Eating Right for Stand Up Paddle Sessions


Johanna Shiu is one of the new faces at Johanna has a Bachelor of Science in Sport and Exercise Science and a Master of Science in Sports Nutrition. She has worked as a consultant nutritionist to the Amateur Boxing Association of England, helping boxers and their coaches to become more aware of the importance of nutrition for optimum performance; ensuring the athletes made the right weight for competition; and importantly, making sure they were able to perform well and stay healthy. In addition, Johanna has helped athletes and individuals on a one-to-one basis with reaching competition/weight loss goals, and worked as a research physiologist for Unilever Research.

A sports enthusiast herself, Johanna enjoys SUPing, surfing, running, rock climbing and cycling amongst other things. Amongst other personal challenges, she has completed the London Marathon, the London to Brighton bike ride and more recently, a triathlon.


What you eat before stand up paddle surfing can make the difference between an enjoyable session, when you can keep going as long as those waves keep coming in, or a battle to find the energy to keep making it out back, or at worst, a total disaster and a miserable slow trawl back to shore. The last thing you want is to be sitting on the shore watching everyone else getting the good waves because you didn’t prepare well.

Some people will assume that if they’re fit enough, what they eat won’t make a difference…well the simplest analogy is that it’s no good having a Ferrari if you don’t put the right fuel in it. So, what’s the right stuff? Each and every one of us is different and so there’s no way anyone can “prescribe” a list of foods to be eaten that will make everything come good at the right time.

This and subsequent articles aim to give you the basic knowledge needed to make appropriate decisions for yourself, giving you the freedom to stand up paddle as long as those muscles can take it…..

Let’s start with the basic who’s who of the things we eat…


This is the fuel that your muscles needs most if you are to perform intense, powerful movements, and is also vital to more enduring exercise. Carbohydrate is also the only fuel your brain can use, so it’s absolutely vital that there’s a plentiful supply. Your body is able to store some carbohydrate within the muscles and is constantly breaking down these stores, along with your fat stores, to release glucose into the bloodstream…feeding the muscles and the brain. You’ll know if you’ve ever run out of carbohydrate – the “bonk” is that horrible feeling when the tank is suddenly empty, everything has to slow to snail’s pace and your brain can only just about function enough to give you a “get me to food” homing instinct. It’s a horrible feeling, and one that should be avoided at all costs when you’re out on the water. Even experiencing carb depletion to a lesser degree means that everything has to slow down as the body has to turn to just fat as a fuel – not what you need if you’re racing, out in challenging waves, or on a long-distance mission.


Fat is often seen as the “bad boy” of the diet; this is utter nonsense and no-one, particularly not anyone involved in endurance exercise, should be eating an extremely low-fat diet…it’s all about what types of fat you eat, but you certainly need some. There are quite clearly-defined “good” and “bad” fats, which we’ll tackle in another article.

The body has a marvellous ability to store fat…you can easily see this all around you with the current trend of overweight and obesity. But even a slim person has enough fat stores in the body, in theory, for several marathons back to back! Whilst we can’t use fat to run, say, 200 metres, any exercise lasting from a few minutes to those long hiking/stand up paddle surfing sessions of hours and hours uses the fat stores as fuel. The only trouble with using fat as a fuel is that it doesn’t give you the same ability to do rapid, intense exercise like carbohydrate does…so you definitely need both things on board.


Not just the food for “building muscle” – this is a vital part of the diet for maintaining a healthy body and a strong immune system, repairing all the damage that exercise causes, keeping bones healthy and to a lesser extent, fuelling the muscles’ ability to work. Not enough protein can lead to a loss of muscle mass (not good for those paddle arms!), while too much protein is quite literally, money down the toilet as you’ll just pee out what you’re not using. Some people believe it also puts a strain on the kidneys.

Protein, along with fat, also has a clever role to play in helping to release carbohydrates slowly into the bloodstream, making sure you don’t experience big sugar rushes followed by a big crash and a loss of power.


It’s common knowledge that the body consists of about 60-70% water and that losing just 2% of your body weight in fluid (ie, for a 165lbs man, a 3.3lbs fluid loss), which is easily done on a hot day within an hour or less, can be detrimental to sports performance.

An awful lot of science goes into the art of fluid intake, and rightly so. Taking on fluid isn’t as simple as just gulping down lots of water, the contents of what you drink determine whether you’re going to absorb the fluid, or simply make yourself need the toilet in a very short space of time. Just like getting your energy levels right, making sure you have adequate fluid on board can make or break your performance. And getting your fluids right goes on beyond when you’ve finished exercising – anyone who’s forgotten to take on fluids after a big session is probably familiar with the vice-like headache and lethargy that hits a few hours later…not what you need if you’re intending to have a repeat session.

Vitamins and Minerals

This list of “micronutrients” is just too complicated to sum up briefly, but suffice to say that they are essential to life, to your health and your ability to exercise. The best way to make sure you get enough is to eat a widely-varied diet. Eating rubbish, then popping vitamin/mineral pills just doesn’t cut it.

Pulling it all together

Getting to know all about sports nutrition is a long and complex science because our bodies are complicated organisms. So many things influence how much you can eat, how fast you can absorb it, how quickly you can turn that into energy for your muscles, how long that will last for, how rapidly you can replace your lost energy stores later etc etc….so, watch this space as we fill you in on what food and drink to consume and when, and how to keep healthy around all that stand up paddling…