First off, let me say this– Yes, freediving can make you skinny. Diving to extreme depths and going through high levels of hypoxia burns calories. I don’t know the exact science behind it, but every year that I go to Grand Cayman to compete I lose over ten pounds. I’m not running and I’m not working out. I’m diving, eating and sleeping.
As I work my way up to a competition date, my training ramps up and I make several changes to my diet to positively impact my diving. Each one of these dietary changes is pivotal in helping me reach depth and each one eventually gives me cravings like a pregnant lady craving pickles and ice cream.
One Month Out- No Alcohol
Biggest Benefit to Abstaining: Energy, muscle efficiency, overall health
Biggest craving: Hot Totties (Hey, don’t judge me. I’m not an 80-year-old lady, it’s just cold where I live!)
About a month before a freediving competition I’ll stop drinking any form of alcohol altogether until after the competition ends. No big surprise to most of you I’m sure, but alcohol just isn’t too healthy. I always find that I have more energy and that my body performs more effectively in all capacities when I cut alcohol completely out of my diet.
Biggest Benefit to Abstaining: Lower daily average heart rate, Hydration
Biggest Craving: Chai Tea Lattes
Caffeine is a freediver’s worst enemy since it has a direct impact on your heart rate. You want to get a little extra energy for your morning run? Drink a cup of coffee. You want to maximize your static apnea practice? Stay the heck away from Starbucks. Caffeine also has the added disadvantage of being a diuretic, leading to dehydration, which is another big problem for freedivers.
One Week Out- No More Dairy
Biggest Benefit to Abstaining: Easier equalization
Biggest Craving: Ice cream
You’ll notice this is the last thing I give up. Is that a strategic part of my plan? Not really. I just really like my dairy products and want to wait as long as possible before giving them up. But why hate on dairy in the first place?
I can’t speak for everyone, but dairy can have the negative side-effect of creating thicker mucous in some people. Aside from that just sounding gross it also makes it harder to equalize by blocking your Eustachian tubes and sinus passages and making them sticky. And hey, it’s hard enough to get down to 80 meters. I sure don’t need extra obstacles.
(PS- If you haven’t tried this before or don’t believe me try going off dairy for even just a week and you’ll be amazed at how much easier you’ll be breathing.)
So now that I’ve cut out all my favorite foods, how am I supposed to replace them?
Carbs, Carbs and more Carbs
Good Options: Pasta, rice, bread
As in any sport, carbohydrates are your friend. When you freedive your muscles get extremely taxed from both the act of kicking and the oxygen depletion they experience. Carbohydrates like rice, pasta, etc. help get them back in working order quicker. Plus, as I said earlier, you burn so many calories freediving that if you don’t replace them by doing things like carb-loading you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. And don’t worry about calorie-counting, you’ll burn all that off in the water.
Good Options: Red meat, dark poultry meat OR if you’re not carnivorous, leafy greens like spinach, kale
Your ability to transport oxygen is heavily dependent on your hematocrit levels so it’s important to keep your iron levels UP! I’m not a big red meat eater so I load up on the spinach every chance I get when I’m in Cayman. If you don’t eat lots of iron-rich foods it’s easy to be anemic without even knowing it- especially for women.
Good Options: Water…water…and more water! (And maybe sometimes watered-down Gatorade)
If you want your body to run at 100% efficiency you need to hydrate it. It’s like putting oil in your car to keep everything moving properly. If you’re even slightly dehydrated your muscles can’t work at their peak capacity. Drinking enough water every day also keeps your ears from getting too sticky, making equalization easier. And it’s not just RIGHT before diving either. Drink water all day long to really see the added benefit of being properly hydrated.
A little tip- buy yourself a reusable water bottle and carry it around all day. You’ll find yourself drinking water without even realizing it.
Well, I hope that gives you all some good food for thought. Once I adopted these dietary habits during my competition weeks I saw major improvements in both my overall performances and in my recovery. I’ve got about a week left until I have to start giving this stuff up so I’m going to enjoy a big bowl of ice cream.