Welcome to Part Nineteen of The Beginner’s Guide to Freediving, the best place to start your freediving journey. If you’re planning to start freediving, this chapter is all about my favourite subject: food! It looks at the best type of diet for freediving – what foods help and what foods hinder, as well as supplements that can help you hold your breath for longer and recover quicker.

The Optimum Diet For Freediving

The food and drink that you put in your mouth can have a massive effect on your freediving. It can impact your ability to equalise, your breath hold, and how quickly you recover from a freediving session. Even though there are general diet rules that apply to most people, we are all individuals and even a food that promotes good health in most people may adversely affect you. So, as with all aspects of freediving, listen to your body, research your own health conditions and take advice from your doctor where applicable.

In this article we will look at diet for freediving, i.e. food and drink that can cause problems in freedivers, how to ensure efficient digestion, supplements that may be of help, and the foods that will generally help promote health and successful freediving and recovery.

We will look firstly at food groups that cause inflammation in the body, lead to excess mucous production, cause gastrointestinal discomfort, impair digestion, increase dehydration and increase the heart rate.

Diet For Freediving – Mucous Forming Foods

Mucous has many functions in the body, including protecting our organs from pollutants such as cigarette smoke, dust and pollen; and acting as a defense mechanism by trapping viruses and bacteria. Excess mucous in the body, though, can cause problems with your freediving. In your sinuses it can massively hinder your ability to equalize effectively and consistently, and cause chronic sinusitis and postnasal drip. Excess mucous in the lungs can cause the chest to become tight and restrict your breathing. Some foods and drinks causes excessive mucous production due to an allergic reaction and can exacerbate conditions such as asthma, colds, COPD and cystic fibrosis. Some people are affected by mucous forming foods more than others.

These are the most common mucous forming foods:

  • Dairy products – These foods lead to the greatest mucous production in your body and they can be highly allergenic as well, which can lead to intestinal problems. If you wish to see how dairy affects your body then try removing it from your diet for at 30 days and see how your body reacts when you reintroduce it.
  • Gluten – Second only to dairy in its ability to produce mucous in the body are foods containing gluten. Gluten is an indigestible glue-like substance that holds molecules together in things like bread, giving it its texture. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye and oats, though the latter is as a result of cross-contamination due to being grown in the same fields used for wheat and processed using the same machinery. Gluten is often added to soups, sauces and even injected into many meat products. It can be hard to avoid unless you research carefully and know what to look for on the back of a food packet. As with dairy, try removing it from your diet for at least 30 days and see how your body reacts when when you reintroduce it.
  • Sugar – The sweet stuff including sucrose, fructose found in fruit, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, sucralose and sweeteners.
  • Refined flours and flour products
  • High-fat red meat and processed meats – This can be alleviated somewhat by eating grass-fed meat, which is leaner, and the use of digestive enzymes or eating it with foods that help digestion.
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine – Especially in drinks that also contain large amounts of sugar.
  • Some fruits and vegetables – Particularly bananas, white potatoes, corn, and cabbage. Lacto-fermenting the cabbage (such as traditional sauerkraut) has been reported to lead to lower mucous production.
  • Allergenic foods – Some foods are common allergens and if you are susceptible to their effects then your body will increase mucous production. These include soy, wheat, artificial additives, preservatives and eggs.
Beginners guide to freediving Diet for Freediving - Cheese – it’s tasty but doesn’t help with Freediving

Cheese – it’s tasty but doesn’t help with Freediving

Sometimes it can be hard to pin down what foods are producing mucous in your body, and it ca be equally difficult to completely avoid eating them. There are some foods that can relieve the production of mucous, helping to alleviate symptoms:

  • Vegetables – Including ginger, horseradish, garlic, onions, celery, parsley, winter squash, greens, brussel sprouts and peppers.
  • Fruits – Such as berries and lemons.
  • Chicken soup – Made with traditional stock.
  • Oily fish – Including salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring and sardines.
  • Olive oil
  • Herbs – Use essential oils such as eucalyptus, thyme, peppermint and pine in a steam inhalation.

Diet For Freediving – Foods That Cause Inflammation in the Body

Some inflammation is helpful, as it is your body’s way of protecting itself by removing damaged cells, irritants or pathogens, and promoting the healing process. Chronic inflammation on the other hand, whereby the immune response is not shut off, is incredibly dangerous and has been linked to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune conditions and many other diseases. Inflammation in the body will affect a freediver’s ability to equalize their ears and sinuses, as well as potentially causing gastrointestinal problems.

Foods that cause inflammation:

  • Gluten – A protein found in wheat, rye, barley and some oat products that promotes inflammation.
  • Casein – A protein found in dairy and whey products.
  • Refined carbohydrates – White flour products such as bread, pasta and noodles, white rice, white potatoes and many cereals are refined carbohydrates and may trump fats as the main cause of obesity and other chronic conditions.
  • Sugar – Processed sugars trigger the release of inflammatory messengers called cytokines. Sugar goes by many names so look out for any word ending in “ose,” (e.g. fructose or sucrose) on ingredient labels.
  • Aspartame – Aspartame is an artificial sweetener found in more than 4,000 products worldwide. It is a neurotoxin and if you are sensitive to this chemical, your immune system will react by attacking it, triggering an inflammatory response.
  • Omega 6 fatty acids – We need Omega 6 for normal growth and development, however the ratio of Omega 6 to 3 should be 1:1. This has been skewed in western diets so that many people are consuming a ratio of up to 25:1. Excess consumption of Omega 6 can trigger the body to produce pro-inflammatory chemicals. These fatty acids are found in oils such corn, safflower, sunflower, grape-seed, soy, peanut, and vegetable oils.
  • Trans fats – These trigger systemic inflammation and can be found in fast foods and other fried products, processed snack foods, frozen breakfast products, biscuits, donuts, crackers and some margarine. Avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient labels.
  • Saturated fat – Studies have shown that saturated fats trigger adipose, or fat tissue inflammation, however these studies also mixed saturated fat with refined carbohydrates so it is being debated whether it was the saturated fat or the refined carbohydrates that caused the problems.
  • Commercially produced meat – Animals traditionally meant to eat grass that are instead fed grains such as soya and corn (high in inflammatory Omega 6 fatty acids) and raised in a restricted environment produce meat higher in saturated fat and higher in Omega 6. Grass fed, free range animals fed on their natural diet produce leaner meat with less Omega 6 and more Omega 3.
  • Processed meat – These include animal products that have been smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved.
  • MSG – Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor-enhancing food additive most commonly found in prepared Asian food and soy sauce, but it can also be added to fast foods, pre-prepared foods, dressings and meat products. This chemical can trigger two important pathways of chronic inflammation.
  • Alcohol – This is a burden to the liver and can cause inflammation. It is best eliminated or used in moderation.

A diet rich in vegetables, olive and coconut oil, seafood, eggs, small amounts of fruit, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed meat will usually help reduce inflammation in the body. Turmeric has been shown to be very useful in reducing inflammation but it needs to be taken with black pepper.