Firstly let’s dispel a long standing myth; “if you eat before a swim you get cramps” this myth is simply untrue.
What you eat and how much you eat “can” have an effect
In some cases a good affect not a bad one.
Anyone who has had a big breakfast and gone diving soon after knows it’s a mistake, especially if you suffer from acid reflux. You get bloated; the added pressure of the water plus the horizontal face down posture can make for an uncomfortable dive or worse. High carbs and low on fats is the way to go as a general rule.
There are two rules I apply when it comes to breakfast and it all depends on where you’re diving from:
1, On land
If you’re staying on land then the trip from the breakfast table to the dive centre, gearing up and the boat ride to the Dive Site will take about an hour. This is plenty of time for the digestive process to do its thing before your dive. So a reasonable breakfast avoiding anything too heavy is the way to go. Take a snack for the surface interval before your second dive.
2, Liveaboard Diving
When on a Liveaboard the time from breakfast table to dive is about 20 minutes. Go light on the breakfast front or skip breakfast before your first dive and have breakfast during the surface interval. If you do eat before the first dive eat light. Dried fruit is ideal - high in energy and easily digested. It will give you the energy you need without the fuss, and stay hydrated.
So why the difference? What’s going on inside?
The digestive process is an interesting one; when you eat, the body redirects blood from your extremities and even your brain to the stomach to digest the food. The more food in your stomach the longer it takes and the more blood is diverted. Just think about the last heavy lunch you had and that drowsy feeling after. It usually takes about an hour to digest the main portion of the meal before the blood starts flowing in earnest back to your extremities.
For divers this whole process is compounded when on a dive. The cooler water around you absorbs heat from your body, the greatest of which from your hands, feet and head as it’s these three that are the most exposed. You need blood flowing to your feet and hands to keep warm, therefore reduced blood flow makes it harder for you to stay warm and all this detracts from a comfortable and fun dive.
The moral of the story is if you have time to digest, great. If not go light.
Now we have the basics covered lets take a look at certain foods that can further help your diving experience be a better one.
Here are some examples of recommended foods:
Hydrate, but not too much, this is key to comfort and reducing the risk of DCS (decompression sickness) There are two key things that happen underwater.
- Your hydration level drops in part to breathing in dry pure air, osmosis and Immersion diuresis. Osmotic diuresis, is a process within the kidneys that acts to increase the rate of dehydration for various reasons. Immersion diuresis, is caused when the body is immersed in water of a lower temperature and increased pressure.
- The water pressure of the sea on your stomach and bladder, intensifies the need to go. Everyone is different and you have to find your own balance. I find a glass of water before a dive does the trick, or a glass of juice. Be well hydrated a couple of days before your diving starts and then keep it managed.
Tea, coffee, coconut water, alcohol and other diuretics. Avoid these just before a dive as they will make you want to go mid dive and they have a dehydrating effect. With alcohol, try and minimise it or avoid it a couple of days before your diving starts especially if you’re embarking on a weeks’ worth for diving. It takes its toll and can have a cumulative effect. Of course alcohol drinking and diving is an absolute no-no to dive safe.
Keep the energy up
Keeping up energy levels is important for both comfort and safety as the energy expended during a dive to maintain body temperatures is significant.
- Bananas are a favourite among divers as they are high in carbohydrates, and thus provide the energy boosts needed during surface intervals. Bananas are also high in potassium, which has an alkalising effect on the body. This alkalised state has been found to increase the oxygen absorption rate of the blood i.e. the blood holds more Oxygen; especially useful for Free Diving. Potassium also has a range of benefits on other parts of the body; increased brain muscle function, helps to maintain fluid balance, reduces the effects of stress and most importantly for divers prevents muscle cramps.
- Proteins are digested slower than carbs which means a slow burn providing you with sustained energy but also stopping you from getting hungry mid dive. The last thing you want on a dive is your tummy groaning! As such, fish high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon is great as well as tuna, and sardines.
- However you like them, eggs are a great source of protein, easy on the stomach and will provide a slow burn stream of calories to keep you snug in your wetsuit 20 meters down.
- Go Nuts – Whichever type of Nut is you favourite, nuts are a great snack on a dive. High in energy and protein, they serve two functions. 1, They provide the energy you need for a slow burn. 2, Proteins will help build those little forgotten muscles you use in the lower legs and feet when fining. This strengthening of the muscles also help to reduce the risk of cramps in the longer term.
As the saying goes “you are what you eat” so it should also mean “your dive is what you eat” Eating light but energy rich meals is the way to go; it minimises the duration of the digestive process and provides you with what you need to stay warm, strong and safe. A balanced 60% carb 40% protein meal/snack will provide just that. Avoid diuretics, alcohol and heavy or greasy fatty foods. Happy Bubbles!