You are what you eat, or so the adage goes. To a certain degree this is very true. If you eat a bunch of saturated fat, guess what? You may notice your back end expanding in a direction you are not happy with. A diet of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and tons of vegetables will leave you, as the name suggests, lean. An endurance sport such as freediving requires a consistently healthy, lean diet. As with any other endurance sport, the diet is specialized to deliver energy to the body over time.
Diet is a tricky subject since everyone has their own idea of what is best for them. Many are unwilling to make certain sacrifices to ensure that their bodies are operating at full potential (i.e. “I don’t like vegetables,” or “I’m a meat-and-potatoes kind of person.”). There are a plethora of supplements, fad-dieting rituals, workout shakes, etc. to filter through. How does one go about making good dietary decisions? How does one wade through the magazine articles and advice, reducing down the concoction of information to a digestible serving? I like to take the common sense approach– simplify! I am not a nutritionist expert, nor do I claim to be one. However, I would like to leave you with good, simple meal solutions based on my personal values and experiences. This outline is not for everyone but it works for me. Below is an outline of sample meals for a day of freediving.
The Morning Of: Fuel Up
Eat something easily digestible but something that will keep you full for a bit. It needs to stick to your ribs without weighing too heavily in the gut.
Sample: Oatmeal with almonds or walnuts. The oatmeal provides carbohydrates while the nuts provide protein. Cook oatmeal with almond milk instead of water for extra protein. Add molasses and dried fruit (no sugar added) for flavor, iron and good sugars.
During the Day: Maintain Energy
For diving all day, spearfishing or recreational diving. This can be eaten as recovery food after a competitive dive. Again, eat something easily digestible. It must be portable since you will be eating this on the boat or at your dive site.
Sample: 1/2 a sweet potato, lightly salted. Complex carbs plus salt to replace sodium loss. A sandwich with an over easy egg, avocado, spinach and tomato on a 1/2 (or whole) bagel. This contains protein, healthy fats, iron, more carbs, calories and plenty of taste! Drizzle either the potato or sandwich with olive oil before packing.
After the Dive: Recovery
Get everything your body needs to repair itself after a demanding workout.
Sample: The other 1/2 of the sweet potato, kale, broccoli, roasted beets and chia seeds stir-fried with eggs or fish in olive oil and coconut milk. Add a bit of curry paste for flavor. This meal is nutrient-rich and includes chia seeds which provide protein, fiber and omega 3’s.
Alcohol: Extremely dehydrating, alcohol should be avoided before…and during…diving. A glass of wine at night isn’t going to kill you. A six pack the night before could definitely make things more complicated.
Caffeine: This stimulant will work against the natural bradycardic effect of the mammalian dive reflex.
Carbonated drinks: Additional CO2 consumption will “…distend the stomach and force the diaphragm upwards,” according to dietary advice from the Manual of Freediving. CO2 is a waste product which builds up in our bodies during apnea. Even if the CO2 contained in carbonated beverages does not have a negative affect in freediving, it makes sense that the waste product should be avoided. The gaseous affect of the CO2 is uncomfortable while diving.
Citric acid: Found in oranges, grapefruits and especially limes and lemons, citric acid can irritate the esophagus as you descend and ascend over and over, moving the harsh substance up and down the throat until heart burn persists.
Dairy: Dairy either makes the mucus you produce thicker or makes you produce additional mucus. We are not sure which occurs but it is true that consumption of dairy makes equalization almost impossible for some people. Kick the dairy at least a week before diving.
Saturated fats: These aren’t easily digestible, and are bad for the heart. Avoid these at all costs.
Personally, I do not use recovery drinks or supplements. I do not doubt the advantages of having carbohydrates, fats and proteins delivered conveniently to the body in proper proportions via a shake or pill. However, I love to cook and I love to eat. Food and eating is not a nuisance to me but a form of communion, relaxation and even science. Ren and I use food as medicine. When Ren is feeling weak and tired I feed him leafy greens containing large amounts of iron. When tired after a workout I refuel with plenty of protein in the form of low-fat Greek yogurt. Eating for freediving is no different for me than everyday life. I eat for freediving success and do not lean on supplements as an aid. By doing this, I have become a much more mindful eater. Food has become more meaningful as an energy source, not just something to stuff in my face to quiet the stomach from growling. I have learned what to eat and when to eat it by practicing and reading. I suggest this as the best method for general health, happiness and freediving success.
You must also know that I am mostly vegetarian. The only meat I ever eat are animals that either Ren or myself have killed. Protein sources from animals is limited to fish, lobster, crabs and other seafood unless we are able to hunt or deer, turkey, game fowl or other land animals when in season. I have not seen any negative effects in my freediving performances as a result of my diet. I have not tried diving under any other dietary conditions though. I do take special care to make sure I get enough iron and protein, not with supplements, but with other food sources. Eggs from Ren’s grandmother’s chickens, lentils, leafy greens and a ton of other sources.
You are what you eat. Take this to heart and maintain a balance of mostly vegetables, lean protein, complex carbs, some fruit and good fats…cue the avocado! Take special care to eat healthy and easily digestible food just before diving. Take care to recover after rigorous activity to properly replenish your muscles. Consider the Earth and shop on the outside aisles of the grocery store to minimize packaging and ensure you are getting the freshest foods that are best for your body, not laden with preservatives and sodium.
Live healthy, live free and safe diving!