The best diet for paddlers will depend on their individual needs and goals. It’s important to work with a registered dietitian or sports nutritionist to develop a personalized nutrition plan that meets specific needs and supports their training and performance goals. However we’ll attempt to establish some good guide lines.

Brain Power

The brain and nervous system are critical and central components to good athletic performance. This is often overlooked, but all of our actions stem from our brains and our nerve responses. In fact studies have been done to show that just thinking and visualizing shooting and making free-throws is as effective as physically practicing the activity. (Smith, D., Wright, C., & Cantwell, C. (1997). Beating the shooter’s block: Overcoming performance difficulties through imagery training. Journal of Sports Sciences, 15(6), 593-600.)

Here are some key nutrients and dietary patterns that can support brain health:

  1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and function. They play a role in the development and maintenance of the nervous system, and can help reduce inflammation in the brain. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, are rich in omega-3s. Other excellent sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts.
  2. Antioxidants: Antioxidants can help protect the brain from oxidative stress, which can damage cells and contribute to age-related cognitive decline. Foods that are rich in antioxidants include berries, dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables, and colorful fruits and vegetables.
  3. B Vitamins: B vitamins are important for brain health and function, as they play a role in energy metabolism and neurotransmitter synthesis. Foods that are rich in B vitamins include whole grains, leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  4. Hydration: Staying hydrated is important for brain function, as even mild dehydration can impair cognitive performance and thickened blood reduces oxygen delivery. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day, and consume foods with high water content, such as fruits and vegetables.
  5. Limit Processed Foods: Processed foods are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives, which can contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain. Aim to limit your intake of processed foods and focus on whole, nutrient-dense foods instead.

Brain Damage Foods

Here’s a guide to some things to avoid to help keep your core powered up properly.

  1. Sugary foods and drinks: Consuming high amounts of sugar has been linked to inflammation in the brain and impaired cognitive function. Avoid or limit intake of sugary drinks, such as soda and sports drinks, as well as processed foods that are high in added sugars, like candy, baked goods, and sweetened cereals.
  2. Processed and fried foods: Processed and fried foods are often high in unhealthy fats, such as trans fats, which have been linked to increased risk of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Avoid or limit intake of fried foods, packaged snacks, and processed meats like hot dogs and bacon.
  3. Artificial additives: Some artificial additives, such as artificial sweeteners and food colorings, have been linked to neurological symptoms like headaches and behavioral changes in some people. Avoid or limit intake of foods and drinks that contain artificial additives, such as diet sodas and processed snack foods.
  4. Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can damage brain cells and increase the risk of cognitive decline and dementia. Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Dietary Needs for Athletes

Paddling is a demanding sport that requires a lot of energy and endurance, so a healthy and balanced diet is crucial for paddlers to perform at their best. Here are some types of diets that can be beneficial for paddlers:

  1. Balanced Diet: A balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats) can provide all the necessary nutrients that paddlers need for optimal performance and recovery. It’s important for paddlers to eat enough calories to support their energy needs, which can vary depending on the intensity and duration of their training.
  2. High Carbohydrate Diet: Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for endurance exercise, so a high-carbohydrate diet can be beneficial for paddlers who are training for longer distances or races. Foods that are high in complex carbohydrates include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Paddlers should aim to consume complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, for sustained energy.
  3. Plant-Based Diet: A plant-based diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can provide all the necessary nutrients for paddlers. Plant-based diets are typically high in fiber and antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation and promote recovery.
  4. Mediterranean Diet: The Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet that emphasizes whole foods, healthy fats, and lean protein. It’s rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which can benefit paddlers who are putting their bodies under stress. The Mediterranean diet includes foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

Protein vs. Carbohydrates

Go easy on protein. Protein is important for building muscles, but too much protein consumption leads to increased risk of developing chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

For endurance athletes who engage in long-duration exercise like distance paddling or cycling, carbohydrates are particularly important for maintaining energy levels and preventing fatigue. Most elite athletes hit optimum performance with 65/70 percent complex carbohydrates 35/30 percent protein of their total calorie intake. When in doubt, less protein is recommended as 10% to 25% is typical for athletes not involved in heavy strength training.

Athletes should aim to consume a variety of protein sources to ensure they are getting all the essential amino acids their body needs to build and repair muscle tissue. Additionally, it’s important to consume protein within 30 minutes to an hour after exercise to support muscle recovery. The amount of protein an athlete needs will vary depending on their body weight, activity level, and training goals, but a general guideline is to consume around 1.2-2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. (

  1. Lean meats: chicken, turkey, beef, pork, bison, etc. (3-4 oz per serving)
  2. Fish: salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, etc. (3-4 oz per serving)
  3. Eggs: whole eggs or egg whites (1-2 eggs or 4-6 egg whites per serving)
  4. Plant-based protein sources: beans, lentils, chickpeas, tofu, tempeh, seitan, quinoa, nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, etc.) (4-8 oz of cooked beans or lentils, 3 oz of tofu or tempeh, 1 oz of nuts or seeds per serving) – Benefits of having zero saturated fats and typically zero trans fats.

Complex Carbs

For some reason carbs have been labeled as bad and protein a critical element for sports. However in endurance complex carbohydrates are critical and even elite athletes limit their protein intake to about 35% of their calorie intake.

Unlike simple carbohydrates, which are quickly broken down and absorbed by the body, complex carbohydrates are broken down more slowly, providing a more sustained source of energy.

Complex carbohydrates can be found in a variety of foods, including whole grains (such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat), fruits, vegetables, legumes (such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas), and starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and sweet potatoes).

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood sugar levels. The GI is based on a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values indicating that a food is more likely to cause a rapid rise in blood sugar levels.

Foods with a high GI (70 or higher) are typically those that are rapidly digested and absorbed, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. These foods include sugary drinks, candy, white bread, and other highly refined carbohydrates. Foods with a low GI (55 or lower) are typically those that are digested more slowly, causing a slower and more gradual increase in blood sugar levels. These foods include most vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and some fruits.

The GI can be a useful tool for managing blood sugar levels, particularly for individuals with diabetes. However, it is important to note that the GI is not a perfect indicator of a food’s healthfulness, as some high GI foods (such as watermelon) are still healthy and nutritious. Additionally, other factors, such as the amount and type of fat and protein in a meal, can also affect how quickly carbohydrates are absorbed and how they impact blood sugar levels.

Complex carbohydrates:

  • Whole grains (e.g. oats, brown rice, barley, quinoa)
  • Starchy vegetables (e.g. kalo, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn)
  • Legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, black beans)
  • Fruits (e.g. apples, oranges, berries)
  • Vegetables (e.g. broccoli, spinach, tomatoes)

Glycemic index (GI) values:

  • Oats: 55
  • Brown rice: 50
  • Barley: 28
  • Quinoa: 53
  • Sweet potato: 44
  • Potato: 78
  • Taro: 70
  • Corn: 52
  • Lentils: 32
  • Chickpeas: 28
  • Black beans: 30
  • Apple: 36
  • Orange: 45
  • Berries: 25-40 (depending on the type)
  • Broccoli: 10
  • Spinach: 15
  • Tomatoes: 15

Simple Carbs

Unless you’re in the middle of an intense activity and need energy, these high GI types of simple carbohydrates should be avoided.

  • Table sugar (sucrose): 65
  • Honey: 55
  • Taro: 50-70 (depending on preparation)
  • Maple syrup: 54
  • High-fructose corn syrup: 62-70 (depending on the type)
  • White bread: 75-85 (depending on the type)
  • White rice: 73
  • Refined cereals (e.g. corn flakes, rice krispies): 80-90 (depending on the type)
  • Soft drinks: 50-70 (depending on the type)
  • Candy and sweets: 65-80 (depending on the type)

Common Foods to Avoid

  • Plate lunches: A popular meal that typically includes white rice, macaroni salad, and a meat dish like kalua pork or teriyaki chicken. While the meat can provide protein, the white rice and macaroni salad are high in simple carbohydrates and may not provide the sustained energy that athletes need. Opt for brown rice or salad instead of white rice and macaroni salad, and choose lean protein sources like grilled fish or chicken or something plant-based.
  • Spam musubi: A popular snack that includes a slice of Spam on top of a block of rice, wrapped in nori seaweed. While this snack is tasty, it is high in sodium and may not provide the balanced nutrition that athletes need. Try making your own version with lean protein sources like grilled chicken or tofu and brown rice.
  • Lomi salmon: A popular side dish that includes diced salmon, tomatoes, onions, and green onions. While salmon is a great source of protein and healthy fats, the added salt and high sodium content in lomi salmon can be a concern for athletes who need to control their sodium intake. Enjoy salmon in moderation and opt for fresh salmon prepared with healthier seasonings like herbs and lemon instead.
  • Haupia: A popular dessert made with coconut milk and sugar. While this dessert is tasty, it is high in calories and may not provide the sustained energy that athletes need. Opt for fresh fruit or a small serving of sorbet instead.
  • Kalua pig: A traditional dish made by roasting a whole pig in an underground pit oven (imu). While the meat is a good source of protein, it can be high in fat and sodium. Opt for leaner cuts of meat like grilled chicken or fish.
  • Poi: Made from mashed taro root. While taro is a good source of carbohydrates, poi can be high in calories and low in fiber. Opt for other carbohydrate sources like sweet potatoes or quinoa or supplement poi with vegetables.
  • Shave ice: A popular treat made with finely shaved ice and flavored syrups. While it may be refreshing on a hot day, shave ice is high in sugar and may cause a quick spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash. Opt for fresh fruit or a small serving of sorbet instead (avoid ice cream).
  • Malasadas: Malasadas are deep-fried dough balls that are rolled in sugar. While they may be delicious, they are high in calories, fat, and sugar. Opt for healthier dessert options like fresh fruit.
  • Spam: A canned meat product that is popular in Hawaii and often used in dishes like spam musubi. While spam is a good source of protein, it is also high in sodium and preservatives. Opt for leaner protein sources like chicken, fish, tofu or other plant-based sources.
  • Loco moco: While this dish may be filling and satisfying, it is also high in calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Opt for a lean protein source like grilled chicken or fish and swap the white rice for brown rice or a salad.
  • Pupus: Appetizers that are often fried or loaded with high-calorie sauces and dips. Examples include fried poke, chicken wings, and crab Rangoon. Opt for healthier appetizer options like grilled shrimp or vegetable skewers.
  • Hawaiian sweet bread: A soft, sweet bread that is a popular snack. While it may be tasty, it is also high in calories, sugar, and refined simple carbohydrates. Opt for whole grain breads or wraps instead.
  • Highly processed snacks: These are often high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and added sugars. Examples include potato chips, candy, and cookies.
  • Processed meats: These often contain high amounts of sodium, saturated fats, and preservatives. Examples include bacon, spam, sausages, and deli meats.
  • Sugary drinks: These are often high in added sugars and low in nutrients. Includes instant noodles, soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks.
  • Fast food: These are often high in calories, unhealthy fats, sodium, and added sugars. They can also be low in nutrients. Examples include burgers, fries, and fried chicken.
  • Instant noodles: These are often high in sodium, unhealthy fats, and preservatives. They can also be low in nutrients. Examples include ramen noodles and other instant noodle brands.


  • Replace white bread with whole grain bread or sprouted grain bread.
  • Replace white pasta with whole wheat pasta, lentil, chickpea or quinoa pasta (sold in most stores, even Target and KTA).
  • Replace white rice with brown rice, wild rice, or quinoa.
  • Replace sugary cereals with oatmeal or other whole grain cereals.
  • Replace white potatoes with sweet potatoes or yams.
  • Replace sugary snacks with fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • Replace sugary drinks with water, herbal tea, or coconut water.
  • Replace processed foods with whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean protein sources.

Micro-nutrients Are Important Too

  1. Iron: Iron is essential for oxygen transport and energy production in the body. Athletes, especially female athletes, may be at increased risk for iron deficiency due to the higher demands on their bodies. Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale, lentils, tofu, tempeh, quinoa, fortified cereals, nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds and cashews, lean beef, poultry, and seafood.
  2. Calcium and Vitamin D: Calcium and vitamin D are important for bone health, which is especially important for athletes who engage in weight-bearing activities. Fortified plant-based milks such as soy, almond, or oat milk, tofu, tempeh, collard greens, broccoli, kale, and fortified orange juice. Non-plant based sources include dairy products, canned fish with bones (such as salmon), and eggs. Vitamin D can also be obtained through sun exposure or supplements.
  3. Magnesium: Magnesium is important for energy production, muscle function, and bone health. Whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa, nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds, legumes such as black beans and chickpeas, and dark leafy greens like spinach and Swiss chard. Non-plant based sources include seafood, lean meat, and poultry.
  4. B Vitamins: B vitamins play important roles in energy metabolism and are important for athletes who engage in high-intensity exercise. Nutritional yeast, fortified cereals, tempeh, tofu, lentils, and dark leafy greens like spinach and collard greens. Non-plant based sources include lean meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
  5. Antioxidants: Antioxidants help protect cells from damage caused by exercise-induced oxidative stress. Berries like blueberries and raspberries, dark chocolate, nuts like almonds and walnuts, colorful fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes, and green tea.

What about Fats and Oils?

Paddlers should generally avoid consuming too much saturated and trans fats, as these can have negative effects on heart health and overall performance. Saturated fats are typically found in animal products such as meat and dairy, as well as in some tropical oils like coconut oil and palm oil. Trans fats are often found in processed foods, fried foods, and baked goods made with hydrogenated oils.

Instead, paddlers should focus on consuming unsaturated fats, which can have positive effects on heart health and performance. These can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, and fatty fish like salmon.

It’s also important for paddlers to consume an appropriate amount of dietary fat, as fat plays an important role in providing energy, supporting hormone function, and aiding in the absorption of certain vitamins. However, the specific amount and type of fat needed can vary depending on an individual’s goals, activity level, and other dietary considerations.

Overall Dietary Percentages

The ideal percentage of calories from fats, oils, protein, and carbohydrates for athletes can vary depending on factors such as their sport, training intensity, body composition goals, and individual needs and preferences. However, some general guidelines include:

  • Fat: 20-35% of total calories
  • Protein: 10-35% of total calories
  • Carbohydrates: 45-65% of total calories

These ranges are based on the Acceptable Macro-nutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDRs) developed by the Institute of Medicine, which provide general guidance on the recommended ranges of macro-nutrient intake for optimal health. Within these ranges, the specific percentages of each macro-nutrient can be adjusted based on individual needs and goals.

It’s also important for athletes to consider the quality of the macro-nutrients they are consuming. For example, focusing on consuming whole food sources of carbohydrates, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can provide more nutrients and fiber than consuming processed carbohydrates. Similarly, choosing lean sources of protein and healthy fats can provide important nutrients while minimizing intake of saturated and trans fats.

Common Daily Calorie Intakes for Fit Athletes

  • Endurance athletes: 14-28 calories per pound of body weight per day. For example, a 150-pound endurance athlete might require between 2,100 and 4,200 calories per day.
  • Strength and power athletes: 14-19 calories per pound of body weight per day. For example, a 200-pound strength athlete might require between 2,800 and 3,800 calories per day.
  • Weight-class athletes: 10-14 calories per pound of body weight per day. For example, a 150-pound wrestler might require between 1,500 and 2,100 calories per day.

Calorie Intake sources:

  • American College of Sports Medicine. (2016). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (10th ed.). Wolters Kluwer.
  • Burke, L., Deakin, V., & Hawley, J. (2016). Nutrition for Sport and Exercise (3rd ed.). Allen & Unwin.
  • Thomas, D. T., Erdman, K. A., & Burke, L. M. (2016). American College of Sports Medicine Joint Position Statement. Nutrition and Athletic Performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 48(3), 543-568.