What to Eat When Surfing – Some Nutritional Pointers

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With all the physical effort it takes to paddle out and ride those waves, it’s no surprise that surfers are among the fittest people on the planet. But those athletic bods also need fuel, and cliche as it is, we are what we eat, so serious surfers put some thought into what it is they take into their systems.

The ideal surfer’s body

You’ve probably noticed that the best surfers tend to be lean rather than heavily muscled, with good reason. Every bit of extra weight makes it more difficult to do the tasks that surfing demands. Paddling out to a wave, popping up and maintaining balance on a board, maneuvering precisely – it all takes more effort the more you weigh. This is why surfers focus less on building muscle mass and more on developing what is known as relative strength – greater strength in relation to their body weight.

Besides building strength and keeping their weight in control, surfers need energy to put in those long sessions on the water, often without access to food or drink. So with all this in consideration, what does a smart wave-rider chow on?

Building the foundation

A body that’s generally well-nourished will function at its best and give you more leeway in choosing what foods to eat before and after a surf. For surfers (and for anyone aiming for good health) a diet made up of mostly whole foods is the best way to achieve that solid nutritional base. Whole foods are food items that are as close to the natural state as possible. They are unprocessed or have been processed minimally and have no additives or artificial substances added.

Find out as well if you have any vitamin deficiencies. Even if you think you already eat healthy, there’s the possibility you’re not getting enough of one nutrient or another. A blood test from your doctor should identify whatever is lacking in your diet.

A few good rules of thumb for building a good nutritional foundation are as follows:

  1. Eat your veggies. Aim to have a large salad every day, or a healthy helping of vegetables with every meal.
  2. Get enough protein. One expert source suggests 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean body weight you carry. You can calculate this by multiplying your percentage of body fat by .10, multiplying that by your total body weight in pounds, and subtracting the result from your original body weight. Opt for protein without a lot of saturated fat.
  3. Keep your body hydrated. This is especially important when surfing, as your body will lose 2 to 3 pints of H2O over a few hours on the waves.
  4. Go easy on refined carbs. Limit items like white bread, crackers, pasta and white rice for after intense workouts. Go instead for whole-grain, complex carbohydrates.


Before, during and after surfing

An hour and a half before a high-energy surf session, it’s a good idea to take in something with a low glycemic index, meaning food that breaks down slower and releases energy gradually over a longer period of time. Among low GI foods are most fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, brown rice, whole grain bread, oatmeal.

Some examples of good pre-surf meals would be:

  • Breakfast burrito with whole grain tortilla, eggs, ham, cheese, and black beans
  • Smoothie with reduced fat milk, low-fat yogurt, any fruit
  • Whole wheat toast with cooked banana, a little honey and scrambled eggs on top
  • Baked beans on whole wheat toast
  • Steel-cut oatmeal with ground flaxseed, berries and almonds
  • Egg whites scrambled with bell peppers on whole-grain toast

A surfing session can last for several hours. If you find your energy flagging and have time mid-session to grab a snack, some good ideas might be:

  • Fresh fruit
  • Trail mix (dried fruit and assorted nuts)
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread
  • Raw vegetables: carrots, broccoli, snow peas and celery


Post-surf, you’re sure to have an appetite. Protein is in order to help your muscles recover, and carbohydrates with high GI will quickly restore the energy stores you spent on the water. For a satisfying meal, pair a high-protein food with some vegetables and starch.

Some good post-surf options:

  • Salad with grilled chicken, steak, fish, or shrimp
  • Black beans and brown rice
  • Baked sweet potato, white rice, and chicken breast
  • Fresh fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids)

What the pros eat

Sally Fitgibbons | Image Source: WSL / Jackie Fiero

Sally Fitzgibbons
One of the fittest women in professional surfing, Sally starts her days with cardio-intense workouts or long surfing sessions. To fuel her body in the morning, she loads up on eggs and fruit. Or she might go for a bowl of her mom’s homemade chicken soup, packed with hearty vegetables and some grain. A snack will be something that releases energy nice and slow – nuts and fruit or muesli bars.

Dinner for Sally will be a generous serving of whatever vegetables are in season, with a rotation of quality proteins over the week: red meat, chicken or fish. Carbs will be rice or sweet potato.

After a training session, Sally often downs her favorite smoothie, made with watermelon, cucumber, apple, strawberries and lime juice blended together.

Kelly Slater | Image Source: WSL / Tony Heff

Kelly Slater
Still dominating the surfing world at 44, Kelly Slater credits a smart diet and clean living with his longevity. He goes out of his way to learn about the effects of various foods on the body and reads the ingredient panels of everything he buys.

Breakfast for Kelly is generally fruit. He makes vegan smoothies, mixing fruit with almond or coconut milk. He is also a fan of green smoothies, mixing in sprouts, as he says fruits and vegetables digest readily together.

Chia seeds, famed for their antioxidant properties, fiber and high Omega-3 are a staple of Kelly’s diet. Other foods he’s known to eat are kimchi, grass-fed organic beef, kelp and ginseng. Kelly also feels that fat has gotten a bad rap and believes in the benefits of the good fats found in coconut, avocados and chia seeds.

After much reading he’s done on the subject, Slater takes care not to mix proteins and carbohydrates, as they take different acids and alkalis to digest. He is also careful not to mix non-acidic fruits with acidic.

John Florence | Image Source: WSL / Tony Heff

John John Florence
John Florence knows enough about the effects of food on his body to not touch fast food. The young surfer says he eats relatively healthy, mostly home-cooked fare – chicken, salads, pasta for dinner. He’ll start a day with oatmeal for breakfast and down some eggs and avocado after a surf. Lunch may be fish and vegetables.

Having an understanding of nutrition and a good feel for what makes your body perform at its best will help you choose the right foods, which can only improve your surfing and help you get the most out of your time on the water.

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