How to,Recipes

Back to Basics Dive Nutrition

So, there you are driving back home after a long day of spearfishing. You are deep in conversation with your dive buddy and it dawns on you that you have repeated the last sentence 3 times over. You turn to your buddy and you notice that he did not pick this up, and his eyes are glazed over and in a ‘proper’ zombie mode.

What you have is commonly known as ‘Snorkelitus’, a condition uniquely related to spearfishing. I wouldn’t go quoting this with you local medical professional however, you might get some strange looks. But trust me ‘Snorelitus’ is real.

Jokes aside, spearfishing is possibly one of the most intense and grueling things you can do to your body, especially if you are diving for extended periods of time. Considering that most physical sports seldom take up more than an hour, and a spearfishing session can last for up to 6 – 8 hours.

During diving you lose massive amounts of body fluids through sweating, breathing through a snorkel, and excessive urinating because of constant changes in pressure. This dehydration added with physical fatigue means that your body takes incredible strain.

If you are diving in colder climates your core temperature often drops which determines how long you can dive for, so you might not suffer from the same degree of fatigue and dehydration. This does not mean that in warmer climates that you won’t get cold. Even in tropical waters, over long periods your core temp can drop. And even though it might not result in full blown hypothermia, add this to the fatigue and dehydration and you are putting your body through hell.

Most people don’t think too much about what they eat or drink when they are diving. Generally, most guys naturally tend to steer towards not eating much while diving as eating tends to negatively affect your mammalian reflex which assists your breath hold. In the same way, guys are also slack with drinking fluids and tend to only worry about rehydrating after the dive.

Personally, I suffer badly from ’Snorkelitus’ and I am usually the butt of many jokes at the end of a long day. A few years ago I started researching what could be done to combat the effects of long periods of diving, especially when going on long dive trips where we would often be diving all day for a week or more at a time.

This led me to working with a nutritionist and a food technician. We developed some meal replacement powders, one as a dive fuel to take while diving and other as a recovery drink to help keep us going for days on end. During this process we came across some interesting discoveries and remedies, most of which can easily be bought.

Lets start with what you should be doing during the day while diving. First and foremost is keeping hydrated. This seems like a ‘no-brainer’ but I go on a large amount of boats and this seems to be the first place where guys fall. Part of the problem is that guys are so focused on the diving that when they get back to the boat for the next drift they don’t drink anything until they ‘feel’ thirsty. By then it is too late and you are already starting to dehydrate.

The best thing to do is to have a bottle on the deck, right where it is easy to get to when you jump on the boat. You want to drink, at the very least, about 500ml an hour. Some guys are all about keeping the drinks cold, but from my experience I have found that this is not really ideal. The problem being that it can cause cramps, and because it is nice and refreshing you drink too much. You just want to take a few mouthfuls on every drift. That way you are hydrating throughout the whole day and you don’t feel bloated when you get back in the water.

Now, what to drink is the next thing. At the very worst, just drink water and lots of it. It’s not ideal but you can replace the electrolytes and minerals later. What you don’t want to do is have drinks that are high in ‘sugars’, like soft drinks.

Although this is a source of carbohydrates, they are processed very quickly and if you battle with your sinuses they will only cause more problems. Concentrated sugars cause your body to produce extra mucous to help your digestive system digest them. This mucous is what blocks your Eustachian tubes and stops you from equalizing effectively.

What works for me is a very light juice mix with a light rehydrate. You don’t need to have the full rehydrate solution as you are not trying to replace all the electrolytes and minerals in one drink. You are drinking a large amount throughout the day and merely trying to maintain them. If you make the juice and rehydrate too strong then it will be like drinking the concentrated sugars in a soft drink. I go with a weak mix that is just enough to take the salt taste out my mouth.

Now that you have the fluids taken care of what about energy to feed your hard working body? This is possibly the hardest thing to get right. Eat too much or eat the wrong thing and your ‘mamalian reflex’ will shut down. Foods with too many processed sugars affect your sinuses and often just make you peak and then crash.

If you want to perform at your best all day you need to feed your body; it needs fuel to burn! You need a carbohydrate that is easily digested so as not to affect the mammalian reflex and one that has a fairly low Glycemic Index to give you a constant energy level.

Another thing to take into consideration is heart burn. Some foods have been known to cause heart burn when diving. The best solution we came up with, outside of a manufactured MRP, was baby potatoes or baby sweet potatoes. Baby potatoes have a lower GI than large potatoes and come in a convenient bite sized portions. They are also quiet bland and don’t seem to cause heart burn at all. Most importantly, by just eating a single baby potato every alternative drift your ‘mammalian reflex’ is not affected, and your body can easily digest the small portions without hindering your diving performance.

Bananas are also great for a quick boost of natural energy and they are a good source of potassium. Similarly, our friend the sweet potato is also a very good source of potassium and other minerals. Potassium is important because it helps with endurance and maintains a good pH level in the body. Potassium also aids muscle recovery which brings us to the next part of this discussion on nutrition, and that is the recovery.

Feeding your body and muscles after a long dive is critical, especially if you are diving for a number of consecutive days in a row. This can get quite complicated, but basically you want to achieve these 3 things:

Firstly, you want to feed your muscles and help their recovery, so Protein and amino acids are what you need. Secondly, you want to rehydrate and thirdly, you want to replace any lost minerals and electrolytes.

You can go and get a good post workout recovery formula, but if you are not sure what you to get just get a good whey protein formula from a reputable brand. This will feed your muscles, help them recover overnight and help your legs be ready for another day of motoring you around the ocean.

Mixing up a good strong rehydrate is an absolute must and should be taken as soon as possible after your last dive. This can be high in sugars if you feel that you need a boost, but stay away from caffeinated energy drinks as they are diuretics and with only dehydrate you more.

Something most guys are not aware of is how much strain your liver takes when diving. This is mostly because of the dehydration, so if you manage to take in enough fluids you are half way there. A good liver tonic or herbal tonic like Milk Thistle will help your liver detox and improve your endurance and energy levels the next day. Basically you won’t feel as hung over!

On that note, it is often hard not to have a cold beer at the end of a great days diving, but know that alcohol is not the best thing to be drinking if you want to wake up the next day in top form.

So next time you head out to sea pack a small container of baby or sweet potatoes and a couple litres of light juice mix to keep yourself fed and hydrated. And remember, if you are going on a long trip pack a shaker and a protein or recovery MRP to feed those muscles.

I hope this helps, so dive safe and dive strong.


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