Although we are all well aware of how crucial nutrition is we often don’t have the time to bother with planning our food before a climbing trip. Most climbers will throw down a bacon sandwich before they head out, buy a cheese and pickle sandwich from the shop on the way to the crag and then finish with a couple of beers in the evening. It’s easy to follow this path and it will still be a great day out on the crag but if you’re serious about making gains in your climbing then you need to put down the ketchup and learn how to correctly fuel the machine.
Nutrition is a very personal thing, we all have different body types, different goals and different budgets but there is a basic plan we can follow which can help take our performance to the next level.
First of all we need to split our trip or training session into three segments
To get the most out of our session we need to prepare our bodies for it. The best way to do this is to firstly look at what we will be doing in the session. If it’s high intensity activity such as bouldering, or single pitch sport climbing then fuel up with some easy to digest carbohydrates such as dried fruit, bananas, white rice, bran flakes, corn flakes and oats. If you’re doing longer routes or multipitch climbing look for some slow release carbs. A few examples would be whole wheat bread, brown rice, legumes (kidney beans, chickpeas lentils etc.) spaghetti and other pastas.
For best results try to eat a main meal 1-1.5 hours before you begin your session and include some protein, then around 30 minutes before have a snack that includes carbs and protein. Try to avoid fats, they are slower to digest and could lead to stomach pains during exercise.
The pre-climb plan should also involve hydrating with a nutritional supplement, not just water. Drinking too much water can make us feel uncomfortable and actually be detrimental if we exceed our body’s absorption capacity. A sports drink should do the trick but make sure you check the label, there are many brands out there pretending to be ‘sports’ or ‘energy’ drinks that are basically just caffeine and sugar. These will give you an initial push but then you are likely to crash halfway up that route.
There are three goals we are looking to accomplish, firstly we are looking to keep energy levels at a sustained level, secondly we are looking to raise our glucose levels which will help delay the depletion of glycogen in our muscles. It is this depletion that is responsible for ‘pump’ in our forearms and dramatically affects the performance of our muscles. Muscles can use blood glucose as an energy source and therefore if we keep it high we can delay the effects of the dreaded ‘pump’!
During the session we want to be refuelling around every 60 minutes. If we leave it longer than this we are risking heavy depletion of glucose and glycogen levels leading to fatigue and muscle breakdown.
Research has shown that a combination of carbs and protein has the best effect of reducing muscle damage so nuts, dried/dehydrated fruits, hummus with veggies (eg. carrots) and yoghurt with cereal are all good bets.
Finished your session? Then lets go for a beer!
Well hold on there just a minute you have just seriously depleted your glycogen levels and given your muscles a proper workout, they need some TLC. From the moment you finish your session your body goes into recovery mode, this means all the systems that recover glycogen stores and repair you muscles are in overdrive. This state only lasts for around 45 minutes after activity so you have a small window to aid the process and aiding the process is exactly what you want to do if you want to get stronger and improve your performance.
You want to be consuming food and drink at a 4:1 carb:protein ratio and avoid fats, these can interfere with the recovery process. Don’t forget to keep hydrated with water or an isotonic drink.