Written by: Jodelle Fitzwater, BiC SUP Midwest Ambassador and Fitness Trainer for SUP TV, Fitness Contributor for Standup Journal, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Food Psychology Coach.
If you’ve stand up paddled any distance at all, you understand what incredible energy it requires. If you’ve hauled your cookies (and your SUP) any distance down the beach, down to the dock, or through the woods to the river, you understand what an endurance is required of you (aside from the paddling aspect). If you trained to race, trained indoors on balance-challenge equipment, or attended a SUP weekend workshop of any kind, you understand the physical demand on your body, not to mention the incredible workout it is when you are a SUP enthusiast of any kind. With all those physical demands on you to enjoy a sport that you love, I cannot stress enough the value of proper nutrition and fueling up for a great day on the water.
Whether it’s to eat properly in preparation for a big day of paddle-surfing at your favorite locale, or to replenish your muscles after training for that upcoming SUP race, or just simply what snacks to carry with you on your SUP for touring around the waterway of your choice, food is the best kept secret that will keep you out in front and feeling stoked and energized.
Below, I’ve put together my 10 top tips to stay “SUP-er strong” from start to “fin’s up”.
1. A SUP-er way to start the day
No matter if it’s a paddle with friends, drills for your race-day training or gearing up for a day on a raging river, fueling up properly at the start of the day will keep blood sugars balanced for high quality energy and performance if it’s done with a decent amount of good fat, some quality protein, and nice dose of plant-based carbohydrates. None of this “granola bar” nutrition or “gas station burritos” for breakfast. If you want to dominate the wave, lead the group, or make a new PR for race training, you are going to have to eat in balance. Here’s how it works…. leading to tip number 2….
2. Fat is your friend
Healthy fats like egg yolks, avocado, coconut milk, nuts and seeds, and nut butters fuel the brain and tell the body that ample fat is coming in so it’s okay to burn stored body fat for energy. The bodies favorite source of fuel to burn is body fat, but it can’t do that if there is a steady supply of processed sugary carbs like cereal, oatmeal, and gas-station burritos coming in. Instead, the body will only burn the carbs and will quickly fatigue as blood sugars spike and crash. Healthy fats are slowing digesting and not only great body fuel, but also brain fuel which will help you stay alert and focused as you stroke. But just like any SUP enthusiast knows, you should always have a buddy, so tip number 3 is one of healthy fat’s best buddies…
3. Eat Your Protien
Protein is also essential to not only keep blood sugars stable so you don’t slam down into a blood sugar low on your down-winder, but also to keep hunger at bay when you are out on the water all day. Protein feeds the “feel good” neurotransmitter in your brain so that you remain calm under stressful race-training paddles, and helps reduce anxiety, which is great for those pre-race jitters and “shitters”. Protein is essential to every single cell in your body, and if you aren’t getting enough, your body cannot and will not perform at its best, leaving you frustrated and pulling up the rear. Aim for half your body weight in grams of protein per day, and more if you are training for an endurance event, or “SUP-er” active. Most people’s consumption of processed carbs far outweighs their fat and protein intake, so let’s clear the air with just what kind of carbs you need with tip number 4.
4. Carb-a-phobic or Carb-a-freak? Which are you?
While some people rely on mass carb-loading to fuel up for SUP, others fear that carbs are the enemy, so what’s truth here? The truth is both work, but as in the SUP world, “different strokes for different folks”….and not always for peak performance. While carb-loading is sought-after by many endurance athletes and racers, the reason it works for some of them is because they become “carb-adapted”, meaning their intake of processed carbohydrates as been so high for so long, their body has adapted to the need for them, and process of burning them for energy, and giving them what is needed to fuel them for their event. Carb-loading has been prescribed by coaches and trainers for years, but one of my favorite things to say to my clients who have been carb loading for years is: “If you do the same things you’ve always done, you get the same results you’ve always had.
Sometimes to see a change, you have to make some changes.” Metaphorically speaking, let’s say you start a job as a line cook for a fast food joint at age 16 and you never leave that job because it pays the bills, and gives you the certain days off. But even though that job is decent, what if there is a better job out there that pays more, gives you the weekends off and you love it and feel great doing it every day? Believing the old mentality that only carb-loading is going to give you good endurance and energy is not being open to the possibility of what else might fuel you even better, longer and stronger…which is being “fat adapted.”
Fat-adaptation is taking in at least 50-60% of your calories from fat, telling your body (like I mentioned before) that ample fat is coming it, so we can take stored body fat and burn it for energy. And like I said before, this is the bodies own preferred method of fuel. The tricky part is that teaching your body to become fat-adapted means you have lower the carb intake so that your body no longer relies on burning carbs for energy.
This translates to about 20-30% of your calories coming from protein, and another 15-20% of calories coming from carbohydrates. What kind of carbs are we talking here? Plant-based whole foods such as green vegetables, low sugar fruits like berries, kiwi, and peaches, and root vegetables like yams, parsnips, and carrots. The fat adaptation occurs when the body senses that more fat is coming in for fuel and fewer carbs are coming in as well, and moderate protein is coming in to help maintain muscle mass. Not only is this a great way to properly fuel and attain peak performance but your board shorts may hang a bit looser as well!
5. Remember the “power of 3”
Those 3 main foods we just talked about: fats, protein, and plant-based carbs, when done every 3 hours is what I like to call the “power of 3” to give your body long lasting paddling power. Avoid going longer than 4 hours without a meal including these 3 foods and you will balance blood sugars avoiding energy highs/lows, mood swings, anxiety, and even helps conquer food cravings later in the day. But what about when you are on the board for more than 4 hours and require some nosh to carry with you that won’t weigh down or slow you down? Onto tip number 6…
When you are out on the water, a snack needs to be quick, needs to “pick you up”, needs to be satisfying, and needs to be portable. All of the examples I give can be easily tucked away in your backpack, fanny pack, or even in the zippered pocket of your MTI Adventurewear pack (because you should always have a PFD on board) Some suggestions of higher fat, moderate protein, plant-based carbs that are just that would be: nitrate-free beef sticks or beef jerky, raw nuts like almonds or macadamia nuts, individually wrapped piece of dark chocolate (80% or higher for good magnesium content), nut butter packets like “Vermont Peanut Butter Co. packets”, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, or make your own “Paddle mix” (instead of trail mix) of shaved coconut, dark chocolate chips, nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds, and a few raisins.
Mix it all up and throw in a little tin or a baggy and stash it away for those long endurance paddles. My personal favorite is Almond Butter Energy Balls – simply mix 1 cup gluten-free oats with 1 cup almond butter or peanut butter and 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder and form into small balls that you can bag up and carry with you. These got me through a tough and windy 32 mile fundraising paddle I did a couple years ago and were “quick-me-ups” I could easily pop in my mouth.
7. Hydrate every 15 minutes
Dehydration is one of the fastest and easiest ways to reduce performance. Prior to, during, and after a paddle session, remember to hydrate with a nice gulp of water every 15 minutes. Longer sessions than being out for an hour will require additional electrolyte balancing. This can be done with coconut water sprinkled with a little sea salt, some apple cider vinegar in a big container of water, or supplementing with a dropper bottle of trace minerals that you can add to any bottle of water. The bigger the individual the more hydration they need, and the hotter the temperature the more you will need to hydrate. Start by aiming for at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water each day, and 8 more ounces for each hour you are active.
8. Be Supplement Savvy
SUP enthusiasts lead an active lifestyle and while eating whole foods is a great way to get the nutrients you need, in today’s deleterious soil, we are unfortunately unable to get all the minerals and antioxidants needed for peak performance. High energy output, high stress and anxiety, and lots of exercise can deplete your body of essential minerals like zinc and magnesium. Without these minerals your body’s immune system slows, your energy slumps, muscle weakness and cramping can occur, and you will have trouble eliminating toxins which can lead to a toxic system and one that does not function well at all. Consider taking a good balanced mineral supplement such as NowFoods Full Spectrum Mineral, or even just supplementing with 25 mg of zinc, and 400mg of magnesium glycinate. Always check with your doctor first, and see if you can have your levels checked to know for sure what you might be low on.
9. Careful with Caffeine
While energy drinks, frappacinos, and sugar-laden gas station mocha lattes may seem to fuel your morning sesh, over time, over-consumption of caffeine will blow out your much needed adrenal glands which will blow out your chances of winning the battle of the paddle. Your adrenal glands sit right on top of your kidneys and are a little walnut-shaped gland that regulates your stresshormones such as cortisol, adrenaline, and others. When the adrenals are overtaxed for so long that are unable to produce the right amount of adrenaline and cortisol, leaving you feeling more run-down, and unable to cope with stressful situations. Adrenal fatigue makes for a slowed metabolism, makes it harder to get to sleep, but very hard to get out of bed, and gives you the daily sensation of being “wired-but-tired”.
Chronic fatigue can become an issue and that’s not something you want to be dealing with if SUP is your sport. So keep caffeine consumption to just a cup of black coffee, or a cup of green tea to start your day, skipping out on all the added flavors and sugars that can make you crash later. Avoid afternoon hits of caffeine and stick to the “caffeine before noon” rule. Also, every 6 weeks or so, take yourself off of caffeine for about 7 days to avoid allowing your body to become dependent on caffeine for any reason.
10. Finally we must talk alcohol
Because what you do on the weekends can make your break your need for energy through the week. Alcohol consumption of any kind leads to muscle weakness, lowered mental alertness, a sluggish metabolism and toxic liver which is the main reason I bring this up. Let’s look at the liver: it’s main job is to regulate stored body fat for energy. When it is so busy cleaning up alcohol toxins that have been dumped into the system, all other jobs get put on hold (i.e. regulating stored body fat, regulating insulin and other essential hormones and regulating cholesterol for all the necessary body processes).
This in turn leads to a slowed metabolism and an increase in stored body fat. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how this will effect your energy on the SUP. It takes so much energy to process and metabolize alcohol in the body that it takes almost a full week for your system to recover after just one evening with friends, regardless of whether those friends are Jose Cuervo, Captain Morgan, or Bud Light.
So if you are planning to down “the drink” in addition to paddling in “the drink”, plan wisely. A celebration after race day is one thing, but just keep in mind how soon you will be training again if performance is an issue. When out with friends, perhaps just having one drink, and then switching to water with lemon, or club soda with lime, or perhaps making your wine glass, a wine spritzer so there is less brain fog and lack of motivation for the next sesh.
With all these tools underneath your PFD belt you are sure to have peak performance on your next paddle adventure. Remember, performance is 80% of what you bring in, and only 20% of what you put out. Paddle healthy, my friends. For a more customized approach to your health and performance needs, consider a Nutrition Therapy Consult with me, Jodelle Fitzwater, where I will learn all I can about your needs and build you a meal plan based on your bio-chemistry and SUP goals. For more information on this, you can email me at email@example.com or visit my website: www.getfitwithjodelle.com