Fueling for SUP – Nutrition Tips for Stand Up Paddlers

By Jen Fuller,

Are you training  to get faster? Are you training to get in shape or are you training for a 100 mile race? There is quite a bit of information out there about how to fuel for training and competition, and chances are you have tried a few ways. Since I want to keep this information fairly simple, I will refrain from totally geeking out on you. My hope is that this information will help you better plan for training, racing or general SUP exercise.

Nutrition tips for stand up paddle

The principles I am about to share have worked for me over a lifetime of training and competition, all of which are extensively tested in the lab and real life.  In my years of training and coaching I encourage you to consider that anything you add to your training should also enhance your life. Food is one of the main sustenances of life!

Food and nutrition therefore refers to what we eat on a daily basis. When you understand some basic fueling principles, then I hope that when you are in your off-season or something interrupts your training – you will not miss a beat.

Control your blood sugar – the 2:1 Carbs to Proteins ratio

First, one of the most important aspects that you can do for yourself is to control your blood sugar. This will help you tremendously going into training and competition as well as your recovery afterwards. Controlling your blood sugar means keeping your ratio of carbohydrate grams lower in relationship to protein grams.

You would use a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein to fuel if you were training at lower heart rates – less intensity or less duration. You will also use these ratios between trainings and competition.

What does this mean you ask? Here is an example from an energy bar nutrition label. This one is approximately a 2:1 ratio.

Example of a 2:1 ratio

Nutrition for SUP

In the example above, look at the grams of carbohydrate and the grams of protein.
There are 22 grams of carbohydrate and 14 grams of protein, giving us about a 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein.

In contrast look at this label, which gives you a 5:1 ratio of carbohydrate grams to protein grams. This is a good example of a high load of carbohydrate with very little offset of protein or fiber to control your blood sugar. In general this is not a ratio that is necessary to use in your training or completion with SUP.

Nutrition tips for SUP

You can do this for all food labels. You can even look up carbohydrate and protein amounts for the foods you eat and then calculate all day long. Keep in mind that fueling is specific to exercise intensity and duration. When intensity or duration increase so do the need for carbohydrates. The following are some examples of fueling for different intensities:

High intensity or Long Duration Training Day

Morning workout
Pre-workout (1 hour before) for High Intensity: Yogurt with berries, or apple and almond butter.
Pre-workout breakfast (3 hours before) for Long Duration: Eggs, avocado and Alvarado Flax bread toast (Alvarado is one of the highest in protein and low in carbohydrates)
During High Intensity: Easy to digest carbohydrates such as shot blocks or Bonk Breaker (200cal/hr) and electrolytes.
During Long Duration Training Day: Start with solid food such as 1/2 a kind bar or macro bar and then as your duration progresses move toward simpler carbohydrates such as shot block, or tailwind

Post workout recovery for both High intensity and Long Duration: (within 30 min of end of workout) Recovery shake with 20grams protein with some carbohydrate (ie banana, a little honey, berries). This is the time for simple carbohydrates such as grains or even pasta as well as vegetables.
Lunch and beyond: Go back to a balance of fats, lean protein, and vegetables. No simple carbohydrates. Back to that 2:1 or 1:1 ratio
Note: I do not recommend carbohydrate loading the day before or the morning of a high intensity, long duration or race! The reason is it can spike your blood sugar and leave you feeling heavy and bloated. Have you ever had that feeling?

Remember if you have been eating the same and decreasing exercise, particularly as you would do before a race or big adventure, then by definition you are carbohydrate loaded.

You can only store about 1300 to 2500 calories of carbohydrate in your liver and muscles at once. There is no such thing as storing more then that for later like a squirrel. If you try to take in more carbohydrate then your body can store, such as eating a huge pasta dinner the night before a competition, it simply gets converted as fat.

Shorter Distance or Less Intense Training Day: (lower heart rate)

Pre-workout breakfast: (1-2 hours before) Berries and yogurt will be fine.

If you did a long duration or high intensity-training day the day before then chances are you may wake up craving a bit more carbohydrate. In that case, oatmeal with fruit and nuts will better fuel you.

During: Water
Post workout recovery:  Since you did not go long or at a high intensity the normal 30 min window to refuel is not necessary. Eat if hungry but fuel with the 2:1 or 1:1 ratio.
After post recovery and into life: Focus on balance of fats, lean protein, and vegetables. No simple carbohydrates. Again, back to that 2:1 or 1:1 ratio
Note: You store up to about 75,000 calories of fat in your body. In order to become a better fat burner you need to spend a period of time each year training at lower heart rates and pairing your nutrition with 2:1 and 1:1 ratios. Doing this will increase your body’s ability to burn fat into higher heart rate zones, thus conserving your limited stores of carbohydrates. Over time your need to fuel with carbohydrate during and post high intensity/ long duration training days will decrease. This is called Metabolic Efficiency Training™. I will not go into this in this article but I hope that by mentioning it that your interest is peaked.

SUP Race Competition Day

Depending on the length or intensity, increasing carbohydrate amounts should really start about a week before competition by decreasing fats and increasing complex carbohydrate. Do not try to cram carbohydrates the day before a race. As mentioned before this only jacks up your blood sugar and leaves you feeling bloated. For simplicity I will give a general plan that includes the day before. Notice I am not putting in high amounts of carbohydrate the night before.

Before the SUP Race

The day before: Higher carbohydrate LUNCH will better prepare you for race day. Mixed salad, quinoa or some rice with protein, a little dried fruit, nuts, dressing, etc.
Snack: Alvarado bread with nut butter and sliced apple.
The night before: Focus on vegetables with some protein.
Pre race breakfast: Same as in you’re training. Refer to high intensity or long duration training day breakfast. Do not experiment the day of a race! What works in training will work during your race.

During the SUP Race

How long or short is the race? In general what works in training will work for your race. Refer back to high intensity or long duration training day recommendations. If you are racing long and you have been training with lower carbs you may only need 50 to 100 calories per/hour as you will be using more fat for energy because of your low carbohydrate training. If you have not been training on lower carbohydrate you might use 200 to 240 calories per/hour.

After the SUP Race

Post workout recovery: Bring your own food so you are prepared to refuel right after your race! Do not depend on the food at the end of the race, or the lack of food! (Remember; refuel in that 30 min. window). Food such as almond butter or peanut butter and jelly sandwich, other snacks you like. Recovery-shake, fruit and nuts, etc.
Lunch and later: You can go back to the 2:1 and 1:1 ratio but you may need a bit more carbohydrate too. The most important thing is to listen to your body and focus on your nutrition!


Metabolic Efficiency Training by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS
Fueling Summary by Connor Spencer, NC
Fuel and Food Progression through an Ultramarathon by Sunny Blende, M.S., Sports Nutritionist
Nutrition periodization for athletes Taking Traditional Sports Nutrition to the Next Level by Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS
Going Long, Training for the Triathlon’s Ultimate Challenge by Joel Fiel & Gordon Byrn

About the Author

Mathieu Astier

Mathieu is the hyper-active founder of TotalSUP and a multilingual online marketing veteran with more than 20 years of experience working for top international internet companies. His love-at-first-sight for Stand Up Paddling in 2013 led him to build one of the leading online media dedicated to SUP in English and French and to turn his family lifestyle towards the ocean.

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