Marisa Michael, MSc, RDN, CSSD is a registered dietitian, Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a certified personal trainer. She holds a master's degree in sports nutrition and the International Olympic Committee's Diploma in Sports Nutrition. She loves climbing and triathlon and is mediocre at both sports.
Shoes, check. Harness, check. Water, check. Boppy? Toys? Snacks? Do we have enough snacks?
Climbing without kids is enough of an endeavor most days, but imagine packing your toddlers up too! For some this can feel like an insurmountable barrier. But, it can be done as evidenced by the unsung heroes who head out with toddlers in tow. What does it take to have successful days outside with your family?
In a nutshell, it takes some pre-planning, snacks and an element of surprise to keep your kiddos stoked for a day of cragging. My husband and I are self-proclaimed professionals at taking kids out climbing. We don’t let it hold us back one bit. One of our biggest parenting philosophies is that our kids become part of our world, not the other way around.
Step 1: Pack snacks for climbing with kids
Aim for wholesome, nutrient-dense snacks. You don’t won’t your kiddo having a sugar crash an hour into your day. Save the sweets for Step 3 (an element of surprise). If your kid is nutritiously fed and adequately fueled they will be in a positive state of mind.
Bring a lot of snacks and have a lot of options. Snacks need to feel like a surprise. A what did you bring for me today? type of vibe.
Consider the elements. The heat, humidity, cold and other weather conditions will require your little one to eat and drink more. Pack fluids that match the weather. In colder months, bring warm tea or cocoa. In hotter weather, pack some iced water or lemonade. If their needs are met, they won’t mind a little bit of nature’s wrath.
Step 2: Bring toys
You don’t need to pack a separate duffel, but plan to bring a toy or two. Like snacks, vary the toys you bring each time. They may gravitate to sticks and rocks, but keep the toy selection fresh. This adds to the surprise element of the day.
Step 3: Have an element of surprise (for when they fall apart)
There will be a point in the day where your kid falls apart. That is just natural law. It is at this point that you have to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Hide a sweet treat, new toy, or other desirable item in your bag and pull it out right when you need it most. This can buy you an extra hour or more of climbing time.
Step 4: Make sure your kid is comfy while climbing
Comfort is key to spending hours outside. Have blankets, a pillow or a chair available for your kid to rest on when they are tired. Mini crash pads are great for this. Kids might also use the blankets to build forts (added bonus).
Step 5: Allot time just for your kids
Plan an experience as part of the day that is just for your kid. Build a sweet fort, construct rock towers or read a book… For our son, we put up some epic swings. We harness him up and send him flying. He looks forward to it everytime and it is the part of the day that is all about him. What can you do for even 30 minutes that is all about your kid?
It is possible to keep climbing with your kids. In fact, climbing is one way to develop a love for nature at an early age. If your kids are comfortable and well-fed, that’s half the battle. Burst through those witching hours with an element of surprise. If each climbing trip feels unique in some way, they won’t sigh at the thought of heading out for yet another day of climbing.
This article was written by Kaila Dickey.
~This is general information only and not personalized advice. Each child and family is different. Be sure to follow all safety rules.
Tommy Caldwell has shown the world you can climb without a finger. Irena Ilic can scale faces with no hands. Athletes around the globe are challenging our understanding of physical limits proving that there truly aren’t any! One requirement for climbing though? Muscle! Somewhere on the body, you are going to want some muscle. And, if it is more muscle you need, you can’t skimp on protein in the diet.
What is protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient present in every cell in the human body. Dietary proteins provide amino acids that are used to build (among other critical components). Proteins are different from carbohydrates and fat. Our body does not store protein. The body either uses it or loses it! There are many uses for protein in the diet. Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, forms ligaments and joints. Muscle tissue is made of protein. Believe it or not, bones rely on protein too! And did I mention muscle tissue is made up of protein?
Notice that plant based products can be great sources of protein. Protein is built from amino acids. Remember that sweet Lego castle you spent hours building with your kid? Our body is like that massive Lego castle! Instead of Lego pieces, we have amino acid pieces that fit together to make proteins for muscles, soft tissue, muscle, etc. Just like the right size and shape of Legos are required to craft a masterpiece, the body requires specific amino acids from the diet to make the body’s proteins.
Eating a variety of protein sources will ensure you have the size and shape of Lego you need to build your very own Lego castle in the form of a giant forearm!
What does protein do for climbers?
Protein builds bone, collagen and muscle. Can’t climb without those!
Protein consumed with carbohydrate during climbing can help delay muscle fatigue.
Endurance climbers need to turn fat into fuel during prolonged exercise when glucose is
Proteins carry fuel sources into the cell for energy production so the body can keep pushing. Pushing real good.
Protein helps you to feel fuller for longer. If you are feeling hungry or under fueled while climbing this may be a sign you are not getting enough protein. If you have been prone to injury or are experiencing “tweaky” joints this is another sign you may need to up your protein intake. You may also not be getting enough if you are doing a specific strength training program and not seeing results or strength gains.
How much protein does a climber need?
Casual Calculation The easy way to ensure adequate protein intake is to eat about 20 grams of high-quality protein at every meal. (Getting techy with it…nah nah nah nah nah)
Post-workout: Consume 0.3 grams per kilogram of bodyweight every 3-4 hours to maximize muscle recovery and growth. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2, multiply the quotient by 0.3 to determine protein intake for a 3-4 hour period. (Learn how to pick a protein powder.)
Overall daily protein needs: Depending on what training phase you are in, you may need around 1.2-2.2 grams per kilogram per day.
Examples of Protein Rich Crag Snack
Trail mix: Mix soy nuts, almonds and a variety of seeds with some dark chocolate and goji berries.
A tuna salad, egg salad, or chicken salad sandwich
Protein builds more than muscle. Although, as a climber, that might be how you think about it. Twenty grams of protein at each meal is a good marker. Twenty grams per meal is enough to support muscle growth and recovery. At the end of the day, if you want to build a fortress you need all the right pieces. The more varied the diet, likely, the stronger your fortess will be.
(Caution: Lego cannons and uneasy footed toddlers can still knock your fortress to the ground.)
Written by Kaila Dickey.
~This is general information only and not nutrition advice. Always check with your healthcare provider before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.
People who live to move aren’t necessarily receptive to the notion of rest and recovery. In addition to being told to stay sedentary, the recommendation to also increase your caloric intake in order to help healing can be scary.
The reality is that proper nutrition can help to aid in the recovery process and is a component to recovery that can’t be overlooked. The road to recovery won’t be all daffodils and roses, but eating oranges and strawberries might help to make it a bit sweeter.
Colorful foods are rich in antioxidants (Skittles excluded). These help fight the inflammation that results from an injury. Protein-rich foods are the other broad nutrient category to make sure you are getting enough of. Protein and anti-inflammatory foods should be on every grocery list while you are resting up and on the road to recovery.
Protein for injury recovery
Protein plays a role inrebuilding muscle and bones,building red blood cells, healing wounds and keeping your immunity up.
Eat at least 20 g of protein at every meal to help your body heal.
Protein rich foods include: yogurt, eggs, salmon, chicken, beef and soy products.
Meal plan ideas: Quinoa with chicken and vegetables, oatmeal with a fried egg on top, Yogurt with nuts and berries.
Nutrition for inflammation
Injury creates inflammation in the body. At first, this is great because the acute inflammation is a crucial body process to heal the site of injury. However, you want to combat long-term (chronic) inflammation by eating foods rich in antioxidants.
Aim to consume 2-6 g of omega-3’s a day.
Foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods rich in omega-3’s like fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseed are all anti-inflammatory
Meal plan ideas: Bowl of berries with walnuts, Rice and vegetables with salmon.
Nutrition for Tendon and Ligament Injury
Tendons are a type of soft tissue in the body that don’t receive blood flow. This means it takes movement to squeeze the nutrients into the area, like a sponge releases water. Therefore, you want to supplement 30-60 minutes before exercise to ensure the environment around the injury is saturated, because blood is not available to carry the nutrient directly to the soft tissue damage site and instead requires movement to get it there.
To help strengthen your tendons:
Take 5 g gelatin (collagen supplement) with 500 mg of Vitamin C. (or 20 g of hydrolyzed collagen powder). Vitamin C is required to make collagen and is required to ensure the gelatin is utilized in the body at the injury site.
Injury prevention note: t’s important to take the collagen + vitamin C before a training session that may produce load on the tendon or ligament. This load, combined with the collagen and vitamin C, helps stimulate growth, creating a thicker, stronger, and more elastic tendon or ligament.
Nutrition for Muscle Injury
Muscles are completely different tissues than tendons and ligaments, so you’ll need a different approach when recovering from a muscle injury. Creatine has been linked to muscle growth, repair and development. Creatine helps with energy production and helps muscle cells communicate with one another. Creatine, found naturally in muscle cells, has proven to be an effective supplement when recovering from muscle injury.
Your body will absorb water along with creatine and will contribute to some water weight gain. In general, while recovering from an injury, it might be mentally best to avoid the scale so you can properly nurture your body.
To help recover from muscle damage:
Take 10 g per day of creatine for the first 3 weeks following the injury. Then drop this down to 2 g per day after that for maintenance of the muscle tissues.
Note: there is some research that indicates creatine may help with injury, but it’s still being studied. If you want to try it, go for it. Creatine is safe to consume. If you have existing kidney disease, check with your nephrologist first.
Bone breaks in climbing are often the result of some gnarly falls that can take place on or off the wall. (A few Weekend Whipper submissions likely ended with fractured bones. Yikes!) Vit D and Calcium work together to promote bone health. Vitamin D is required to properly absorb Calcium. Dairy products, rich in calcium, are often fortified with Vitamin D making them a great nutritional bang for your buck (and bones). Consider low fat milks and read the label to ensure both Vitamin D and Calcium are present.
To help strengthen a fractured bone:
Meet the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for these nutrients. 1,000 mg of Calcium and 600 IU of Vitamin D are recommended for most adults although this may vary depending on your stage in the life cycle.
Eat adequate calories. Your body needs this fuel to rebuild bone tissue.
Protein is also important for bone healing.
While recovering from any injury read the daily values on the back of a nutrition label to make sure you meet 100% each day of Vitamin C, Zinc, Calcium and Vitamin D. These vitamins will help nurture the body while it heals. You can supplement with creatine for muscle strains or collagen for tendon injuries to accelerate the healing too!
As athletes, we hate to hear it, but rest is an important component to successful recovery. Your body needs extra calories and nutrients during injury so make sure you are eating enough. Now is not the time to watch the scale! With rest and proper nutrition you will be back at it soon enough.
This article was written by Kaila Dickey. Edited by Marisa Michael.
Maybe. It could be really useful for certain training phases, like a power phase or a strength phase. It’s well-researched and very safe. (If you have existing kidney disease, check with your nephrologist before using).
Potential pros of creatine:
Helps you go longer in a training session
Helps delay fatigue
Helps lift heavier or get more power than without it
Useful if you don’t get much creatine in your diet (as with vegans or vegetarians)
May help with pump and blood flow
Is potentially anti-inflammatory
Potential cons of creatine:
May add water weight (about 2-4 pounds). This isn’t a big deal as it’s shed off easily, but could impact climbing if you want to be as light as possible (it could make the difference between winning and losing a speed climbing round)
Some people don’t benefit as much
If you don’t see any benefits, it may just be one more expensive supplement to take
This article was written by Brianna Bruinooge, RD, LD, CPT
What you eat on a day-to-day basis affects muscle strength and recovery. Twenty-four hours after a tough climbing day, you are still burning calories from your exercise. This post-exercise metabolism boost happens with strength training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) exercises. This is because your body is trying to return to its original state pre-exercise. During this time, it is so important to help your muscles recover.
Foods to eat on a regular basis to help with muscle recovery
Lean proteins: chicken or turkey breast, lean ground meat or plant based proteins like soy, beans, legumes and quinoa
By choosing these anti-inflammatory foods rather than highly processed foods, your body can recover faster. After exercising your body naturally has inflammation, but it is important to rest so that this inflammation remains acute (short-term), and not chronic (on-going).
Meal timing for muscle recovery
It is important to eat enough throughout the day, balanced meals and “mini meals”. Here are some examples of some “mini meal” high protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acid food combinations:
Greek yogurt, berries, slivered almonds and pumpkin seeds
Hard boiled eggs, grapes and carrot sticks
Apple slices and celery sticks with peanut butter and cinnamon
Quinoa, bean, craisins drizzled with balsamic vinegar and olive oil
Carrots, crackers, and hummus
High nitrate foods for muscle recovery
Beets and other high-nitrate foods (such as arugula, radishes, celery, and spinach) can help improve blood flow of oxygen to your working muscles while on multi-pitch climbs or more endurance-style climbs. You can consume nitrates from concentrated beet juice or add beets to your day to day diet. Warning: it will probably turn your stool and urine red. (Beets are emphasized here because that’s the most common food studied in research settings for nitrates and athletic performance).
Carbohydrates for climbers
For more boulder-y style climbing and fast movements where we need quick energy because the intensity is high, our bodies are burning mostly carbohydrates. This means we need to eat carbohydrates before our climb! (The type, timing, and amount matters!)
We use an anaerobic (without oxygen) energy system that is short-lived and lactic acid will build up and cause muscle fatigue. This is when active rest, or overall rest, becomes important so that the lactic acid can clear. During this rest, oxygen becomes more available and the demand for energy is low; therefore, fat is the preferred fuel source. Both carb and fat are fuel sources during activity, it just depends on the climbing intensity and duration. For more intense and longer workouts, you will need more carbohydrates than a low-intensity exercise day.
Consuming enough calories, protein and carbs post-climb is important for recovery to replenish your glycogen stores (storage form of glucose) and repair and grow your muscle mass.
What you eat affects how long it takes your body to recover from the natural stressors of exercise. Eat enough, to fuel your body not only on climbing days, but rest days too. If you are poorly fueled, you will perform poorly and damage muscles instead of building strength. The right types, timing, and amounts of foods are highly individualized, which is why a sports dietitian can assist you in these areas.
There are lots of ways to avoid injury–proper training, warm up, and strength routines. But food is also your friend when it comes to avoiding injury. There are specific nutrients that athletes of all sports should get plenty of to support soft tissue, muscle and bone strength. In an article looking at five climbing related deaths in Yosemite National Park, two out of the five deaths may have been prevented through adequate fueling and hydration.
This is an extreme example of the critical role nutrition plays in injury prevention. Ensuring adequate fueling and hydration is an important part of being a climber.
As a climber, or any athlete really, eating a variety of nutrients daily may lower your risk of developing an injury:
Vitamin D and Calcium: Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption. Calcium is critical for bone health. Vitamin D is hard to get from food (mainly found in fatty fish, mushrooms, eggs, and fortified dairy products), and as a result most American’s are deficient. Most dairy products and milk alternatives have been supplemented with Vitamin D and are a great way to meet daily Vitamin D and calcium recommendations.
Vitamin C: Vitamin C is required for collagen formation. Collagen is the building block for tendons and ligaments. Citrus of many varieties is chocked full of Vitamin C. Don’t like grapefruit, oranges, lemons or limes? That’s weird, but okay. Many fruits and vegetables are rich in Vitamin C, like strawberries and tomatoes.
Zinc: Zinc is an important mineral in healing. Zinc is better obtained from food. Zinc is found in most animal foods but also in whole grains and legumes.
Protein: Protein is required to build and repair muscle during damage. Protein is also important for bone repair. Even vegans can meet protein recommendations by turning to some of the soy-based products offered up at the grocery store. Soy is unique in that it has all essential amino acids (just like animal-based proteins). Check out this post for more information on whey, BCAAs, plant-based protein powders, and collagen.
Anti-inflammatories: Injury causes inflammation. This is actually a useful body response to promote healing. This acute inflammation brings important components to the injury site to begin recovery. Chronic inflammation is different and may be harmful for long-term health. Fatty fish, nuts, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables are all great food sources for fighting inflammation long-term.
Water: Proper hydration is critical. If you are climbing for more than about two hours (or have a long approach), you can measure your sweat rate to see how much fluid you need to drink during the climbing session in order to stay hydrated. Dehydration can lead to decreased mental sharpness, sluggish response times, and decreased strength and performance. None of those are good when you’re mid-climb! Similarly, a drop in blood sugar may cause confusion, irritability, shakiness, and more. Make sure you fuel your body with calories throughout the day to maintain blood sugar levels.
Here’s how to measure sweat rate: Weigh yourself without any clothing before a training session. After an hour of activity, weigh yourself again without clothing. The difference in weight before and after exercise will give you a ballpark estimate of your rate of sweat loss per hour of activity. You want to drink 16 ounces of water or an electrolyte beverage for every pound lost to make up for losses from sweat.
Not eating enough to support training can lead to overtraining and can make the body more susceptible to injury. If you are a recreational athlete, clocking no more than 60 minutes a day of exercise, no need to overthink it. But, when training for triathlons, multi-pitch climbs or rigorous backcountry excursions you want to take the following to ensure rapid recovery and reduce the chances of incurring an injury.
Hydrate often enough to maintain sweat losses.
Eat within an hour or two after training or exercise to promote muscle recovery.
Eat 1.2 grams per kilogram of carbohydrate to replenish glycogen stores.
Eat 20 grams of protein to help build muscle.
In addition to eating adequately and balanced, some climbers opt to supplement to further reduce the risk of injury. In general, it is best to get vitamins and minerals through food, but the following supplements have shown to be beneficial in injury prevention:
20 grams collagen daily for soft tissue maintenance (consume it prior to climbing or training). The lack of blood flow in this tissue type requires that collagen (with about 50 milligrams of vitamin C) be consumed prior to exercise in order to get delivered to the tendons and ligaments.
2-6 grams fish oil daily as an anti-inflammatory (check with your doctor first)
12 oz tart cherry juice at night to help with muscle soreness (cherries are rich in melatonin, so wait until the evening or you might find yourself mid-pitch a bit sleepy)
When it comes to injury prevention there are some nutritional and lifestyle factors to consider. Aim to get 100% of your daily value of Vitamin C, Zinc, Calcium and Vitamin D. You can supplement with collagen, fish oil and tart cherry juice as all have shown to aid in strengthening or healing. Higher intensity interval training is effective at increasing the crosslinking of collagen fibers in tendons and ligaments. If it isn’t already part of your cross training routine, you might consider a couple interval style workouts each week to promote soft tissue strength. Although these methods don’t guarantee you to stay injury-free, they will help keep your body stronger and aid in the healing process if you find yourself with a gnarly injury.
Have you heard the buzz about tart cherry juice? It can help with muscle soreness, recovery, inflammation, and sleep. It has natural melatonin in it. So if you’re thinking about using it to help with soreness after a tough workout, drink it at night. You can eat dried cherries as a snack throughout the day, drink small “shots” during the day, or drink the juice at night (some suggest around 12 oz before bedtime).
I am casually browsing Instagram, and I see Alex Honnold’s post about how people should consider their diet and Game Changers and Cowspiracy were “sound” movies. There may have been a loud groan and a forehead slap on my end when I read that.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Alex Honnold. I believe he’s a guy that truly cares, and truly wants to get it right, and truly help the world. I believe he’s also intellectually honest. He just fell into the trap that many athletes and celebrities before him have fallen into: giving advice beyond his scope of expertise.
Alex is an amazing climber. No one would dispute that. But he lacks extensive nutrition knowledge and training. He is not qualified to give diet advice. No amount of consuming lay nutrition content will do that for a person. He clearly doesn’t have the training to weed out what is legitimate nutrition science. He’s likely on Mt. Stupid right now in this Dunning-Kruger effect curve. (Did he free solo Mt. Stupid? Sorry…it was just too easy…)
Go to mysportscience.com to learn from Asker Jeukendrup, one of the world’s top sports nutrition researchers, about this fascinating phenomenon.
Again, I have great respect for Alex Honnold. I feel a strong responsibility to provide the climbing community with the very best nutrition information, so when I see someone of such great influence getting in wrong, I feel compelled to set the scientific record straight.
The nutrition world has become a charged mess of emotions, guilt, shame, and zealots (not saying Honnold is one of those, just to be clear). The dietitians, researchers, and nutrition professionals that stand for science and offer measured, nuanced interpretations and recommendations often get drowned out by loud voices that call for extreme diets. These people use fear mongering, gaslighting, and false promises of weight loss, health, energy, and whatever else you’re looking for neatly packaged into a 21-day challenge, supplement, or diet rules.
Veganism sees to be the latest in a long line of extreme views on diet. One can be vegan and be balanced and healthy. Vegans are vegans for a number of reasons–environmental concerns, ethical or moral considerations, or health. If you’re vegan or vegetarian for these reasons, go for it. Props to you, and I honor your decision.
The problem lies when the vegan propaganda machine churns out tales of superior health and performance compared to omnivore diets. (Note: vegan and vegetarian diets are no healthier than omnivore diets. Both can be healthful and have neutral or reduced risk for chronic disease). They use powerful and convincing images, documentaries, books and articles about how “plant-based” is better than any other diet (a problematic term in and of itself with no formal definition).
They twist the facts (Meat causes cancer! Dairy is inflammatory! Eggs cause heart disease!) and latch onto anything that may throw shade on animal products. This is problematic because not only does it misrepresent science, it doesn’t really give those wanting a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle all the true support and facts they need. (Aside from those adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet for moral or ethical reasons–in this case, the nutrition science and health impact is less relevant because their decision to go vegan or vegetarian is based in morals, not health).
The nutrition science world is usually nuanced and rarely extreme in its recommendations. Yet I see popular diets like veganism (and the carnivore diet on the other end) embracing extreme. It leaves people confused, stressed, and possibly malnourished. It may also lead to eating disorders in some people.
I cannot tell you how many people have asked me about Game Changers, the new documentary promoting a “plant-based” diet for athletic performance. Here’s my opinion in a nutshell: No. Just no. Not even. Do not use this documentary based in pseudoscience and disinformation (yup, you read that right–not misinformation, this is a whole new level of disinformation) to persuade you to go vegan.
Critique on this documentary is not something I want to tackle, but others have done so and I highly recommend you go check it out.
I am not anti-vegan or anti-vegetarian. In fact, a variety of diet approaches, including these, can be implemented to achieve better health and performance. It only becomes an issue if the person becomes vegan because of questionable information they heard, read, or watched.
If you are considering veganism or vegetarianism, be sure you understand why you are doing it. If it is because of anecdotes or questionable documentaries, reconsider.
If you have a history of nutrient deficiencies, eating disorders, or anything else that would contraindicate a vegan or vegetarian diet, tread carefully.
Also it’s important to acknowledge that choosing to become vegan or vegetarian is only possible if you have privilege. The privilege of accessing food, choosing not to eat certain foods, choosing to eat a certain way, and having the time to research and prepare foods differently than usual. Following a vegan or vegetarian diet takes additional time, mental energy, and emotional energy.
The privilege of buying select foods rather than buying pre-chosen foods on your food stamps or WIC benefits. The privilege of eating what you want rather than what the food bank gives you. The privilege of seeing a doctor and dietitian to make sure you’re not deficient. These things are not available to many people.
The people pushing their style of eating on you, whether it be vegan, keto, low carb, paleo, or anything else, are coming from a place of privilege that it’s important to acknowledge. They may be able to eat a special diet, but do you want to? Do you need to? Is it practical, or even possible, for you to eat that way?
And with that we also have to acknowledge the interesting phenomenon of your diet becoming your identity. If what you eat is wrapped up in your value as a person, it’s time to reassess why this is and if it’s still serving you well. Is being a vegan important to you because it sounds cool? It signals that you are woke? Or you that you care about your health? And that you are disciplined? Do you feel superior to others who do not eat this way? This can lead to greater mental and emotional stress, as well as eating disorders and orthorexia. Eating disorders can be masked by veganism and vegetarianism.
Some of my clients have switched to veganism only to find that they lost muscle mass, have more digestive issues, and feel weaker. They switch back and feel much better. Some of my clients have gone vegan or vegetarian and feel great.
Please know that you can be an amazing, strong climber by following a vegan diet, omnivore diet, or vegetarian diet. One is not superior than the other for sports performance and health. And please, before making any drastic dietary changes, evaluate why you are doing it and if the information driving your decision is valid and science-backed. Protect your mental, emotional, and physical health.
We’ve all been there – three grips away from the send with a dynamic power move ahead, and the nearly impossible dyno that was four grips below. The amount of energy and explosiveness that you need to redpoint this most recent project of yours is just barely out of reach. And as your partner lowers you slowly back to the ground, you start to discuss this conundrum with them.
Nutrition for climbing
In a good discussion about increasing strength and stamina on the wall, a handful of ideas may come up. Often times, one of the first things on this list is what you’re eating. My guess is that if you’re reading this, then you probably already have enough common sense to know that if you’re eating fast food before a climb, or nothing at all, you are most likely not going to see those optimal results on route.
Is a vegan diet optimal for climbers?
On a higher level, vegan diets are a popular topic. Is the vegan diet optimal or even superior for rock climbing? Are there benefits to eating plant-based versus omnivorous? This article is here to help you answer these questions, so that you can ultimately know if a vegan diet is really best for your pursuits to become a better rock climber!
What does a vegan diet for athletes look like?
For clarification, a vegan or plant-based diet is a nutrition plan that does not include animal products. It excludes foods such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs and often times honey. Many of these animal products contain large amounts of nutrients that humans need to survive. While it is absolutely possible to get these same nutrients from a plant-based diet, it most often times requires much more thought and planning to execute.
If someone wants to pursue a vegan diet but doesn’t want to do the research as to how to get all the nutrients, it may not be a good fit. However, if you are someone who is willing to do the work and learn which foods are important to add to your everyday life, read on!
There are a handful of nutrients that are important for vegan athletes. While this article lists a few of the main ones, I want to be transparent by saying that this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are genuinely serious about developing a plant-based nutrition plan for yourself, one of the best ways that you can start this successfully is by talking with a registered dietitian (an RD) and ideally a certified specialist in sports dietetics (an RD with CSSD).
Vegan sources of protein
As a climber, you use your muscles much more often than the vast majority of the people in this country, and you therefore have significantly higher protein needs than the average American Joe. So unfortunately, when you hear “them” say that your protein needs are actually very low, “they” aren’t talking about rock climbers or any other athlete for that matter. Can you still achieve your protein needs through a plant-based diet? Absolutely.
A few plant-based foods that are high in protein include:
Edamame and other soy products
Beans (such as kidney beans, chickpeas, etc. Not green beans)
The main trick here is that high protein plant-based foods are also typically high in either carbs or fats. Which one do you eat before a climb? Well that my friends, depends entirely on your style of climbing! Usually quick-digesting carbohydrate is needed before a climb to fuel working muscles and brain. Protein or slow-digesting carbs may be needed for longer climbing sessions.
Calcium in vegan diets
Many of us know that calcium is good for our bones, but it does so much more for us than just that! When we are grasping a new hold for the first time, this signal travels from our grip into our brain and vice versa. Calcium helps to send this signal so that it can be translated into which muscles in our hands, wrists, forearms (and so on) need to contract to hold that grip! It’s also an electrolyte that gets lost in sweat, and needs replenishment after a heavy sweat session.
We need our calcium in order to perform at our highest level. In a traditional American diet, the richest sources of calcium often come from dairy. You may have heard that leafy greens and seeds also have calcium, but do you know how much they actually have? Here’s a little more information to give you a better perspective
Daily recommended amount of calcium: 1,000 milligrams (if you are under 50 years old)
Examples of foods that contain calcium:
1 glass of cow’s milk = 305 milligrams
1 cup of raw spinach = 30 milligrams
1 tablespoon of poppyseeds = 130 milligrams
1 ounce of chia seeds = 179 milligrams
You can see that if your daily need for calcium is 1,000 milligrams, it can be a lot easier to meet your needs with dairy products. One glass of cow’s milk contains almost one third of your total daily calcium, whereas you would need 10 cups of raw spinach to equate to that much calcium. Seeds may be a better source of calcium per serving, but again, are you going to eat nine tablespoons of poppyseeds every day? This is why it is so important to talk with a sports nutrition expert and figure out a game plan when it comes to a vegan (or any other performance-based) diet!
Vitamin B12 on a vegan diet
Vitamin B12 is only found in animal products or fortified vegan products. This vitamin is a crucial nutrient for creating energy (i.e. movement) as well as the generation of nerve cells. This vitamin has also shown to reduce fatigue and increase muscular endurance. With all of these performance-related factors in mind, the last nutrient that we want to be deficient in on a route is this one.
It is a sad coincidence that this nutrient is also one of the most difficult to consume on a vegan diet. The best food sources for vitamin B12 include fortified breakfast cereals (yes, you can do better than chocolate puffs) and nutritional yeast. If these foods are not items that you can see yourself consuming on a daily basis as a vegan athlete, it may make sense to talk with a sports dietitian about supplementation to make sure you get enough of this valuable nutrient!
Other nutrient considerations in a vegan diet
While protein and calcium are amongst the nutrients that are commonly overlooked in a vegan diet, they are certainly not the only ones. If you are going to remove meat and other animal products from your diet, you need to find rich plant-based sources for other nutrients such as:
Other B vitamins
Disadvantages to a Vegan Diet
One of the most common mistakes an athlete can make when switching to a vegan diet is not taking into account how long it takes for different types of foods to be digested. Vegan diets tend to be extremely high in fiber and this is one of the last things that you want to eat when setting up for a climb. Another issue with high fiber foods in a vegan diet is that these foods are also the foods that tend to be the highest in protein. So now the challenge becomes getting in enough protein as an athlete while eating easily digestible foods while climbing. It can be a lot to juggle, but it is possible if you are willing to invest your time into learning how to do it!
Is the vegan diet right for me?
If the idea of learning about which plant-based foods are high in protein, calcium and other nutrients is something that you think that you could geek out on, and you don’t think that you will “miss” cheese or eggs because you can find substitutions, then great! Start your journey by finding a sports dietitian in your area to build a nutrition plan that suits your preferences, cooking skills and lifestyle!
Vegan diets are not appropriate for anyone with nutrient deficiencies, disordered eating patterns, or other health conditions that may contraindicate a vegan diet.
If this all sounds like a lot of work and learning, and really you just want to become a better climber regardless of what types of foods you eat, then what may make sense right now is to establish a better foundation in your understanding around performance nutrition. This is also a good opportunity to speak with a performance nutrition professional who can help you learn the basics behind nutrient timing for optimal explosiveness on the wall. For example, did you know that bananas versus almonds can give you two VERY different types of energy? Did you know that one may be better for bouldering versus top rope? Why?? These are questions that a sports dietitian can help you answer!
Interested in finding a sports dietitian near you? Click on the directory below to find one in your state! (Editor’s note: If you’re interested in one-on-one help, head over to Real Nutrition’s website to learn more and book an appointment.
For more comprehensive information on a vegan or vegetarian diet for climbers, check out the book Nutrition for Climbers ).
At the end of the day the question becomes – how much work are you willing to put into your nutrition? It is already going to take an effort work to get your nutrition right if you do eat meat, eggs, honey and dairy. So if this is something that you are saying “yes” to dedicating your time to, you know where to go and what to do next! The beautiful thing about climbing is that it is a way of movement that reflects a thrilling and adventurous lifestyle. And if the thrill is what you intensely crave, why wouldn’t you pursue the knowledge to optimally fuel the movements that will take you there? Get after it my friends!
Climb high and climb on.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jenna Moore, RD, CSSD
Sports Dietitian and Nutritionist
Panorama Wellness & Sports Institute
Summit Performance Nutrition LLC
Przeliorz-Pyszczek A., Golabek K., Regulska-Ilow B. Evaluation of the Relationship of the Climbing Level of Sport Climbers with Selected Anthropometric Indicators and Diet Composition. Central European Journal of Sport Sciences and Medicine.2019;28(4):15-26.
Fuhrman J., Ferreri D. Fueling the Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete. American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition & Ergogenic Aids.2010;9(4):233-241.
Venderley A., Campbell W. Vegetarian Diets: Nutritional Considerations for Athletes. Journal of Sports MedicineI.2006;36(4):293-305.
Rogerson D. Vegan diets: practical advice for athletes and exercisers. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.2017;14(36):1-15.
Edited by Marisa Michael
~This is general nutrition information only and not medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.
What is virtually weightless, easy to pack, even easier to customize and great for your digestion?
The best backpacking meal on the planet (in my opinion): oatmeal.
Nutrition benefits of oatmeal
Oatmeal is a great source of fiber. The fiber in oats slows down the absorption of nutrients in our stomach to the rest of our body. Fiber can help us feel fuller for longer, which is great when we are pushing our body for extended periods of time. Although fiber itself contributes very little energy to the body, the carbohydrates in oatmeal pack an energy punch. Throwing protein rich toppings into oatmeal only adds to its value as a backpacking staple.
How much fiber and and calories are in oatmeal?
The recommended intake for fiber is 14 g for every 1,000 calories eaten. As an active climber, you may need more calories than the average human. Your calorie intake will be dependent on your level of activity. At minimum, females aim for 25 g per day of fiber and males 38 g per day.
One cup of oatmeal, the equivalent of a serving, typically offers 300 calories and 8 grams of fiber.
Oatmeal ideas for foodies
Get wild with flavor combinations. Oatmeal doesn’t have to be sweet. Oatmeal isn’t just for breakfast. Spice it up. Add herbs. Make it savory and enjoy it just as much!
Pick an ingredient from at least three flavor categories for the ultimate bowl of oatmeal:
Sweet: Bananas, Nutella, caramel, dark chocolate, strawberries
Try this savory combo: Avocado, dehydrated vegetables and soy sauce
Try this sweet combo: Nutella, peanut butter and cocoa nibs
Oatmeal for backpackers
Backpackers don’t have the luxury of bringing up fresh produce. An hour into the hike and banana ooze fills every crevice of your pack that isn’t already smeared with melted chocolate. So what’s a backpacker to do? Use dehydrated or freeze-dried goods to bring your bowl to life.
Helpful hack: Prep in advance by mixing uncooked oats with a selection of toppings. Place the mixtures inside plastic baggies as individual portions. (Use cloth zipper baggies to do your part in minimizing plastic consumption.) You can prepare different mixes for different days allowing you to vary your nutrient intake for a well-rounded diet.
Don’t underestimate the flavor spices can add to your oats. Spices come with the added bonus of being virtually weightless.
Choose at least three from the following lightweight and nonperishable options to pre-package into individual portions with oats. That way when you are starving and exhausted you can simply toss the contents of the bag into boiling water, moments later…mmm.
Dehydrated or freeze-dried strawberries, blueberries, bananas, pineapples or mango
Vegetable chips (The crispy, crunchy mix of carrots, green beans and beets in the bulk section)
Chopped nuts (Chop them so they take up less room and don’t puncture the bag.)
Spices like turmeric, cinnamon, turmeric or cardamom
Try this savory combo: Seaweed, dried mushrooms and beef jerky (with a sprinkle of chili pepper flakes)
Try this sweet combo: Bananas, dates and chopped nuts (with a dash of cinnamon)
Oatmeal for macronutrient splits
If you aim for balance, you might benefit from this style of oatmeal preparation. Pick one from each category for a well rounded dish full of all three macronutrients. Use the three ingredients as a base and then add complexity of flavor with various spices.
Carbohydrates: Strawberries, bananas, pears, milk, peas, corn and other vegetables and fruits
Fats: Avocado, nuts, nut butters, salmon or other fatty fish
Try this savory combo: black beans, corn & avocado, paired with a bit of chili powder
Try this sweet combo: Yogurt, pears & walnuts, with a hint of cardamom
Oatmeal can be fun! Don’t confine yourself to the basics offered up on the grocery store aisle. Think outside the box and get crafty with your oats. Use this as a guide to put together endless flavor combinations.
The biggest perk of oatmeal is it keeps you satiated. No more venturing off with a grumbly tummy. Having options helps to keep the good ol’ bowl of oats fresh, so you don’t get bored. You can go savory or sweet. Eat oatmeal for breakfast or dinner. And for all you backpackers out there: the best part? It can be prepped and stuffed in your pack without adding loads of weight on your shoulders. Whew. Take a load off!
This article was written by Kaila Dickey.
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