Have you ever wondered what surfers eat to stay lean and energized for long hours in the ocean? Is there a specific surf diet that surfers use to endure long 4-5 hour sessions in the ocean, exposed to the sun, with very little access to food or water?
I’m going to let you in on the secret to how surfers fuel long sessions and maintain that lean surfer physique.
The most important part of surfer nutrition (and nutrition in general, for that matter) is to have a solid nutritional foundation. When you eat mostly whole foods and give your body all the nutrients it needs, you fuel a system where all your metabolic processes work optimally.
When whole foods comprise the bulk of your diet, what you specifically eat and drink prior to a workout or surf session becomes much less important. Having that solid base gives you tons of wiggle room. Most of time, all you need is some quick digesting carbohydrates like a banana or some yogurt to give you enough energy and stamina to endure those long, exhausting sessions. Or for some surfers, they surf on an empty stomach because they have enough stored up energy from the meal the night before.
Maintaining a consistent weight is one of the most important aspects of surfing. Carrying extra body fat makes every aspect of surfing much more difficult. For example, pop-ups on the surfboard require more strength the heavier you are. Your major paddling muscles (lats and shoulders) need to work harder to move more bodyweight. And maintaining good balance becomes more difficult as you increase your body fat percentage.
Surfing, and especially surfing well, is all about having good relative strength. You might know that there are different types of strength.
Relative strength, also known as “power-to-weight” ratio, refers to how strong you are in relation to your bodyweight. In order to calculate your relative strength, you take the your absolute strength (how much you can lift for a 1 rep max) and divide it by your bodyweight.
For example, a 150-pound man who can squat 200 pounds has greater relative strength (200/150 = 1.3 times bodyweight) than a 180-pound man who can squat 220 pounds (220/180 = 1.2 times bodyweight).
This means that, as a surfer, you don’t want to carry too much body fat or too much muscle. That’s a big reason why you don’t see too many bulky surfers. Gaining muscle, or training for hypertrophy, is generally not a goal for most surfers. Again, this has to do with buoyancy on the surfboard. Every pound of weight, even if it’s muscle, can throw off the precise actions of a surfer. Yes, surfers want to be strong, but they’ll most likely prioritize increasing their relative strength, not their muscle mass.
Increasing your relative strength is as simple as maintaining (or increasing) your strength without increasing your body weight. You primarily pull this off by being mindful of what you do in the kitchen, but strength training still matters. One of the best ways to keep relative strength high is by doing short, intense full-body strength circuits with moderate to heavy weights. Combine that with a good nutrition plan and you’ll build excellent relative strength.
Now, what do surfers eat to stay lean and energized?
There are various ways to pull off the surfer way of eating. As I mentioned earlier, building a strong nutritional foundation always comes first. If you take time to build that strong foundation, you’ll have a lot more flexibility as to what you actually eat before a session, or post-surf. You’ll also be able to buffer poor food choices with a strong base. And you’ll have plenty of stored energy while staying lean, even when you don’t have access to food.
The first step is to address any nutritional deficiencies. This can include anything from vitamins and minerals, to protein, water, and fats. If your metabolism isn’t working right, you’ll feel like crap, which means being able to surf and stay lean will be completely impossible.
Even if you think you eat healthy, there’s still a good chance you have some kind of nutrient deficiency.1 Several studies have addressed how nutrient deficiencies are surprisingly prevalent in today’s modern diet.2 To find out if you have any specific deficiencies, consider getting a blood test by your primary care physician.
For a lean, strong physique and high energy levels, you need to have your own physiology working for you. If you can get this first step right, everything else usually falls into place on its own.
1. Eat a huge salad every day, or have veggies at every meal.
2. Consume enough protein. You should aim for about 1 gram of protein per lb. of lean bodyweight. For example, I’m 190-lbs at 12% body fat, so my lean mass is about 168-lbs. (190 – 22.8). That means, I try to get about 168 grams of protein per day.
3. Stay hydrated. Drink about 4 liters of water per day.
4. Supplement with fish oil, getting about 2-3 grams of high quality fish oil daily.
5. Limit refined carbs. Only eat refined carbs (breads, cookies, crackers, sweets) after a surf session or intense workout.
A typical day for me on surfing days looks something like this. Keep in mind I’m 6’3’’ and 190 pounds, so you can adjust these numbers based on your size and goals:
Black coffee and a small bowl of Greek yogurt with berries or nuts, plus a Protein bar.
Surf session – 1-2 hours.
A green protein shake made with coconut water, 1 banana, 2 scoops whey protein, green powder, cacao nibs, and 1 tbsp of nut butter.
Large salad, like this seared ahi tuna salad, with 2 fist-sized portion of protein (eggs, fish, chicken, or beef). Olive oil dressing with sprinkled cheese.
Handful of nuts, or nut butter, with an apple
Normally tacos (like my chicken tacos with spicy coleslaw), or a homemade sandwich with veggies on the side.
Large square of dark chocolate (greater than 75% cocoa) with a 1 tbsp of nut butter.
As you can see, this daily snapshot of what I eat provides me with plenty of nutrients to fuel my body without adding any extra calories my body won’t use. If you want to lose body fat, I recommend modifying this template by either removing the snacks and the nut butter in the protein shake, which drops the calories down to 2,000, or simply use this template with your own meals and snacks. A good estimate of how many calories to eat to get lean is take your bodyweight (in pounds) x 10 (See: How Many Calories You Should Eat To Lose Weight).
There isn’t one magical diet that surfers use to stay lean and energized. It comes down to focusing on a really solid foundation of good nutrition. Protein intake stays high, most carbohydrates come from veggies and fruits, you drink a ton of water, and you get a good amount of fat from whole food sources like avocados, nut butters, meats, and eggs.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the surfer way of eating. Drop some comments below!