Surf Life Saving

Surf life savers are specially trained volunteers who patrol Australian beaches to ensure a safe beach environment for the whole community. Surf Life Saving Australia has more than 115,000 members, of all ages, in 310 surf life saving clubs around the Australian coastline.

About Surf Life Saving

Surf lifesavers are specially trained volunteers who patrol Australian beaches to ensure a safe beach environment for the whole community. Surf Life Saving Australia has more than 160,000 members of all ages, in 313 clubs around the Australian coastline.

‘Nippers’ is the youth focused program of life saving. This program designed to introduce children aged 5-14 years to basic life saving and water safety skills.

Surf lifesaving carnivals are held regularly over the summer months between clubs. They are an opportunity for surf lifesavers to engage in regular competition to fine-tune their skills and fitness. Surf carnivals usually involve a full day of competition and usually start early in the morning. Often athletes participate in multiple events over a day of competition, which can make in an energy demanding sport.

Surf sports events are highly varied with some events lasting a few seconds and other events lasting over an hour. This means physiological demands vary considerably depending on the event. Events are held both individually and in teams. Surf lifesaving events include:

  • Ironman (which involves swimming, board paddling, ski paddling and running)
  • Surfboat racing
  • Beach sprints
  • Beach flags
  • Surf ski racing
  • Board paddling

Most clubs run training sessions for surf lifesavers in the lead up to carnivals, however, competitors often undertake their own training in addition to these group sessions. These intensity, duration and format of these sessions will vary depending on the event focus for each surf lifesaver but typically includes a combination of land and water based strength and fitness training.

Training diet

The training nutrition needs of surf lifesavers are diverse due to the different types of training undertaken for each event. A general healthy eating pattern helps to support the needs of fit, energetic and lean lifesaver. Nutrition is often based around lean proteins for muscle repair and recovery, carbohydrate appropriately timed for fuel. In addition, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains provide important vitamins and minerals, along with some healthy fats such as avocado, nuts and oily fish such as salmon.

Individual nutrition requirements will be determined by training load, specific athlete needs, training goals, body composition goals, health and adjustment for growth in younger athletes.

Surf lifesavers should adjust their food and fluid intake to match their training load. For example, during heavy training periods, a diet rich in carbohydrate foods is important to provide adequate fuel to reduce fatigue, sustain performance and promote recovery. During lighter training periods or rest days, a less carbohydrate is needed given the lower energy demands on the body.

Hydration needs for surf life saving

In order to stay hydrated, surf lifesavers should drink fluids before, during and after training. This is especially important if training in the heat during Summer.

However, body fluid needs will depend on individual fluid losses, which vary depending on individual sweat rate.

Monitoring individual fluid losses is important as even relatively small fluid can impact performance and impair the body’s ability to cool itself.

In most cases, water will be sufficient to meet hydration needs. However, sports drinks can provide a convenient and compact source of fuel (carbohydrate) and fluid during intense training sessions or in hot weather.

Training is the best time to establish good hydration habits and monitor changes in day-to-day fluid losses under different conditions. The Fluids in Sport Factsheet has a number of useful tips to help optimise hydration.

Eating before competition

Surf carnivals usually involve a full day of competition and can start as early as 7am. It is important to start the day well-hydrated, with muscle fuel stores (glycogen) topped up to optimise performance over the day.

A carbohydrate-rich meal (usually breakfast) 2-4 hours prior to the start of competition is a good chance to top-up energy stores before the day begins. To avoid stomach discomfort, foods low in fibre and fat may be preferred as these foods take longer to digest. Suitable options include:

  • Porridge or untoasted muesli with yoghurt
  • Toast/crumpets with cheese or peanut butter
  • Homemade pikelets with fresh fruit
  • Spaghetti on toast.

For athletes with an early race start, a light breakfast might be preferred, for example raisin toast or a small bowl of cereal with milk. Those who are too nervous to eat solid food, may find a liquid breakfast be easier to manage – a fruit smoothie or a liquid meal are good options.

It’s important to start carnival day well-hydrated. Drinking 300-500ml of water with breakfast and continue to sip on water in the lead up to competition will help to start the day with good hydration levels. Fluids are also important in the 24 hours leading up to competition. Monitoring urine colour leading up to an event is a good way to check hydration levels – urine should be pale yellow in colour on the morning of competition.

Eating and drinking during competition

Surf life saving competitors often compete several times in a single day and the replacement of energy and fluid is very important between events. Competition eating should be practiced in training to help identify food and drink choices that suit each individual.

Sweat losses can be high – especially considering events are held over the summer months. As a result, fluid requirements are also quite high. Developing an individualised hydration plan is a good strategy to ensure fluids are replaced during competition – write a schedule of events for the day, identifying opportunities for fluid, and ensuring a supply of cool drinks are accessible.

It is wise for competitors to carry a drink bottle over the day to ensure they have access to fluids at all times. Unpredictable factors may alter event timing, leaving competitors in the marshalling area longer than expected.

Carbohydrate-rich foods should be eaten between races because carbohydrate is the preferred fuel source for muscles during high intensity exercise. Choose options that are convenient, portable and easy to digest.

  • If less than 30 minutes between races: carbohydrate containing fluids such as sports drinks or juice and chopped fresh fruit are rapidly digested so reduce the chance of stomach upset
  • If 30-60 minutes between races: light sandwiches with honey/jam/banana, cereal bars or homemade fruit muffins are good choices.
  • If more than 1-2 hours between races: a more substantial meal such as a homemade pasta salad, sushi or sandwiches/rolls can be eaten.

It is a good idea is to take an esky with various snacks (e.g. dried fruit, fruit cups, yoghurt, milk tetras, crackers, fruit buns) as carnivals can be some distance from shops


Nutrition recovery is especially important during multi-day events to avoid excessive fatigue. Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate (fuel), some protein (for muscle repair) and of fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses. Plenty of vegetables should also be included to complete recovery nutrition goals.

Some recovery food suggestions include:

  • Wrap filled with turkey breast and salad
  • Milkshake + piece of fresh fruit
  • Focaccia with roasted vegetables and cheese
  • Beef lasagne with side salad


Other Nutrition Tips

  • Plan for travel Carnivals often require travel. Pack healthy snacks and drinks to avoid relying on food at petrol stations or take-away stores or cafes.


 *Content in this fact sheet should be considered general advice only and may not suit your circumstances. Before modifying your diet, consult an Accredited Sports Dietitian. All content is regularly peer reviewed before publishing.