Climbing Nutrition Basics

What to eat when climbing

You got your gear ready for climbing. You have your route in mind. But do you have your food planned out? What about hydration? If your fueling strategy involved throwing some protein bars in your gear bag and bringing a water bottle, you’ve got a great opportunity to fine-tune your nutrition. Read on for some easy tips on how to fuel right.

Climbers need carbohydrates

Carbs help fuel certain energy systems in your body that you need to climb at both an endurance pace and for any kind of move that involves power, like a dyno. Carbs sometimes get a bad rap, but your body and your brain need them. Fueling your body regularly during a climbing session will help stave off fatigue and also keep your mind sharp to avoid safety mistakes and botched climbing attempts.

Carbohydrates are commonly found in:

  • Grains (rice, bread, pasta, etc.)
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Fruit and fruit juice
  • Starchy vegetables (potatoes, yams, peas, corn, lentils, dried beans)
  • Sweets and desserts

Crag snacks

Include carbs in your daily fueling. A good goal is about 30 grams per hour. You can get that from eating snacks like:

  • Pretzels
  • Applesauce pouches
  • Dried fruit or fruit leather
  • Fruit
  • Bagels
  • Crackers
  • Bread

These are all lower in fiber than a lot of other carbs, which means they are quick to digest, leaving you feeling fueled and ready to climb, rather than having a load of fiber sit in your stomach while you’re trying to send it.

Climbers need protein

Carbs are great for delivering quick energy, but protein is useful for keeping you satisfied. Eating too much during a climbing session can leave your stomach heavy and your muscles and brain wanting some fuel. If you’re doing a quick session, like 1-2 hours, no need to add protein in. But if you’re climbing all day, you’ll want about 10 grams per hour to keep you feeling fueled and satisfied. Try things like:

  • Jerky or pepperoni sticks
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Cheese (keep cold or eat it within 2 hours)
  • Deli meats (same)
  • Hard boiled egg (same)
  • Canned or pouch tuna or chicken
  • PB&J sandwich

Climbing hydration

Finally, what should you drink when climbing? Usually plain ol’ water will be fine. Drink according to thirst and urine color. If it is too dark or concentrated you need to drink more. About 8 oz per hour is a good goal.

You may need a sports drink with electrolytes if you are climbing longer than 2-3 hours, or you are in extreme conditions such as heat, humidity, or high altitude. It’s important to replace any electrolytes lost in sweat. If you sweat a lot–or your sweat contains a lot of sodium–and you only drink water, your blood will become diluted. This can be a dangerous medical condition called hyponatremia. On the flip side, if you become dehydrated this is also dangerous. Both can cause mental confusion as well–something you don’t want in a high-risk sport like climbing!

Download your free climbing macro calculator !

Want more information?

Watch the masterclass Nutrition for Climbers

Get the book Nutrition for Climbers

Check out my publication in a scientific journal about nutrition for comp climbing.

Read my articles in Rock and Ice about climbing nutrition (what to eat before, during, and after climbing)

Read my article in Gym Climber Magazine about climbing nutrition on comp day

~This is general information only and is not medical advice. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.