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Laird Hamilton’s Big Wave Nutrition and Fitness Routine

Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton shares a day in the life of his typical nutrition and water activity schedule when a decent size swell arrives (IN SEASON NOV-MARCH). With Laird’s summer workout combination of 90 minute functional training sessions, alternated with his innovative pool workouts, is considered highly demanding by most people’s standards, it is really just a warm-up for the “real deal”. When he is back in Hanalei Bay with his fellow big wave surfers, Laird’s real work begins. Anyone who has made the journey out to Kauai to spend a few days with Laird when he is at full-tilt, has seen first-hand the intense pace he and his tow-in partners maintain when the “big swell” is in.Of course, with all Laird’s physical activity comes plenty of healthy eating and proper nutrition supplementation to make sure that he has the all essential nutrition necessary to  support such an intense schedule. But like most other world-class athletes, Laird has his own tried and true nutrition routine that he has perfected over years of personal experimentation. So for those of you who like to live vicariously through Laird’s big wave exploits, or if you are just looking to pick-up a few tips for how to perform your best, here is a typical Laird Hamilton big wave day.

Typical Laird Hamilton Big Wave Day

5:50 A.M. – Hydrate
Laird has recently been drinking a giant glass of water to start the day, and to get the pipes working; mixed with ¼ tsp. of Himalayan salt and fresh squeezed lemon.

6:00 A.M. – Father Daughter Bonding Breakfast; Laird and Brody share a morning smoothie

Brody is an early riser like Laird, while Reece sleeps in a bit longer. Brody loves her morning time all to herself with her Dad. This time of year Laird adds two full scoops of Whey protein for himself (staying warm in the surf burns up to an extra 400 calories an hour), plus adds ½ scoop for each girl.  Then mixes in a serving of Greens, as well as a broad concoction of fruits, nuts, and other ingredients to increase the calorie count.

Laird drinks a cup of his Superfood Coffee and Creamer.

6:30 A.M – Quick Surf Check
Calls to the crew

6:45 A.M. – Barn
Quick commute to his river front work shed – workout barn ‘man cave’.

7:00 A.M. – Gear Check and Load-Up
(jet ski fuel check, rope and radio equipment inspection, board selection, and mount-up)

7:30 A.M. to 1 P.M. –  5 hour morning Foilboard session
(20 or more 2 to 3 minute rides each)

1:30 P.M. – Massive Lunch with the Boys and / or Gabby
Laird’s lunch is usually a major sushi and sashimi chow-down, typically consuming enough food for two grown men. A combination of up to 8 assorted raw fresh fish and vegetable rolls, plus plenty of locally caught Ahi. No bread or pasta, just lots of close-to-the-source local foods, including plenty of fresh fruit and coconut water that is hand-picked and straight from the shell.

2:30 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. – Afternoon Ocean Session
Foilboard session 2, tow-in or afternoon SUP session, (10 or more additional rides per person)

5:00-5:30 P.M – Stretching, Meditation

5:30 P.M. – Sunset River Paddle Board Session
40 minutes or more of high intensity stand-up paddle boarding

6:30 P.M. – Dinner with the family
Gabby cooks almost every night. Always plenty of high quality protein such as very lean steak seasoned with sea salt, served with a variety of vegetables, quinoa, and a big salad.

8:30 P.M. to 9:30 P.M. – Quiet Time
Reading, nightly walk with the kids, Gabby and Laird personal time.

9:35 P.M. – Bed
Laird winds down early to recharge for the next day. He is admit about getting enough sleep 7-8 hours.

The friends and family who take turns rotating into Kauai throughout the winter months to be a nearby spectator to the daily exploits of Laird and his co-extreme big wave surfers, get to momentarily immerse themselves in this high-energy and high-risk routine. Better yet, a few brave souls even get to occasionally join in. But to maintain the pace of a big wave surfer day-in and day-out requires significant prior conditioning and discipline. So when you start to feel like maybe your 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity a day is a bit tiring, remember, Laird and team get that much exercise in by 9 A.M, just as a warm-up to 8 hours more of intense physical activity.

Written By, XPT Editor

XPT Creators Laird Hamilton, Brian Mackenzie, and Gabby Reece on the Tim Ferris Podcast

Listen to the Tim Ferriss PodCast on iTunes

“There are no new ideas, just new applications of old ideas.”
– Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton is widely considered the greatest big wave surfer of all-time. He is credited with the creation of tow-in surfing, as well as the rebirth of stand-up paddle boarding. To get amped for my below interview with him, check out a few minutes of this insanity:

Hamilton has starred in multiple surfing films and was the centerpiece of Riding Giants, a documentary about big wave surfing. Laird was also Tim’s teacher in the surfing episode of The Tim Ferriss Experiment, which took place in Hawaii.

Laird is known for using his sports fame to raise money for charities including Race Across America, Pipeline for a Cure for Cystic Fibrosis, and Rain Catcher, among others.

Gabrielle Reece has been named one of the “20 Most Influential Women In Sports” and is best known for her success in volleyball.

Reece led the Women’s Beach Volleyball League in kills for four consecutive seasons.

Elle magazine once called Reece “one of the five most beautiful women in the world,” and Rolling Stone placed her on their “Wonder Women” list. She parlayed that into a successful modeling career and then starred as a trainer on The Biggest Loser. Her crossover success led to her becoming the first female athlete to ever design a shoe for Nike.

Brian MacKenzie is the founder of CrossFit Endurance and the author of the New York Times best-selling book Unbreakable Runner.

MacKenzie has created controversy by suggesting a counter-intuitively minimalist approach to distance running. He challenges not only high-mileage runs, but also high-carb diets, and he incorporates intense strength training to conquer everything from 5K runs to ultra-marathons. He was also prominently featured in The 4-Hour Body, where he revealed how to prepare for a marathon in record time.

MacKenzie has been featured in Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, ESPN, Outside, and The Economist.

Listen to the PodCast on iTunes.

Laird on the Power of Breathing to Succeed

Laird sits down for an interview with Lewis Homes for his ‘The  School of Greatness’ Podcast.
Before the interview, Laird led Lewis through an XPT session: water-based workout, strength training followed by therapy with heat and ice. All throughout the workout Laird focused on breathing routines which is explored in this interview.

-Your breathing is connected to your spirit.
-Master your breath and you master the strength of 10 tigers
-Oxygen fires every cel in your body
-Camaraderie versus competition
-Preparation to get in the zone – how you eat, how you sleep – the zone is the now, the moment, are you prepared?



Kelly Slater trying an XPT Water Workout


You can always count on Gabby and Laird to keep their fitness level progressing by developing new functional training movements and innovative training methodologies. Nothing could be much more unique or challenging than their underwater functional training pool workout. This underwater exercise routine combines resistance training with functional movements and breath control for a workout that can’t be replicated any other way.

After several years of refinement, Gabby and Laird have refined this distinctive training method in to a comprehensive fitness regimen almost any athlete can use to advance their fitness level without the risk of injury from similar land based programs. As such, athletes of all types show up from time to time to train with Gabby and Laird in order to learn some of the movements most applicable to their individual sport.

This past weekend surfing world champion Kelly Slater stopped by to experience firsthand an underwater functional training workout, and with Laird out in some big surf, Gabby was willing to take him through an intense training session. Of course, Kelly being one of the world’s top watermen quickly got the hang of things, and was soon matching Gabby stride for stride. It was an amazing workout just to witness as both Gabby and Kelly demonstrated perfect breath control along with an ultra-high level of fitness worthy of truly world class athletes.

Check out this underwater workout HD video, it will inspire you to want to jump in the pool and get going with your own water-based program.

Laird Extreme Recovery Therapy

Submerged, Sweltering, and Sub-Zero

XPT RECOVERY– Extreme Thermal Cycling Session with Laird and Gabby after an Extreme Pool Training Workout

I recently had the chance to briefly suspend my responsibilities as a San Francisco based research scientist, and fly down to Malibu for a few days of workouts with the G&L team, including a Saturday pool training workout at the Hamilton’s with Laird, Gabby, and several others of their  “Malibu Mob” (including nutritionist Darin Olien, actor John McGinley, environmentalist Kelly Meyer, celebrity trainer Adam Friedman and many others). The experience was so out the norm that I thought I’d share some of what I learned and experienced.  After all, when you’ve been convinced to submerge yourself in sub-zero water, you feel like sharing your war story.

The energy at the Hamilton’s was spectacular, the athleticism impressive, the underwater training intense, and the atmosphere contagious and motivating. With both Gabby and Laird watching my every move, it was a bit like training with a drill sergeant, absolutely no lazy sets allowed!  However, I have to admit from time to time I went for the lighter weights when they were preoccupied supervising someone else.

Laird and Gabby have spent years fine-tuning this very unique workout, and it represents one of the most innovative and comprehensive workouts I’ve ever done. After reading about Gabby and Laird’s underwater training program Laird XPT, I started incorporating pool training in my program. For about 8 months now, I have been experimenting with various explosive underwater movements in my pool, and can now say I am totally addicted.

You can challenge yourself underwater in ways that are simply impossible to replicate on land and the sensation is totally remarkable.  Laird, Gabby and the crew perform these underwater workouts, which also include circuits of extreme thermal cycling between a 200F sauna and -30F circulating ice-bath up to 3 times a week to recover from their intense functional training, biking and surfing activities.

Extreme Pool Training:  Explosive Movements with No Impact

Essentially, pool training centers around two themes: high intensity explosive underwater movements, alternating with lower intensity exercises which are longer duration in order to develop increased lung capacity and improved breath control.  While grabbing heavy weights and jumping in the deep end of a pool may seem counter-intuitive at first, many of the movements are very similar to explosive land-based training— such as dumbbell jump squats, dumbbell presses to fly and one legged dumbbell squats.

After 8 to 10 sets of squat jumps with 30 and 40 lb dumbbells in each hand, Adam Friedman inspired me to advance to one legged jump squats, which requires greater balance and coordination.  The added challenge made me feel a bit like an astronaut in training, in that astronauts train in huge neutral buoyancy swimming pools to simulate space walks on earth (  With Gabby and Laird’s pool training program, the emphasis is on explosive high-intensity movements performed to failure with brief periods of rest in-between.

This explosive training approach has numerous benefits, including most importantly, increased natural growth hormone stimulation (a key to staying young; in that growth hormone production typically begins to decline after age 30), as well as greatly enhanced metabolic activity throughout the day (far greater than the post workout metabolic effect of endurance training).  This type of high intensity explosive training that Gabby and Laird advocate puts your body in a constructive building phase, as opposed to a catabolic state (which tears down muscle). In order to visualize this concept, all you have to do is compare images of an Olympic sprinter to an Olympic marathon runner, and you get the idea.

Another series of exercises we performed (ammo box carry) involved porting weights around underwater from one side of the pool to the other (at a depth of up to 14ft).  There was quite a lot of traffic this busy Saturday, so we had to be careful not to walk under all the people training overhead. The Hamilton’s pool has an underwater staircase in the center, so it’s sort of like doing laps on bleachers, walking up and down with heavy weights while holding your breath.   While that sounds a bit unusual, it’s actually inspired by Island cultures which have traditionally done exercises to enhance their lung capacity, endurance and awareness of breath needed before entering the ocean.  Ancient Islanders would pick up heavy rocks underwater and walk around for long distances holding them to their chest.  This exercise required real meditative focus to allow me to work to my maximum breath control capabilities.  Needless to say, if you try out pool-training always make sure to have a partner with you.

The Remarkable Benefits of Training Underwater

One thing I really enjoyed about this pool training experience was that even though we were all doing high intensity explosive movements with heavy weights, I felt rejuvenated and free of typical post workout aches and pains afterward.  There was no impact and stress on my joints and connective tissue due to the buoyancy and support of water.  The slow decent after each explosive movement minimizes the impact on landing.  If you think about it, doing jump squats with 30 or 40lb. dumbbells in each hand on land could ravage your knees and joints over time, so any positive training benefits would eventually be offset by the increased soreness and potential trauma and injury.

Another unique element of this training is simply that you are supported by the surrounding water, which is 800 times denser than air, so there is both resistance and support throughout the full range of motion of every movement you make.  Moreover, the underwater resistance (drag) of an exercise increases as the speed (velocity) of the movement increases.  This is completely the opposite of land-based training—whether you lift a 20 lb. dumbbell faster or slower in a gym, it doesn’t change the resistance (always 20 lbs.).  Additionally, the added pressure of being 8 to 14 feet underwater creates compressive force on your body’s vascular and circulatory systems (as scuba divers know).  After 90 minutes or so your body feels absolutely terrific.

Circulatory Benefits of Temperature Extremes: from the Sauna to the Ice Bath

Ice Bath

As I mentioned above, another fascinating aspect of Gabby and Laird’s pool workouts is that it also incorporates circuits of extreme thermal cycling between a 200 F sauna and -30 F circulating ice-bath.  And while I have been previously to Finnish spas and Russian banyas, which promote these thermal contrasts (hot saunas and cold plunges) for their therapeutic benefits, my day with the Hamilton’s was something otherworldly.  Their -30 F circulating ice-bath was beyond anything I had ever experienced, most cold plunges I’ve done are around 38 to 50 F, but submerging myself in circulating water that was -30 F is an adventure I’ll never forget.

Laird refers to his ultra-cold ice-bath as “truth serum”, in that after a minute or so most people would divulge any of their most personal secrets. First cooking ourselves in a poolside sauna in preparation for the cold plunge, we did a few cycles from super-hot to ultra-cold.  But while Laird could sit in his ice-bath for minutes and have a conversation, I don’t think I even lasted more than 20 or 30 seconds. Indeed, Laird had a 3 minute conversation with me, then remarked that it was time for him to get out when, “his eyeballs started shaking”.  You might have read stories about Laird pushing himself to the extreme, but you don’t really know what that means until you see it up close in person.

So, why do Laird and Gabby incorporate this hot / cold routine into their training sessions?  Thermal contrast therapy (i.e. exposing your body to both extremely hot and cold temperatures in one session) has been shown in a variety of studies1 to aid recovery and mitigate inflammation.  While the exact molecular-level mechanisms are not yet fully known, it can be thought of as a vascular and lymphatic “massage”.  When your body is exposed to the extreme heat of a sauna, blood circulation increases and blood rushes to the surface of your body and your blood vessels and capillaries expand in an attempt to cool off.  When you immediately follow this up with exposure to the extreme cold of a circulating ice bath, your blood vessels constrict and the blood rushes away from your skin back to your internal organs.  This process of circulating between extremely hot and cold temperatures supercharges your circulation which can help accelerate recovery by moving the metabolic byproducts of cellular breakdown (due to intense training) out of your muscles and into your body’s lymph system for recovery.

Functional Training to the Extreme

Every element of the Gabby and Laird training method is functional training to the extreme, and when you’re done every aspect of your mind and body has been challenged and utilized.  It is a full-body workout inside and out—between pool training and contrasting temperature cycles your muscles, cardiovascular systems, proprioceptors (muscle sensory receptors) and circulatory systems have all been fully engaged.  It was an amazing, complete workout and I felt completely invigorated afterwards.  How many times do you complete almost two hours of a vigorous workout and finish with more energy than you began?  I’m already looking forward to my next chance to return to Malibu for another amazing training session with the Hamilton’s and the rest of their “Malibu Mob”. But next time maybe I’ll be lucky and Laird’s ice machine will be broken.

Written by
Jeff Urban, PhD
Emeryville, CA


Contrast therapy – a systematic review. Hing WA, White SG, Bouaaphone A, Lee P. Physical Therapy in Sport (2008);9(3):148-161.  doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2008.06.001

Noah Talks Peculiar Offseason Training Methods

The Chicago Bulls center was profiled over the weekend on NBA Inside Stuff  on his offseason workouts with surfer Laird Hamilton
By Bryan Crawford
Monday, Nov 11, 2013



Joakim Noah is known for his intensity and energy on the court, and he says it’s his unorthodox training methods during the summer that makes all the difference.

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was profiled over the weekend on NBA Inside Stuff on his peculiar offseason workout with professional big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton. The workouts – consisting of underwater laps in a swimming pool using weights – were designed to increase the big man’s stamina and shed his “baby lungs” moniker.

“I started this training a couple years ago, when I met Laird. Laird’s crazy. He’s a freak of nature,”  Noah said. “Every time I do his workout, he always makes me do things that I didn’t think we’re possible.”

“First of all, I wouldn’t subject him to anything I wouldn’t implement for myself,” said Hamilton. “So I’m coming from a real, genuine point of view. We always say, ‘Do what you can’t do, so you can do what you want to do.’”

Noah missed a large part of the Bulls training camp and preseason due to a groin strain and as such, it has affected his conditioning and his play on the court during thus far the regular season. But the veteran seems to be rounding into game shape once again and he insists the unorthodox training methods he employs during the offseason, will help him throughout the remainder of his career.

“It’s great for your cardio, and you can also work on your explosive training with no impact,” Noah explained. “There’s a lot of pounding in what we do with basketball, so just being able to train like this, it’s perfect. This is a perfect workout for me. I’m going to do this for my whole career, and I think it’s going to help me a lot. When you’re underwater and you’re exhausted, and you know you have a ways to go and you can’t get that air, it kind of reminds me of just being really, really tired at the end of a game. It gives you so much appreciation for breathing.”