How the World’s Best Pro Surfers Fuel for Performance

Oahu Backdoor Kolohe
Kolohe Andino surfs at Backdoor in Haleiwa, North Shore Oahu. Ryan Miller/Red Bull Content Pool

With the global expansion of the coronavirus over the last two months, the world of professional sports has all but pressed pause. Pro surfers, who typically spend a majority of their years on the road, are suddenly sitting at home—no matter what the swell report says. On April 28, the World Surf League (WSL) cancelled or postponed the entirety of its competition calendar through July 1, and even that is subject to change.

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With normalcy far in the distance and many surf spots still locked down, pro surfers are focusing more than ever on nutrition. The thinking is simple: A healthy body will provide the performance edge needed the minute they’re allowed to paddle out.

But surfers have a few added variables in the fight for peak fitness. These athletes are often at the whims of an uncertain and unending travel schedule, one that makes maintaining a healthy routine increasingly difficult. Tasked with multi-day flight itineraries, brutal competition circuits, and calendars that shift with each fickle wave report, pro surfers have traditionally been forced to adapt their nutrition routine to life on the road, or risk bonking in some of the most unforgiving surf on the planet. So, do their routines—designed for resilience and the road—turn into habits under travel restrictions and stay-at-home mandates?

We caught up with some of the biggest names in the world of professional surfing to find out. From big-wave surfers Ian Walsh and Kai Lenny, to WSL staples Yago Dora and Kolohe Andino, we asked the sport’s highest performers how the ordinary ocean athlete can keep nutrition in mind when it’s time to chase waves once again.

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Ian Walsh red bull pipe
Ian Walsh prepares for his heat at the 2018 Volcom Pipe Pro. Zak Noyle/Red Bull Content Pool

Men’s Journal: What’s the biggest nutrition tip you’ve picked up over the years?

YAGO DORA: We usually buy food from the market and cook it at the places we stay, so we have better control of what I’m eating.

IAN WALSH: I drink tons of water while traveling! Sixty-four ounces per flight keeps me healthy and helps fight jet-lag.

Also, it’s important to adapt to local foods and be open-minded to maximize nutrition where I am—not focus on what I’m missing by not being at home. That way I ensure that I get enough calories even though I’m not eating what I’m used to eating. I really enjoy experimenting with new cuisines while I am traveling.

KAI LENNY: Trace minerals. I learned that your body absorbs water much better when trace minerals are in it. Spending the majority of my time in the ocean and under the sun, salt water is very dehydrating and I need to be properly hydrated at all times. I’ve felt a major difference in how I feel since using the trace minerals. During my endurance SUP and foil races, those typical sweeter hydration drinks compromise my events by giving me a sore stomach. I moved around it by taking a scoop of the amino acid supplement MR100 before and after the event.

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Kai Lenny red bull maldives
Kai Lenny at the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy 2019 Mohamed Ahsan/Red Bull Content Pool

How does your nutrition regimen keep you healthy on the road? And why is it key to your performance?

KOLOHE ANDINO: I think the biggest thing for me is eating whole foods or anything that comes from the earth. My diet mostly consists of meat and veggies—I try to eat paleo and clean as much as possible. I feel that when I do this I have more energy throughout the day.

I think fueling your body with clean ingredients is a huge step to improving your performance. My body is what allows me to compete and perform, so feeding it with wholesome food is super important.

IAN WALSH: Sticking as close as I can to a healthy diet helps me to not get sick. There are so many factors while traveling you cannot control, but I can control my [nutrition]!

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What’s your miracle food or drink on the tour or while traveling, and why? (Doesn’t necessarily need to be healthy.)

DORA: Paçoca. It’s a Brazilian sweet, similar to peanut butter. With a good mix of energy and carbs from the sugar, and electrolytes from the salt, it gives me a boost and it also reminds me of home.

LENNY: Taco Bell bean burritos! I have had my best results and most amazing rides after eating them. Might sound crazy, but I promise you it’s true. For the longest time, I tried out perfectly formulated meal plans and I would always have a huge crash during a race or session. For whatever reason, as soon as I started eating bean burritos I was winning races and events I hadn’t before.

yago dora red bull pipeline
Yago Dora surfs at Banzai Pipeline at the Volcom Pipe Pro on Oahu January 2020. Zak Noyle/Red Bull Content Pool

What’s the biggest challenge in managing your nutrition? 

DORA: There are a few places that are not so easy to eat exactly what you want to. The more remote places you have to adapt to what they have to offer, but even at these places you can still eat really healthy.

WALSH: In consistency with regular diet is the toughest part—you don’t know with different cuisines what different nutritional values you are getting.

ANDINO: A lot of the times we are eating out or there are limited options. So, being able to find spots that you like and have good food is always a plus. There are a few spots on tour where there is that one restaurant that has solid options, and I will eat there every night.

A lot of times I will also bring snacks and nonperishables with me in my suitcase to eat throughout the day, which helps a lot.

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