Nutrition for Rock Climbing, Part 2
Author: Certified HyperStrike Trainers
Daily Nutritional Needs
Rock climbers require a daily high-carbohydrate diet to maintain stamina and replenish lost glycogen stores during climbing and/or weight training. Stored carbohydrates (i.e. muscle and liver glycogen)are the primary fuel for energy. When the stores are low, focus and timing begin to suffer.
For athletes, the American and Canadian Dietetics Associations recommend 55 to 58 percent of calories be CHO, 12 to15 percent protein and 25 to 30 percent fat (1). These are the same requirements for sedentary individuals. However, there has been a growing body of evidence that protein and fat requirements may need to be altered for active individuals, especially when 15 percent of the diet is protein (2,9,10). In order to avoid muscle loss, the protein and fat requirements have been slightly altered here for the recommended training diet as described below.
The Training Diet – your daily nutritional plan.
A training diet should be comprised of 55 to 60 percent CHO, 25 to 30 percent protein and 15 percent fat. The goal of the training diet is to provide adequate energy for recovery and tissue repair quickly and efficiently, without adding body fat. By keeping fat intake low, climbers will have less of a tendency to gain fat.
For some it is easier to keep track of grams than calories. For simplicity, if you ate 2,000 calories a day, 55 percent of that is 1,100 calories from CHO, which is equal to 275 grams of carbohydrates (there are four calories of CHO per gram; thus, 1100/4 = 275 g of CHO per day. For protein, there are four calories of protein per gram also).
Some research suggests that protein should be 1.4-1.7 g/kg bodyweight (bodyweight in kg = bodyweight in pounds / 2.2 kg) per day (9) or as high as 2g/kg bodyweight per day in athletes (10). The Recommended Daily Allowance of 0.8 g/kg bodyweight per day protein is based on what is healthy for the average sedentary individual, which is not necessarily enough for athletes.
The additional protein is crucial not only for muscle repair, but also as an additional energy source. During times of low CHO stores and exhaustion, the body will use its own muscle as an energy source. Because it is so difficult to build and maintain muscle, athletes should be careful not to lose it.
Keep fat intake to 20 percent of your total calories, consisting primarily of essential and monounsaturated fats. Essential fatty acids are the type of fat that the body cannot create found in fish, flax seeds and walnuts. Monounsaturated fats, which are fats with one double bond, can come from olive or canola oils, seeds and/or avocados.
For someone consuming 2,000 calories a day, the fat intake should be about 400 calories. This is equal to about 44 to 67 grams (each fat gram contains nine calories).
Fat is used as fuel for endurance, but it also aids in neural recovery. Keeping your fat intake to less than 15 percent may have a harmful effect by inhibiting absorption of those vitamins that dissolve in fat, and it has no effect on improving your body fat percentage.
Climbers may feel some pressure to achieve the high power-weight ratio useful in climbing, some may try to minimize their food intake in order to reduce body weight. However, loss of body weight does not necessarily improve power-weight ratio. Climbers should focus on loss of body fat while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. An inadequate dietary intake can cause loss of muscle mass which causes power to decrease.
Consequently, the power-weight ratio ends up unchanged or lower despite a lower body weight. Consuming a diet too low in energy can also place climbers at risk of inadequate intakes of nutrients such as carbohydrate, protein, calcium and iron. It can also cause fatigue and a weakened immune system. Smart climbers avoid severe dieting and instead find the weight and body fat level that allows them to perform optimally while
maintaining good health.
Anecdotally, some climbers have successfully lost weight using fad diets or other macronutrient profiles, such as low-carbohydrate dieting, or “The Zone Diet.” The fact is you need to be able to live the lifestyle needed to make those weight loss changes permanent. Fad diets are not the answer. It is difficult to resist temptation for high-carbohydrate foods and consistently find a meal with proper macronutrient ratios, as The Zone suggests.
Hyperstrike is committed to making sure you reach your weight loss goal while not hindering your rock climbing performance. If loss of body fat is justified, a long term, balanced approach needs to be adopted in order to minimize any loss of muscle mass and power.
Many climbers like to climb on an empty stomach as they feel quicker, lighter and more comfortable in stretched or contorted positions. They may think that because some climbs require little time, they expend little energy. However, climbers who try to perform with low energy levels are unlikely to perform at their best. Even light levels of dehydration have been shown to reduce skill and concentration and may also reduce power-endurance. Dehydration can easily occur when competing in hot indoor venues or outside in direct sunlight. It is best to have a pre-climb game plan.
The primary purpose of the pre-game meal is to offset fatigue during the game.
There is no one-size-fits-all prescription because different people react differently to the same foods. Athletes should try to find food that won’t cause GI distress and will help to maintain focus and endurance. A few guidelines:
- Eat low-glycemic foods, such as whole grain cereals, certain fruits, sandwiches made with whole wheat bread, etc., approximately two to three hours before a competition. The closer to your match, the smaller the meal. This will help sustain blood-sugar levels.
- Keep protein and fat intakes low because they slow digestion.
- Avoid bulky foods, like raw fruits and vegetables, dry beans, peas and popcorn, which can stimulate bowel movements.
- Avoid gas-forming foods such as vegetables from the cabbage family and cooked dry beans.
- Drink 400 to 600 mL (14 to 22 oz) of fluid two to three hours before exercise depending on tolerance (1).
- Do not try new foods just before a match. Eat foods familiar with your digestive system.
- Some athletes prefer to use their favorite foods, which may give them a psychological edge.
If totally exhausted after a climb, consume 0.75 to 1.5 g/kg bodyweight (depending on exhaustion level) of CHO-rich, low fiber foods and beverages within 30 minutes or as soon as possible after a game and again every two hours for four to six hours to replace glycogen stores (1).
After physical activity lasting longer than an hour, the body best restores lost glycogen when carbohydrates and protein are consumed together in a ratio of 4:1 (6) or 3:1 (7,8), rather than simply consuming carbohydrates alone. Furthermore, the combination of CHO and protein has the added benefit of stimulating amino acid transport, protein synthesis and muscle tissue repair, all of which will further speed recovery and re-energize you for your next competition.
Products such as Endurox R4 by Endurox and Recoverite by Hammer Gel will provide both nutrients. When in a bind another option is drinking 20 oz. of low-fat chocolate milk post-exercise.
It is better to consume the “meal” as a liquid in order to facilitate recovery faster, and follow with a variety of whole-foods between two and four hours later.
Return to the normal Training Diet at the next meal.
DO NOT FORGET the post-climb meal!
Traveling is inevitable in competitive rock climbing. A lack of a nutritional plan can be a critical mistake. Plan where you will be eating meals and try to organize the menus in advance. While on the road, take control of meals eaten on planes, buses and other travel options. Do not depend on others to have optimal nutrition choices available. Always carry some high-CHO snacks or meal replacements, such as health bars, ready-to-drink shakes and fruit and yogurt for emergencies. Do not be afraid to ask the waiter or airplane service to cater a meal to your dietary lifestyle.
1. Nutrition and athletic performance – Position of the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine. J Am Diet Assoc.;100:1543-1556, 2000.
2. Kraemer, W.J., J.S. Volek, K.L. Clark, S.E. Gordon, T. Incledon, S.M. Puhl, N.T.
3. Triplett-McBride, J.M. McBride, M. Putukian, W.J. Sebastianelli. Physiological adaptations to a weight-loss dietary regimen and exercise programs in women. Journal of Applied Physiology, 83, 270-279, 1997
4. El-Sayed, M.S. Effects of alcohol ingestion post-exercise on platelet aggregation. Thromb Res. Jan 15;105(2):147-51. 2002.
5. Peters, T.J., S. Nikolovski, G. K. Raja, T. N. Palmer, P. A. Fournier. Ethanol acutely impairs glycogen repletion in skeletal muscle following high intensity short duration exercise in the rat. Addict Biol.;1(3):289-95. 1996.
6. Burke, L. M., G.R. Collier, E. M. Broad, P.G. Davis, D.T. Martin, A. J. Sanigorski, M. Hargreaves. Effect of alcohol intake on muscle glycogen storage after prolonged exercise. J Appl Physiol. Sep;95(3):983-90. 2003
7. Williams, M. B., P.B. Raven, D. L. Fogt, J. L. Ivy. Effects of recovery beverages on glycogen restoration and endurance exercise performance. J Strength Cond Res. Feb;17(1):12-9. 2003.
8. Zawadzki KM, Yaspelkis BB 3rd, Ivy JL. Carbohydrate-protein complex increases the rate of muscle glycogen storage after exercise. J Appl Physiol. May;72(5):1854-9. 1992.
9. Ivy, J. L., H. W. Goforth, Jr., B. M. Damon, T. R. McCauley, E. C. Parsons, T. B. Price. Early postexercise muscle glycogen recovery is enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. J Appl Physiol. Oct;93(4):1337-44. 2002.
10. Lemon, P.W. Beyond the zone: protein needs of active individuals. J Am Coll Nutr. Oct;19(5 Suppl):513S-521S, 2000.
11. Tipton, K. D., R. R. Wolfe. Protein and amino acids for athletes. J Sports Sci. Jan;22(1):65-79. 2004
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