Words by Claire Norton. Photo Mike Searle from the Surf Cafe Cookbook

Like most energetic, demanding and competitive sports, surfing requires high levels of fitness and endurance as well as good general health in order to progress. Most sportsman (and women) know that one of the best ways to achieve this is through a healthy diet. In surfing this goes a step further – the foods you eat (or don’t eat) before a session can make or break your surf by affecting crucial energy levels. Similarly, a healthy post-surf meal can be vital in aiding muscle repair, strength and general recovery after a strenuous session at sea. So for us surfers, getting the right nutrients through a healthy and well balanced diet is just as important for our performance as training and having the right equipment. Here are some dietary tips and meal ideas for your pre-surf, post-surf and snacking in between.

Some surfers are reluctant to eat before hitting the waves for fear of feeling sluggish or sick but some sustenance is necessary for energy, stable blood sugar levels and stamina. Having said that, eating right before you head out onto the water won’t give your body time to digest your meal and may slow you down without having any real benefit, so it is best to eat at least a few hours before you hit the waves. For long lasting bursts of energy the best thing you can consume are complex carbohydrates such as whole grain bread, rice or pasta and vegetables, pulses and cereal. A wholegrain muffin, fruit smoothie, brown pasta with sauce or bowl of oatmeal would all be good options for a pre-surf snack. The complex molecular structure of these types of carbohydrates means that the body takes a long time to break them down and metabolize them. This means that your blood sugar levels stay more stable than they would be if you opted for starchy carbohydrates or other food types high in sugar or caffeine – these may leave you pumped up to begin with but once the body has quickly absorbed them you are likely to crash and burn leaving you feeling tired and disorientated. If you want to make it past the paddle out, then regulated energy is needed.

After surfing you will have worked up an appetite but it’s not just your stomach that needs attention. During intense exercise your muscles can take a beating and meals rich in protein can help replenish glycogen levels and rebuild any damage done to the muscles from the power of the water. Foods high in protein include chicken, dairy products, red meat and bananas. At this point your energy stores will also be running on low so now is the time to indulge in some carbohydrates – ideally the healthy kind we’ve already mentioned. Perfect post-surf meals include any meat or fish filled sandwich, a baked potato with full fat cottage cheese or even white rice with chicken and vegetables. Getting both protein and carbohydrates in your post-surf snack means that you are replenishing your energy stores and simultaneously helping to repair the body – so much so that this method of incorporating the two important staples is used to help in eating disorder treatment or for other people whose muscles may be weakened due to illness. Aiming to eat no later than an hour after your surf is ideal because this is the time when the enzymes responsible for building and strengthening muscles are at their most potent in the body.

Taking time out to snack in between sessions is a good idea because it can give you the boost you need if you are flagging. Bananas are great to snack on as they are packed with protein and potassium that can help cure cramps whilst cereal bars will give you an energy boost with a low fat content. As athletes, eating sensible to maintain a healthy weight is very important so try to avoid snacking on high sugar or high fat foods such as chocolate or potato chips which contain very little nutritional value.

Keeping hydrated is also very important and drinking a lot of water before and during your surf will leave you both mentally and physically stronger. Becoming dehydrated won’t just put extra stress on your muscles but it will also affect your concentration making standing up and balancing more difficult. It also induces fatigue which will make carving and squatting seem much harder work and probably make you retire early. Always drink pure water before a surf and stop for breaks throughout the session too.