Surfer Food – The Surfer Girl’s Guide to Nutrition
by The Surfing Dietitian, Alyce Tancredi APD
Surfer food is often front of mind before and after a session. In a world where everyone gives nutrition advice, it can be hard to decide what you should eat. Ultimately, the best guidance you can get on what to eat for you, is super easy to get (and it’s free) – it comes from your own body.
In my experience as a dietitian, many of us forget to listen to our bodies as they let us know what we should eat. We get so caught up in fad diets, detoxes, and slimming shakes that we forget our body just really needs basic wholefoods. So, we are going to dive a little deeper into the world of nutrition and see what wonderful nutrients that we have available to us and how they can make us both feel amazing and energised for surfing.
Carbohydrates – Are they all that bad?
I had to start with our most demonised nutrient, carbs. Lately, this group of macros has been getting a lot of bad press as the socials say they contribute to poor health, weight gain and a menagerie of other issues. Carbs however, are important as they provide fuel for our body, with some of our organs – like our brain – only running on carbs, in the form of glucose.
For us surfers that arguably need surfer food, we want to have plenty of energy so we can have the best session with both our physical and mental game being on point. There are two main types of carbs: refined and unrefined. The refined type includes the more processed carbs such as white bread/cereals/pasta, confectionery, cakes, baked goods and soft drinks. Refined carbs provide us with a shorter and quicker bursts of energy, which can be useful is a short session (such as a competition heat). Unrefined carbs include wholegrain cereals and breads, legumes, milk, soy products, whole fruits, and many more which provide us with slower and more sustained energy which is great when endurance is required (surfing multiple heats or a long session). Carbs provide us with the perfect fuel source to do this and some great sources of carbs include:
- Wholegrain bread and cereals (oats, porridge)
- Pasta, rice, quinoa, buckwheat
- Starchy vegetables such as potato, sweet potato and pumpkin
- Milk and yogurt
- Some fruits
Consuming these before surfing can give you fuel to make it epic. The amounts and types required are very individualised and it is always best to speak to a dietitian about this if you are ever unsure. It is also important to consume carbohydrates after surfing in order to refuel your body for the rest of the day (or another surf!).
Protein – The building blocks of muscle
Not a lot of bad press about this macro, however there is a lot of confusion. Protein is essential in cell growth and repair, particularly in our muscle cells. If we do not eat enough protein, especially when we take part in demanding activities like surfing, our cells begin to break down. There are two main types of protein to be aware of these being complete proteins and incomplete proteins.
Complete proteins come from food sources that have all the essential amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in them that our body can’t make – hence them being complete. These are found in animal-based products such as meat, poultry, dairy, fish and eggs, as well as soy products. If you eat these foods across the day, you are most likely already meeting your protein requirements.
Incomplete protein foods, on the other hand, do not contain all of the essential amino acids our body needs and may need to be eaten in conjunction with each to make them ‘complete’. These include our plant-based protein foods (excluding soy) such as legumes, nuts, seeds, certain grains, rice, pea, and hemp. This can be an issue for individuals on a vegan or vegetarian diet, as they do not always meet their protein needs. To help this, eat protein foods regularly across the day and eat in combination (such as rice and beans).
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair which we need when with the dynamic sport of surfing. After a session, make sure to include some protein as a recovery food to help promote this muscle recovery and synthesis so you are ready for your next session.
Fats – Saturated vs. unsaturated
Our final macro is again getting a lot of attention in the press lately with the Keto diet being popular (whole post on that in itself). Fat is our most energy-dense macro (provides us with the most calories) and is also, like the others, super important in our diet.
Fats both provide our body with a bit of fuel and make up many of the membrane structures of our body cells. Our gut bacteria love certain fats which is also linked to our mental health! There are two main types of fat that we come across, these being saturated and unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats are found in our processed foods and we want to consume them a little less than our unsaturated fats (but don’t avoid them!). These include baked goods, fried foods fatty meats, the skin on meats, and a little bit in milk (but milk is good for us so still include it!). All these foods are fine when consumed in moderation and can be a part of a balanced diet.
Unsaturated fats are the predominant fats we want in our diet. These are beneficial to our health and include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and oily fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel). All of these are delicious and help to keep our body functioning which is super important when surfing! Fats are not needed to be a massive feature in our diet but still take up some space on the plate. Having foods with fats can help also help slow absorption of carbs and protein, which is perfect in a post-surf or post-workout snack (smoothies with whole milk are great for this or peanut butter and fruit!).
Other Surfer Food Nutrients to Consider
Are you getting your fibre?
Fibre is so important in for our gut health and to keep our bowels moving! Having plenty of fibre in the diet also helps to maintain weight, manage blood glucose levels and blood cholesterol levels. It also helps us to feel fuller for longer and is found in so many delicious foods such as our fruits, veggies, wholegrains, legumes and pasta. Keeping the skins on your veggies is a quick way to boost your fibre intake as well as consuming wholegrains (rolled oats, grain breads, brown pasta) – Happy gut makes a happy surfer (happy mind!), so make sure your surfer food contains lots of fibre.
Just remember to have plenty of water with fibre as it needs it to help our body’s digest!
Most of us are dehydrated!
We live in the sun and salt and let’s admit it, we don’t exactly take a water bottle out on the waves. Dehydration is extremely common and if left untreated can have severe consequences. Drink plenty of water prior and after you surf (aim for at least 8 full glasses a day) to ensure that your body stays hydrated. Carry a water bottle with you everywhere and if you are surfing for a longer session, take breaks to come in and grab some water.
A good idea is to eat surfer food high in water content: cucumbers, tomatoes, spinach, broccoli, oranges and apples. Read about other water rich foods.
So there you have it, a quick introduction into the wonderful world of nutrition. If I can leave you with any parting tips these would be them:
- Include a variety of foods in your diet – grains, veggies, fruits, dairy or alternatives, meats/poultry/fish, legumes, unsaturated fats
- Eat mostly wholefoods (they can be cooked!) with plenty of plants
- Include a variety of sources of carbs, protein and fats
- Leave you skins on your veggies & fruit when you can
- Aim for your 2 fruit and 5 veg a day
- Stay hydrated
- If in doubt, see a dietitian – do not rely on information from the internet!
- Surf all the time!