as well! On these mornings I would be exercising in a ‘fasted state’ which can trigger the body to oxidise (burn/utilise) fats when glycogen (carbs/energy) stores are low. This is something that not everyone is used to and with recent emerging studies; has proven beneficial in endurance, performance and improving time till exhaustion (TTE). I find this is what works best for me and I can compete and run off my fat stores for hours without being hungry. It’s a case of practice and finding out what is best for you. This strategy can be something you can train your body to do for those times you do have to get up before dawn.
Repairing muscles, ligaments, joints and protecting the skeletal muscles and organs are vital in recovery, performance and training. It is suggested that an appropriate level of quality carbohydrates and proteins are needed within 24hrs post-sessions to replenish muscle glycogen and stimulate muscle synthesis. Surfers undergo multiple sessions in a day (in water training, gym, yoga, etc) and according to the Australian Institute of Sports (2014) at least 6-10g/kg in body weight of carbohydrates should be ingested per day due to the variety of high intensity training and long endurance sessions. Quality fat consumption will aid in inflammation, the immune system, protecting the organs and increase cognitive functions (making those quick critical decisions in a heat). Co-ingestion of quality complete protein ( around 20 g) will further maximise subsequent sessions and enhance muscle repair when ingested within 2 hrs post-exercise (Rustad et al., 2016).
Easy snack options that contain fats, carbs and protein:
Apple & Almond Butter
Nut butters - (1-2tbsp only)
Banana and Peanut butter on Rice cakes
Rice cakes and avocado with sardines/tuna
Nuts and seeds mix
Muesli Bars: Macrobars - 11g of plant protein and 27g or real food carbs - these are my favourite and I have so many memories of hiking Yosemite with these bars!
Peanut butter & celery - so easy to do!
Banana Muffins - prep and freeze prior for the easy to grab options
Australian Institute of Sports. (2014). Sports Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.sportaus.gov.au/ais/nutrition
Burke, L. M., Hawley, J. A., Wong, S. H. S., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2011). Carbohydrates for training and competition. Journal of Sport Sciences, 29, S17–S27.
Currell, K., Conway, S., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2009). Carbohydrate ingestion improves performance of a new reliable test of soccer performance. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 19, 34–46.
Decombaz, J. (2003). Nutrition and recovery of muscle energy stores after exercise. Sportmedizin und Sporttraumatologie, 51, 31–38.
Rustad, P. I., Sailer, M., Cumming, K. T., Jeppesen, P. B., Kolnes, K. J., Sollie, O., ... Jensen, J. (2016). Intake of Protein Plus Carbohydrate during the First Two Hours after Exhaustive Cycling Improves Performance the following Day. PLOS ONE, 11(4), e0153229. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153229
Tarnopolsky, M. A. (1999). Protein metabolism in strength and endurance activities. In D. R., Lamb & R. Murray (Eds.), Perspectives in exercise science and sports medicine: The metabolic basis of performance in exercise and sport (Vol. 12, pp. 125–164). Carmel, IN: Cooper Publishing Group.