If you ever wondered whether you can eat your way to longer breath-hold, this is for you. While you’re unlikely to add 5 minutes to your static or 50m to your depth just by eating more of the things mentioned below, there is a great chance you will enjoy benefits such as staying warm longer, fatiguing later and just feeling better in the water overall.
Depending on the climate you’re freediving in, and the strenuosity of your session, a light yet nutritious snack a few hours before you freediving session might be enough for you. This is practiced by quite a lot of freedivers, both recreational and professional.
When freediving in colder water though, or if you are planning to have a strenuous and / or longer freediving session, a nourishing, easily digestible meal beforehand is definitely a good idea.
If you are freediving in tropical warm waters and your freediving session is just a couple of hours of easy, recreational freediving, you can also get away without eating anything beforehand.
Freediving on an empty stomach is definitely also a better choice than freediving on a belly filled with a massive breakfast burrito. Not only does digestion require a lot of energy from your body, which is why no one ever feels fresh or excited to work out after a huge meal.
Taking in a nice big breath comfortably is also impossible, and if you’re prone to seasickness, this is the best way to make sure you’ll soon be enjoying your meal twice and feeding fish.
When freediving for several weeks in a row with only a few rest days though, you are better off eating at least a little bit beforehand, and also properly after your session. Otherwise, you will lose energy and strength over time due to freediving being taxing on your body without you realizing it.
Eat enough, and the right kind of foods for freediving
When thinking about what to eat, think about replenishing your body and restoring the energy it put out during a freediving session.
Does this mean you can just stuff your face with whatever is in sight? No, of course not. A bag of lollies might have the same amount of calories as a big pile of fruit or a wholemeal wrap etc but it certainly won’t have the same nutrients, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Of course, everybody is different, and you might digest a certain food better than or not as good as someone else, but some general rules do apply to pretty much anyone. Once you have found which foods work best for you and eat them repeatedly, you might also notice your body getting better and better at metabolizing and using these foods for energy and absorbing their nutrients.
What to eat before a freediving session.
Fresh fruit is absorbed fairly quickly by your body.
Eat a fruit smoothie or one to two pieces of fruit – bananas are great – around 1 hour before your freediving session so that the foods are already out of your stomach and being digested while giving you plenty of energy in the water.
Fresh fruit is also rich in electrolytes and has high water content, thus keeping you hydrated longer while reducing the risk of cramps.
Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium are minerals that help to maintain fluid balance. They essentially allow your muscles and nerves to continue contracting optimally without cramping.
Even though we don’t realize it, we do lose electrolytes along with water in our sweat while being in the water, and therefore need to make sure we are consuming an adequate amount to stay properly hydrated.
Oats, on the other hand, have the advantage of releasing energy quite slowly while still being easily digestible. They are absorbed a bit slower than fruit, so make sure to give your body more time to digest. A good rule of thumb is to have a bowl of oats around 2-3 hours before freediving.
Once freedivers come back out of the water, they often do not feel too hungry at all – but this is the time when it’s a really good idea to refuel.
You can have a shake with carbs and protein straight after your dive session once you are back on the boat or back on land, in form or a proper meal – or both 🙂
Make sure to eat as soon as possible, and make sure to have something wholesome, balanced, nutritious and DELICIOUS.
Carbs like sweet potato, pumpkin, quinoa or rice, protein from lentils, eggs or fish, healthy fats from avocado or a little bit of cold-pressed oils, and some steamed veggies or a nice big salad.
Add sprouts, fermented veggies such are sauerkraut or kimchi to support your digestion and immune system, sprinkle some nuts and seeds on top of your veggies and salads for healthy fats, extra amino acids (proteins) and crunch.
For snacks, you’re best off with fresh fruit, or a little piece of extra dark chocolate – better a little here and there than to restrict yourself hardcore all the time only to end up binging later on.
Do I need nutritional supplements for freediving?
Just like the right foods won’t improve your breath hold by miles, supplements will not likely be the one thing you’ve been missing to go from 30 to 100m deep and unless you are a full time, full on freediving athlete, you will be absolutely fine with just eating well.
To give you an overview of what freediving athletes tend to use, these are the usual suspects:
Iron – Iron is necessary to carry oxygen from the lungs throughout the body and for other cellular functions.
There are also two types of iron your body can get from food: heme which is found in animal products and usually better absorbed, and nonheme which is found in plants. Have a look here for most iron rich foods, you might be surprised: https://nutritiondata.self.com/
Eating iron-rich foods can absolutely suffice however be aware of the fact that antioxidants inhibit the absorption of iron (e.g. a smoothie with iron-rich, leafy greens and antioxidant berries, or high amounts of grape seed extract).
What helps with the absorption of iron on the other hand, are:
– Folic Acid, found in black-eyed peas, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, avocado, bananas, oranges, eggs and brussel sprouts
– Vitamin C, found in foods such as kiwi, broccoli, oranges, lemon, leafy greens, melon, peppers and tomatoes.
-Magnesium – is important for countless processes in your body. Some interesting ones for freedivers are that it helps prevent muscle cramps and improves flexibility while relaxing the nervous system, giving you more restful sleep and stabilising blood pressure.
Make sure to take it in moderation as too much can have a laxative effect. Magnesium can also inhibit the absorption of iron, so if you supplement, take iron in the morning and magnesium before going to bed as it can help you relax and sleep. For a complete list of magnesium, rich foods, check out: https://nutritiondata.self.com/
Any food I should avoid when freediving?
As mentioned earlier, avoid eating heavy foods before a freediving session, and do not freedive on a full stomach. Some foods can increase mucus production, thus potentially blocking your sinuses and ruining your equalization.
Amongst these are dairy, if you are lactose intolerant, but also soy products, processed meats, gluten (found in wheat but also lots of processed foods) and sugary products, caffeine as well as alcohol. The latter two actually is dehydrating which results in thicker mucus.
In summary, avoid eating things you do not tolerate well, even if other freedivers might swear on them, and eat the foods you have found to tolerate well and feel energized from.
Listen to your body first, always.
Written by Lisa Mattes, AT instructor, yoga teacher & holistic wellbeing creator at: