How many calories does climbing burn?

This is a great question! Unfortunately we don’t have a precise answer. There are several ways to estimate calories expended while climbing. But before we get to that, you may want to consider WHY you’d need to know how many calories you burn while climbing?

There could be a number of reasons:

You want to fuel your climbing session appropriately

You’re just curious–you like numbers and data

You want to lose weight. This list of articles helps you explore why losing weight likely won’t help you be a better climber.

Another reason people sometimes want to know calories expended is if they are suffering from disordered eating or compulsive exercise. If this is the case, see professional help from qualified eating disorder providers.

Aside from all these considerations, maybe you just need to know (or at least estimate) how many calories you burn during a given climbing session.

Most research we have indicates active climbing uses between 8-11 calories per active minute of climbing. This does not include resting or belaying.

One way to estimate calories burned while climbing is to use the Metabolic Equivalents (METs).

One MET of energy expenditure = 1 calorie/kilogram/hour.

General rock climbing is 8 METS.

For a 160 pounds person (73 kg), you plug it into an equation:

Weight in kilograms x METs x hours exercises. 

73 kg x 8 kcal/kg/hour x 1 hour = 584 calories burned for 1 hour of climbing for a 160-pound person.

Remember, this only estimates how many calories you used while climbing, not the rest of your daily activities or your basal metabolic rate.

Another way to estimate calories burned while climbing is to use a smartwatch.

Use caution with this information, most fitness devices are not accurate when it comes to estimating calories burned! They can be off by as much as 40%. FitBits, Apple Watches, Garmins etc. all have a large margin of error. It can get you in the ballpark if you’d like to use these numbers to help understand how much to eat to fuel your climbing, but it may be more useful to rely on hunger cues rather than your watch.

Variables that determine calories burned while climbing

Energy expended is depending on several factors, including but not limited to:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Body composition
  • Climbing efficiency
  • Training status
  • Cardiovascular status
  • Familiarity with the route
  • Familiarity with type of climbing (a trad route would be more difficult for someone with no trad experience, for example)
  • Overhang
  • High altitude
  • Temperature

You also may need to consider the approach when calculating energy expenditure. A very long or steep approach to the crag is going to demand more calories than driving to the gym parking lot and climbing indoors. Some researchers estimate 1200 calories for ~4 hours of climbing, not including a long approach.

The bottom line: Don’t focus on calories burned in order to lose weight, but knowing approximately how many calories you use while climbing can help you fuel the session well, support training adaptations, and recover quickly. Remember, estimating calorie energy expenditure is not precise (and neither is calorie counting!) so don’t get too hung up on the numbers. Just enjoy climbing and notice how your body feels.

Download our free RED-S tracking tool and free climbing fueling guides for more information!

Download your free RED-S tracking sheet!
Download your free climbing fueling guide!

~This is general information only and not nutrition advice. Always check with your healthcare provider before undergoing any diet or lifestyle changes.

Selected references

Mermier C.M., Janot J.M., Parker D.L., & Swan J.G. (2000). Physiological and anthropometric determinants of sport climbing performance. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34:359-366

Baláš, J., Panáčková, M., Strejcová, B., Martin, A., Cochrane, D.J., Kaláb, M., Kodejška, J. & Draper, N. (2014). The relationship between climbing ability and physiological responses to rock climbing. ScientificWorldJournal, 678387. doi: 10.1155/2014/678387  

Bertuzzi, R.C., Franchini, E., Kokubun, E., & Kiss, M.A.P.D.M. (2007). Energy system contributions in indoor rock climbing. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 101, 293-300. doi: 10.1007/s00421-007-0501-0

Booth, J., Marino, F., Hill, C., & Gwinn, T. (1999). Energy cost of sport rock climbing in elite performers. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 33, 14-18. 

Dickson, T., Fryer, S., Blackwell, G., Draper, N. (2012). Effect of style of ascent on the psychophysiological demands of rock climbing in elite level climbers. Journal of Sports Technology, (5): 111-119

Watts, P.B. (2004). Physiology of difficult rock climbing. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 91, 361-372. doi: 10.1007/s00421-003-1036-7

Watts, P.B., Daggett, M., Gallagher, P., & Wilkins, B. (2000). Metabolic response during sport rock climbing and the effects of active versus passive recovery. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 21, 185-190. 

Watts, P.B., España- Romero, V., Ostrowski, M.L., & Jensen, R.L. (2013). Change in geometric entropy and energy expenditure with repeated ascents in rock climbing. Poster, American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, Indianapolis, IN.

An interview with Mattias Strand, climbing researcher

Find Mattias Strand at

What one researcher thinks about climbing and eating disorders

Mattias Strand, MD, PhD, recently published the manuscript “Attitudes towards disordered eating in the rock climbing community: a digital ethnography.” As a dietitian that specializes in both climbing and eating disorders, this caught my attention. The climbing community has been talking about eating disorders recently, from the documentary Light to multiple stories from Climbing Magazine (Weighing in, Is lightweight the right weight? , thoughts about Light and more).

I’ve done a bit of research myself in adolescent climbers. And another researcher has found that up to 43% of female elite climbers are at high risk for disordered eating. So what does all this mean? How to climbers feel about it? Mattias Strand went to find out by scouring online forums. I asked him more about his research, and he was kind enough to answer my questions.

What made you interested in doing this research?

As a psychiatrist who worked primarily with eating disorders for quite a few years, I have seen a number of patients who developed serious eating disorders at least partly based on a wish to become lighter in order to climb harder. On the other hand, I have also met patients who used to overexercise in other sports and who have discovered a healthier way of relating to their own bodies through climbing. I thought this duality was fascinating and wanted to explore it further.

Also, as an amateur climber and father of a 12-year-old who climbs, I follow the international climbing scene and I cannot help but notice the perpetual debate about the role of weight in climbing. It seemed to me like there is a lot of talk about nutrition, weight, and body image in the climbing community, but that the topic of disordered eating is also often described as somewhat taboo – as a dark secret or as “the elephant in the room”, so to speak. I figured that a good way of exploring these potentially sensitive matters would be to study how people discuss them on online anonymous forums dedicated to climbing.

What was the most striking theme or comment you saw on these climbing online forums you studied? 

Overall, the finding that was most striking to me was probably that the topic of eating disorders is far from a “blind spot” or an overlooked phenomenon among climbers, at least in these online communities. It may very well be that official climbing associations have not always taken eating disorders as seriously as they should have or that people do not necessarily talk about disordered eating at the crag or in the gym, but on the online forums that I studied there is certainly a lively and nuanced discussion about weight, disordered eating, and body image in relation to climbing.

Another thing that struck me is that forum users uniformly show support and even admiration for climbers who do not fit the stereotypically slender or athletic mold. Larger climbers would describe how they can often feel uncomfortable at the wall, and other forum users would always root for them and praise them for being courageous enough to climb anyway. Considering that fat stigma tends to discourage many people from exercising in public, it was good to see that forum users were generally very supportive in this regard. Of course, this may or may not reflect the actual atmosphere at the climbing gym. Also, I was surprised that there was not more discussion about race, body image, and climbing on the forums – if anything, I would say that an actual blind spot of the climbing community is probably “colorblindness” and inclusion of BIPoC climbers.

What is your perception of how the climbing community views eating disorders?

First of all, as a clinician with a special interest in eating disorders, I was glad to see that so many forum users had very sound advice to offer on this topic and that people were generally eager to help those who displayed a destructive relationship to food and weight. When it comes to the question of the impact of weight and weight loss on climbing performance, forum users are clearly divided. Many view a low body weight as an undeniable benefit in an antigravitational sport, but an equally large share of the posts that I analyzed emphasizes other skills – technique, power, psychological aspects, etc. – as far more important and point to negative effects of weight loss, such as fatigue and proneness to injury.

Interestingly, I noticed a certain ambivalence in many posts. For example, a comment may initally describe the effects of weight loss on performance as very marginal and highlight other climber qualities, only to conclude by “admitting” that, everything else being equal, this small gain may sometimes be what is needed in order to send. Clearly, even those forum users who downplay the importance of a low body weight do so in constant dialogue with the dominant idea of weight loss as beneficial. Those that point to other aspects as more impactful typically have to argue their position, while those that emphasize weight simply refer to “the laws of physics”.

What insights or ideas do you have to help the climbing community have a better relationship with food, body image, and climbing as a sport?

In my study, I found very few hands-on suggestions for how the climbing community ought to tackle disordered eating. This may not come as a surprise – eating disorders are complex phenomena and I think it is important to realize that there is no simple quick fix when it comes to disordered eating, among climbers as well as in other contexts. There are some signs that point to an overall healthier relationship with food and body image among climbers today compared to earlier decades. For example, many older forum users primarily associate eating disorders with the “Lycra crowd” of the 1980s and early 1990s and describe how a growing emphasis on moves that require a lot of power have diminished the focus on body weight over time. The establishment of climbing as an athletic discipline is also seen as promoting modern evidence-based approaches to training and nutrition and thereby reducing the reliance on outmoded ideas about dietary restriction as a key to success.

On the other hand, some worry that the very same tendency – the transformation of climbing from an experience-based outdoor activity into an achievement-based sport – may lead to an unhealthy focus on shortsighted tactics such as weight cycling. Not least, some forum users express concern about what is described as an emerging negative “soccer mom” culture in climbing, by which parents and coaches pressure young climbers to perform at the expense of their well-being. As climbing has become more and more popular, problems that are typically associated with the highly individualized gym and fitness culture at large, such as disordered eating, excessive exercise, and illicit performance-enhancing substances, risk becoming more prevalent in the climbing community as well.

Another thing – and I am not sure what it is like in other sports – is that the climbing community is still pretty tightly knit, and I guess it was even more so 10 or 20 years ago. You might be climbing at the same gym as some of the world-class elite climbers or you meet them at the crag at some point and there is a sense that you are somehow pretty close to the climbing “superstars” that you watch on the World Cup circuit. I suppose this is generally a good thing, but there are also numerous reminders in the online forums that the performance-boosting tactics that might be useful for a top-level V15 climber is not necessarily what you need to break into V6. This highlights the need for positive role models in climbing and the necessity of maintaining a realistic view on what is really helpful at the level you are at. This may sound as a cliché, but I think that the best advice that I can offer at this point is to simply encourage further discussion about eating disorders in the climbing community. I do not talk about this in detail in the paper, but it was evident that whenever famous climbers openly share their experiences with disordered eating or when there is a documentary such as LIGHT, this clearly helps forum users in sharing their own experiences and sparks fruitful discussions.

How long did it take you to conduct this research?

The forum posts that I analyzed covered approximately 20 years. They were downloaded over a period of 2 months, but I probably spent around 5 or 6 months in the online communities – in addition to assessing posts about eating, weight, and body image, I would also access a large number of forum threads concerned with other topics than those under study, in order to immerse myself more fully in the online communities and gain a better understanding of the whole spectrum of topics under discussion.

As a complement, other sources were also used in order to enrich the understanding of the study topic. For example, whenever a forum user made reference to a social media or blog post, a video clip, or a magazine article discussing disordered eating or body image concerns in the climbing community, I would read/watch it and consider how it related to the other collected data. These sources typically described top-level climbers’ own experiences of and thoughts on restrictive eating and body dissatisfaction; since these individuals can be considered public figures, I did not include their data in the formal analysis.

What would you like the climbing community to take away from your research? How could they use it to help?

I hope that it may in some sense be helpful to be aware of just how much weight talk there still is in the climbing community, but also to build on the many valuable experiences and insights offered by climbers who partake in online discussions. Again, one thing that I myself take away from this study is that most climbers – although certainly not all – that are active online appear to have a fairly nuanced and realistic view of nutrition, weight, and training. Whenever somebody seemed to be on a destructive path, there was always at least some other forum users who would provide balanced advice and try to point them in a healthier direction.

Clearly, there are many people that fall in love with climbing precisely because it emphasizes what your body can do rather than how it looks. Still others dismiss the idea of climbing as achievement-oriented altogether and point to elements such as having fun with friends and being close to nature. It is obvious that climbing can be a positive arena in combating body image issues and I can only hope that the climbing community will continue to embrace these values – after all, I think that this down-to-earth sensibility is what many of us appreciate about the climbing community, even if we sometimes obsess about grades or worry about plateauing.

Want more information? Check out our disordered eating resources page and our book, Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send.

How do I know if I have Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)?

Who is at risk for developing RED-S?

Anyone can develop RED-S, which is a syndrome caused by under-fueling. Not eating enough to match your activity level can cause RED-S. Athletes and active people are more at risk, especially athletes where the sport may require (or the culture requires) a thin body, such as ballet, gymnastics, climbing, rowing, and weight-class sports (wresting, boxing, etc.).

Can you recover from RED-S?

Absolutely! It will take a team of knowledgeable professionals to help you through the recovery process, including a sports dietitian, sports physician, coach, and sometimes a therapist or sports psychologist. RED-S recovery usually involves complete rest or dialing back training, coupled with increased food intake.

Is RED-S serious?

Yes, if left untreated in can lead to injuries such as stress fractures, long-term damage to your organs, hormonal imbalances, infertility, and even cardiac issues. RED-S should not be self-diagnosed or managed on one’s own.

How do I know if I have RED-S?

If you suspect you have RED-S, seek medical help immediately. The physician can assess your heart, labs, menstrual status, and more to make a thorough assessment to decide if you have RED-S. You can use our free RED-S symptom tracking tool to monitor yourself and make sure you are not suffering from any signs of RED-S.

For more resources on RED-S:

RED-S in climbers

11 things that impact your climbing besides your weight

The difference between eating for sports performance and disordered eating

My article in Climbing Magazine about RED-S

My interview on Training Beta Podcast about RED-S

Nutrition for Multi-Pitch Climbing

By Amity Warme (Instagram @amity.warme)

Amity crushing it in Yosemite on Golden Gate on El Capitan! photo credit Felipe Nordenflycht @felipesh

Optimize your energy: fueling strategies for your multi-pitch adventure

Climbing a multi-pitch route requires a lot of energy. Often these adventures involve a long approach with a heavy pack, hours of climbing, exposure to heat, cold, wind, and altitude, hauling or climbing with a pack, and a long descent. All of these factors increase your daily energy expenditure. In order to perform your best, maintain mental acuity throughout the day, and recover quickly, it is critical to fuel yourself with adequate intake before, during, and after the climb. Continue reading for tips, tricks, and examples of how to fuel for your multi-pitch adventure. 

The night before:

  • Packing snacks for your big day is important but don’t neglect nutrition the day before either. Eating a nutrient rich dinner with plenty of carbohydrates the night before your multipitch mission will help maximize your energy for the next day. Your muscles store energy in the form of glycogen. Consuming carbs before your adventure ensures that your glycogen stores will be topped off and ready for big energy expenditure the next day. 
  • Examples of balanced, nutrient dense meals include the following: 
    • Grain bowl:
      • Brown rice or quinoa
      • Grilled chicken or tofu
      • Roasted veggies 
      • Garlic tahini dressing
    • Pasta:
      • Whole wheat or chickpea noodles
      • Plant based meatballs or grilled chicken
      • Sauteed veggies
      • Red sauce or pesto
    • Tacos:
      • Grilled chicken or tempeh on tortillas
      • Roasted veggies
      • Black or pinto beans
      • Fresh salsa and avocado

The morning of:

  • Start your day off fueled up and well hydrated. Combine carbohydrate rich foods for quick energy with protein and fat for more sustained energy. A nutritious breakfast is especially important if your multipitch climb involves a long approach. If you don’t fuel well and hydrate early, you risk arriving at your climb already in an energy deficit for the day. This sets you up for decreased performance and reduced mental capacity.
  • Examples of pre-climb breakfasts include any of the following or a combination:
    • Oatmeal with the fixings (options include):
      • Oats 
      • Hemp, chia, or flax seeds
      • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pecans)
      • Berries or other sliced fruit
      • Raisins or other dried fruit
      • Peanut butter
    • Granola with milk of choice or yogurt 
      • Topped with fruit 
    • Omelet or scrambled eggs
      • Potatoes 
      • Diced veggies 
      • Toast with jam
    • Pancakes or protein pancakes
      • Topped with peanut butter and fruit

Throughout the day:

  • Choose snacks that are easy to eat, easy to digest, and efficient to pack. Avoid heavy foods that will take up extra space and weight in your pack but also include foods that you like and will be excited to eat. Aim to munch on something every hour you are out on your climb. Continuously taking in small amounts of fuel will help keep you going all day and prevent bonking from letting your energy levels get too low. A good way to do this is to eat a few bites between each pitch while you are belaying or waiting for your partner to rack up. Staying ahead of your hunger is extremely helpful. Don’t wait until you are ravenous to start eating. Munch on small, carb-rich snacks and sip fluids consistently. Keep snacks easily accessible in a chest or pants pocket or in a small pouch clipped to your harness.
  • Examples of easy to pack and easy to eat crag snacks include:
    • Dried fruit (dates, figs, mango, apricots)
    • Energy bars with simple, whole food ingredients 
      • EnduroBites, RX bars, KIND bars
    • Tortilla with some combo of peanut butter, honey, banana, nutella
      • These tend to get less smashed than sandwiches
    • Peanut butter and honey/jam/banana sandwich
    • Trail mix with dried fruit, nuts, seeds
    • Granola
    • Pretzels (something salty is nice and encourages you to keep drinking fluids)
    • Nut butter packs sweetened with honey
    • Honey stingers
    • String cheese
    • Chocolate 
    • Jerky
    • Caffeinated gel packs

After the adventure:

  • The sooner you start refueling after your big day, the faster you will recover. Have some snacks or a meal packed and waiting for you in the car that you can eat when you get down. A combination of carbs and protein is ideal at this time. Carbs will help reload the glycogen stores in your muscles and protein will help jumpstart repair the repair of any tissue and muscle damage incurred throughout the big day.
  • Examples of recovery foods include:
    • Protein shake, fruit, and pretzels
    • Sandwich
    • Smoothie
    • Tortilla wraps with hummus and avocado
    • Fruit dipped in nut butter
    • Leftovers from dinner the night before
  • Energy expenditure is HIGH on multipitch climbing days. 
    • Approach (often long)
    • Climbing for hours of the day
    • Exposed to the elements all day (heat, cold, wind, altitude)
    • Often hauling a pack or climbing with a pack which increases expenditure
    • Moving almost constantly throughout the day
    • Descent (often long)
Want more climbing nutrition tips! Check out Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send and follow us on Instagram @nutritionforclimbersbook

11 things that impact your climbing besides weight

The message is pervasive and loud. You must lose weight if you want to climb better. But, do you really?

Nope nope nope. Not really.

We have several studies that look at anthropometrics (measurable body characteristics like weight, height, body mass index, and ape index). Researchers mostly found that anthropometrics did not correlate with climbing ability. Two studies found that only about 1.8-4% of climbing ability is due to anthropometrics.

Climbing ability is mostly attributed to trainable aspects, such as flexibility, strength, and endurance. And some non-trainable aspects that come with time, such as hours training per week and years of climbing experience. There may be some instances where a climber could periodize weight loss in order to send a certain project, but this should not be a general recommendation.

What does this tell us about how to improve? Don’t trust that knee-jerk reaction to lose weight in order to send your project. There are many other things you can focus on. Narrowly focusing on weight loss in order to climb better is myopic and often counterproductive. Explore our resource page for more on relative energy deficiency in sport, disordered eating, and how weight loss can negatively impact your climbing and health.

Things you can change to improve climbing ability (besides weight)

  1. Equipment: Do you have the right shoes for the type of climbing you’re doing? And for your skill level? Shoes can make a difference in how well you climb. One study from the International Rock Climbing Research Association (Nov 2021) showed that speed climbers improved by merely switching to a stiff rubber sole, rather than a softer one. Do you have the right type of harness? Is it comfortable and safe? If it is ill-fitting, you may be climbing worse than if it’s an appropriate fit for your style of climbing and body type.
  2. Nutrition: Proper fueling can make a huge difference in any sport or training program. Are you fueling with the right kinds of foods at the right time? Are you recovering with the proper macronutrients? Do you eat adequate overall calories? All of these things can make a big difference in your climbing ability over time! Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send is the definitive guide to climbing nutrition. Fueling right is a no-brainer.
  3. Hydration: Dehydrated athletes experience greater rate of perceived exertion, decreased cognitive ability, decreased coordination, decreased power, and decreased concentration. All these things are kinda important when climbing. Keep yourself hydrated with the proper electrolytes to stay fresh and strong.
  4. Strength: This one is pretty obvious. You have to have strength in order to climb up a cliff or wall. A nice, trainable characteristic that has nothing to do with dieting or restricting your food.
  5. Flexibility: Hello, heel hook. Nice to see you. Glad that could happen because you’re flexible. Ditto for any awkward route that involves specific moves suited to a master yogi.
  6. Endurance: Ever get winded halfway up the route? One case study (also from IRCRA conference Nov 2021) showed a climber that improved four grades in three months just by training endurance with a structured HIIT (high intensity interval training) program. Endurance is essential for any climber, but particularly big wall/multi-pitch type stuff. Train your endurance to improve your climbing performance.
  7. Skills: A skilled climber knows how to keep elbows in, hips to the wall, weight the foot correctly, and a ton of other technical skills and bespoke movements that a beginner doesn’t understand. Gaining skills and knowledge of climbing technique is an effective way to improve climbing ability without losing weight.
  8. Supplements: Although supplements in climbing research is far behind many other sports (I only know of two that looked at beta alanine in climbers), we can draw from other sports with similar movement patterns to determine what supplements may help with climbing performance. Creatine, beta alanine, nitrates, and sodium bicarbonate all are likely beneficial and well-researched in athletes. (Always check with your doctor before adding any supplement to your routine).
  9. Mental training: A route can shut you down if you’re not in the right state of mind. Outdoor climbers face unknowns such as weather, rock integrity, anchor integrity, and more. Indoor climbers, especially during comps, can be shaken by other competitors, the route setting style, timing of the comp, and pressure to perform. Climbing is inherently a bit freaky for many simply because of the height. Frustration from falling or not sending can get you in a bad mental state. Reframing your thoughts and understanding self-talk can help with climbing performance. The November IRCRA conference had a sports psychologist present her findings that several sessions with a psychologist actually helped improve climbing ability. Imagine that.
  10. Beta: You gotta get the beta in order to send it! Good beta can improve ability.
  11. Repeated attempts: Research shows that climbers that are familiar with the route are more efficient with their moves. This can translate into better climbing on that route.

I hope this opened up your mind a little to the possibility that there are several things you can do besides lose weight in order to climb better!

For more resources:

This is an excellent documentary about climbers and eating disorders
A 56-page PDF for coaches and athletes on RED-S, disordered eating, and how to improve your relationship with food, body, and sport
Free downloadable climbing fueling guides!

What Kyra Condie ate to fuel her Olympic climbing debut

Kyra Condie’s Instagram post after competing in the Olympics

It’s always fascinating to learn what top-level athletes eat. Kyra Condie, Olympian and elite climber, was kind enough to speak with me over the phone so I could pick her brain about her experience with fueling in Tokyo.

I first asked how she prepped before arriving in Tokyo. She said she had met with a dietitian from the USOPC who helped her figure out some fueling needs. Since she’s vegetarian, Condie has additional challenges to fueling herself well. (See our post on vegan diets for climbers if you want some tips!)

Condie packed tons of snacks to have on hand, “I figured it was better to have too much than to run out!” She brought along things like:

  • Trail mix
  • Ritz crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Chia squeeze pudding
  • Nutri-Grain bars
  • Oatmeal

She also brought her own coffee pot to boil water and prepare simple foods like oatmeal in her room. She packed a lunch box full of trail mix and other snacks to the comps.

As far as meals, “The dining hall was pretty accommodating,” says Condie. It was open 24/7 which was nice to have access to food whenever she needed it, especially for athletes arriving from a different time zone where your eating schedule doesn’t match Tokyo’s. She said the timing of eating was different, and she had to adapt to the new time zone and the comp schedules.

There was a fridge available to the athletes, so she could send someone out to get groceries for her. Due to covid restrictions, the athletes were not allowed to go out themselves. This was a bit of a challenge trying to describe exactly what to buy, especially in a foreign country. Condie says she at a lot of silken tofu cups, which was a great addition to her diet.

She also says, “I drank for Propel than I ever have in my life!” Because that is what was easily available to the athletes.

A final tip from Condie that will work well for any traveling athlete: “Try to find a food specific to the country that you’re traveling in that you like and works well for you.” For Tokyo, this meant soba noodles. If she wasn’t sure what would be available, she knew soba noodles would work well. She says she does this for World Cups as well and it’s a great trick to staying fueled.

A huge thank you to Kyra Condie for sharing your experience!

Macronutrients for Climbers

Welcome to the basics! As a climber, you need a balance of fats, carbohydrates, and protein to help your body function at its best, prevent injury, and optimize recovery. While this post may seem basic to some, it’s the foundation of many body processes and is useful to understand!

There are a lot of nutrition myths and misinformation out there. Understanding what is true about how your body uses different nutrients can help set you up for success.


Food provides energy for your body. Adequate energy is essential for your body to have the resources it needs to function. Your body uses this energy to maintain normal body processes, such as heart rate, breathing, producing new cells to maintain tissues, digestion, and more.

Energy in food is measured in calories or kilojoules. Your body needs a certain amount of baseline calories to exist, and then you need additional calories to do whatever else you want your body to do. Working, daily household tasks, exercising, and even thinking require extra calories. Getting the right amount to support your body will help you be healthy.

Energy needs vary from person to person based on their gender, age, body composition, and activity level. They also vary if you are stressed, injured, or sick. Energy needs also fluctuate from day to day or week to week—they aren’t always exact or static.

Macronutrients are nutrients that provide energy. These are carbohydrate, protein, fat, and alcohol. Let’s take a look at each one.


Role in the body: Many popular diets eliminate or limit carbohydrates (or carbs), but carbohydrates an important macronutrient for sports performance. Whether you are climbing, skiing, hiking, lifting weights, or anything else, your body needs carbohydrates to fuel those movements.

Carbohydrate is the fuel in the anaerobic energy system and the aerobic energy systems. If you are doing a moderate-paced endurance exercise, your body is using a mix of both carbohydrates and fat to fuel that workout. If you are doing an intense move, such as a sprint or power lift, your body uses carbohydrate to fuel that movement. Carbohydrate provides four calories per gram.

The food you eat, including carbohydrates, also keep your blood sugar regulated and provide fuel for your brain. Glucose is a form of simple sugar (carbohydrate) in your blood. It serves as fuel for your cells and brain. Your body likes to keep blood sugar levels regular so you can feel optimal and perform your best.

Glycogen in a storage form of glucose. It is stored in your body in your liver and skeletal muscles. Glycogen helps keep your blood sugar stable by breaking down into glucose when you are sleeping or fasting. It also is on-board fuel in your muscles to power any muscle contractions.

Most people have around 1200-1400 calories of glycogen in their muscles and liver. If you exercise for about two to three hours without eating any food or drinking any fluids that provide calories and carbohydrates, you can run out of fuel and “bonk.” This is common in endurance evens such as marathons and triathlon, as well as cross country skiing or all-day adventures.

Bonking simply means your body runs out of fuel to power your exercise. Symptoms include feeling weak, shaky, and lethargic, with heavy legs and fatigue. You can prevent bonking by eating regularly, about 30-60 grams of quickly-digestible carbohydrate per hour (such as a white bagel, gummies/chews, juice, honey, or sports drink, or even up to 90 grams per hour for long endurance events. You can recover from bonking by stopping your exercise, eating quickly-digestible carbohydrate, and waiting about 20-30 minutes for your blood sugar to come back to normal.

There are no “good” or “bad” carbs. They are simply fuel for your body. Some carbohydrates, such as fruits and whole grains, contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which makes them a good choice for overall health. Others, such as fruit juice and gummy candy, do not have useful nutrients other than the carbohydrate itself—but they are very useful in certain situations.

Eating regular meals help regulate blood sugar. Eating before exercise if it’s been more than two to four hours since your last meal can help you feel fueled and energized for the workout.

Food sources: Main food sources of carbohydrate include:

  • Grains: rice, bread, pasta, oats, barley, cereal, etc.
  • Fruit and fruit juice
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, squash, corn, peas
  • Legumes and lentils: kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lima beans, etc.
  • Sweets and desserts: candies, cookies, cake, soda (not diet)
  • Milk and yogurt

Recommended intake

Your carbohydrate needs may vary depending on your activity level. The baseline carbohydrate needs for normal healthy adults is around three to five grams per kilogram per day. If you are doing heavy training or have a long day of hiking, skiing, or climbing, you will need more carbohydrate, up to 7-12 grams per kilogram per day.


Role in the body: Protein plays a number of different roles in the body. It’s an incredibly important nutrient for overall health and also sports performance. It’s involved with muscle growth and repair, bone health, immune function, tendon and ligament health, skin, and all organs.

Protein is made up of amino acids, which are like building blocks for protein. Some amino acids are not essential, meaning your body can manufacture them on its own. Some are essential, which means you need to get them in your diet in order for your body to operate at optimal health. Protein provides four calories per gram.

Eating a wide variety of foods usually supplies enough overall protein and amino acids to be healthy. Those at risk for not getting enough protein are vegans, vegetarians, and people that are dieting or restricting their food intake.

Protein also helps people feel full and satisfied after a meal. Adequate protein is needed to help preserve lean muscle mass when trying to lose weight.

It is a crucial nutrient for athletes. Whether you are a climber, skier, hiker, alpinist, runner or anything else, your body needs enough protein to perform optimally.

Food sources:

  • Meat, fish, poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Legumes (beans and lentils)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Whole grains
  • Soy products (tofu, tempeh, edamame)

In general, proteins from animal sources, such as eggs, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products are better absorbed and used in your body than protein from plant sources (like tofu, beans, lentils, and nuts).

Protein from whole food sources offer a variety of nutrients, as well as fiber if it is from a plant source. This is usually better than using a supplement such as a protein powder, although in some cases protein powders can be useful.

Recommended intake:

The recommended amount of protein you may need varies widely based on your individual health history and your current exercise program. The minimum requirement in most countries is around 0.8 grams per kilogram per day.

Athletes will need much more to function optimally. A strength athlete, or an athlete undergoing a very intense training program may need up to 2.2 grams per kilogram per day, while an endurance athlete with a moderate training program may need around 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram per day. If you are recovering from a surgery or injury, you may also have increased protein needs, from  about 1.3-2.0 grams per kilogram per day.

Find a qualified dietitian to help you determine your own calorie, protein, and carbohydrate needs for your particular situation.


Fat sometimes has a bad reputation, but fat is essential for life. Your body needs fat for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K). Fat makes up almost all cell membranes in the body. It also provides energy and essential fatty acids your body cannot do without. Fat provides nine calories per gram.

Two main types of fats are saturated and unsaturated. In general, it’s best to get most of your fat as unsaturated, as this is better for overall health and risk for heart disease. Foods like olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocado provide healthful fats that are beneficial for your body.

Fat also plays a role in energy metabolism. This means that fat can be a fuel source for your exercise and training. Fat is used as a fuel source, along with some carbohydrate, when the body is exercising at a moderate intensity, such as jogging, walking, hiking, or skiing—anything you can do for several minutes to hours.

Food sources:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocados
  • Fish, meat, and poultry
  • Eggs
  • Olives
  • Coconut
  • Oils
  • Full-fat dairy products, such as butter, yogurt, milk, cheese, and ice cream
  • Fried foods, such as French fries, donuts, or breaded fried meat and fish
  • Baked goods made with fat, such as biscuits, cake, and cookies

Recommended intake

Most countries recommend limiting your intake to about 60-70 grams of fat per day, with 10% or less of total energy intake as saturated fat, and little to no trans fats.


Alcohol is technically a nutrient, as it provides energy at seven calories per gram. However, it is not recommended to be a large part of your diet, as it is a toxin and also can be very harmful to health, as well as addicting.

Alcohol should be used only in moderation or not at all. Consult with your healthcare professional before using alcohol to ensure it will not interact with any medications or cause harm to your body.

While alcohol is not recommended, it is included here because many people drink it on a regular basis. It’s important to be aware of how it can affect your training. Alcohol can interfere with muscle rebuilding and repair after a training session, decrease concentration, interfere with quality sleep, dehydrate you, and decrease coordination. It can also add additional unwanted calories that your body may not need, and thwart your ability to eat a good meal if you are drinking instead of eating.

With the right balance of macronutrients, and variety of food in your diet, you can feel better and climb harder.

~This is general nutrition information and not medical or nutrition advice. Always consult with a healthcare professional before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.

Opinion piece: The problem with “Out of the Shadows” and the climbing community’s eating disorder “interventions”

Out of the Shadows is an article about eating disorders in climbing, found at

by Marisa Michael, MSc, RDN, CSSD

Author’s note: This blog post is modified from its original version. The author of “Out of the Shadows,” reached out to me expressing his anger at this opinion piece. I don’t blame him. I would be angry if someone systematically unpacked my writing. I actually live in low grade anxiety about this almost daily. But after much soul-searching and contemplation, I realized that I am morally and ethically obligated to speak out about eating disorder culture. And “Out of the Shadows” is problematic on many levels and poised to do much harm. It even recommends that coaches practice medical nutrition therapy, which is illegal without a license in many states in the US.

I do not blame or fault the author for writing it. I genuinely believe he has good intentions and seeks to do good. He told me his goal is to “raise awareness and invite positive and respectful discussion.” Same, same. This is also my goal in writing this critique of “Out of the Shadows.” We two authors are on the same team–fighting against eating disorder culture.

I personally think it was quite unfair for the editors of Gym Climber to ask the author of “Out of the Shadows” to write such a piece, when he clearly is out of his element. This piece exposes the lack of professional training and science-based advice that would come from someone else writing it from within the eating disorder field. It’s also a shame that the main “nutritionist” quoted in the article also clearly lacks eating disorder training. The editors of Gym Climber should have required an eating disorder professional to write, or at least review, this piece. To have a coach write up this piece is really not appropriate. It was way out of his scope.

And I feel badly that he was put in such a position. I looked at his website and can’t tell if he even has any professional coaching certifications or education. He’s an amazing climber, that’s for sure, and looks like an amazing coach, but that doesn’t qualify someone to write about eating disorders. The “nutritionist” he quoted also doesn’t appear to have any actual nutrition training, let alone eating disorder training. He has a degree in technology and food science, not nutrition. So he appears to not be qualified to be quoted in an article about eating disorders.

If someone asked me to write up an article about training protocols for climbing, I would do a really bad job, even if I researched it a bunch, and interviewed experts. I don’t have the skillset or professional expertise to do this. And I bet climbing coaches would read it and shake their heads at how wrong it was, and maybe even email me to tell me it was bad. Because I simply don’t have the education to write an article like that.

Again, I don’t fault the author. He did his best with what he knew. He is genuine and he cares deeply about fighting eating disorders. This whole experience has taught me that people, including me, need to stay in my own scope of practice or we may inadvertently cause harm. I asked him for input and was open to his comments and suggestions, but I did not receive a response from him.

So why did I not just take this blog post down? Why do I not let “Out of the Shadows” sit in peace on the internet? I thought about it. A lot. Maybe I will at some point, because I don’t want to offend. But…

It is problematic when an article claiming to combat eating disorders is imbedded with behaviors and recommendations that promote disordered eating. We cannot prevent or treat eating disorders by recommending disordered behavior.

The climbing community has been trying so hard lately to get it right with eating disorders, and I applaud everyone that is contributing to the discussion. We need everyone’s voices AND we need to correct misinformation around eating disorders. If it’s there, even if it was well-intended, it may cause harm.

As an eating disorder professional, it has been my passion and main focus for the past several years to bring resources to the climbing community. Climbers are suffering, and they don’t know where to turn for help.

As a registered dietitian, I have extensive training and experience in evidence-based practices that qualify me to administer medical nutrition therapy and treat those going through eating disorders. I have made it my mission (hence this website!) to provide science-backed information to climbers. My hope is to start filling that void of good climbing nutrition information.

I started on this journey mainly because most of the nutrition information I saw in the climbing world was alarmingly inaccurate, written by coaches and trainers who really had no idea what they were talking about and were far outside of their scope of practice.

Before we go any further, let me make one thing clear: This is not an attack on the author of the article, the people quoted in the article, or Gym Climber magazine. I have no issues with any of these people, nor do I know them. I think they all are seeking to do good with the platform available to them.

When I read Out of the Shadows, I was immediately alarmed and concerned. I tried to resolve this in a private way before making this public. I emailed the editors of Gym Climber, asking them to either pull the article or print a correction, and outlined all my concerns with the article. They flatly refused to do either. To their credit, they did ask me to write “Is Lightweight the Right Weight?” For their next edition, which I happily did, but they didn’t offer to un-do the harm “Out of the Shadows” is likely causing.

I private messaged the author on Instagram, voicing my concerns. He was dismissive and and told me my concerns were opinions and theories, even though my concerns are based on mounds of scientific evidence and consensus. He blocked me.

If Gym Climber had run a correction or retraction, that would have been awesome. Since they didn’t, I feel this is the platform appropriate to voice my concerns. As you read this, you may feel strong negative feelings, anger, anxiety, rejection, or confusion. That is ok. This is totally normal when our culture is programmed to think that thin is better, healthy is thin, and eating healthy is virtuous. Some of the things I say will contradict that messaging, and it may feel uncomfortable or even unbelievable. That’s ok. You may think I’m a jerk. I guess I’ll have to be ok with that too.

So, with that background, I take you to my critique of Out of the Shadows–NOT to defame. NOT to attack. ONLY to inform and enlighten, and combat harmful misinformation. Because if we let misinformation stand, we do harm.

My intent is to have a productive way to help people identify eating disorder behaviors and thought patterns. Hopefully you will have a positive mind shift as you read this.

The article starts out with a useful summary of eating disorders and different types. But as you keep reading, there are some key problematic paragraphs.

Read this one:

Why is this paragraph a problem? Sounds reasonable, right? Actually, no. If a coach, fellow climber, parent, or trainer is asked by a climber, “Do I need to lose weight to climb better?” The answer is a firm and definite NO. Even if they are “overweight,” trainable variables like strength, endurance, and skills are much more useful to focus on. We have several studies looking at climbing ability, none of which definitively say that weight is correlated with climbing ability.

In fact, there are over 40 factors that determine sports performance aside from weight. To explore more, I’ve written up a guide for athletes that outlines these factors, plus a ton more stuff around eating disorders, body image, and relationship with food. Yes, there are references.

In my own scientific, peer-reviewed research, I found that climbing ability was more associated with years of climbing experience and hours per week of climbing. Weight is not closely associated with climbing ability, and has been verified by other researchers, as shown in this slide below. There’s also a nice blog post written by one of these researchers on this site.

So no, you do not need to tell an “overweight” climber they need to lose weight in order to climb better. And no, you don’t need to tell a “normal” weight climber that either. Focus on other variables, such as skills, strength, flexibility, and endurance.

“If you tell a climber that body weight makes no difference, then you will lose their trust and respect,” says this article. No.

You will actually have a really cool teaching opportunity to have the climber gain a bit more body positivity and reframe the way they think about climbing performance. Telling them to lose weight objectifies their body and may cause harm. It also ignores the fact that there are so many other ways to improve in climbing.

Instead, reframe the way they think about weight. It is only one variable (and a tiny one at that–researchers estimate weight only explains 1.8-4% of climbing ability). And diet is only one tiny variable of body weight. It’s incredibly difficult to control body weight. To focus on weight and diet in order to improve climbing ability is not productive. A high-level climber may benefit from periodizing weight for certain parts of their training and comp cycle, but losing weight for performance is not an appropriate blanket recommendation.

If you want to learn more about the nuances of this, go to my article I wrote up for Gym Climber, Is Lightweight the Right Weight? and one I wrote up for Climbing Magazine Why Underfueling Will Lead to Underperforming.

Here is the next problematic paragraph:

There are a lot of layers to this. Let’s unpack it.

We should never be asking any child about their food choices. Full stop. Food choices are complex. They are dictated by food availability, taste preference, food security, and more. Children don’t often have power over their food choices. To ask a child about their food choices is loaded with all sorts of things the child may not be able to answer and has no control over. This suggestion is just food shaming. This limits the child’s ability to foster a good relationship with food, including viewing foods in a neutral, non-judgemental way.

If a child is going through eating disorder treatment, they may have been instructed to eat “fear foods” as part of exposure therapy. These foods are often considered “unhealthy” to the outside observer. Imagine if a child has a deep fear of Oreos, but as part of their eating disorder recovery, they are bringing Oreos as a snack to climbing practice. Then imagine the coach asking them “Are all your food choices healthy?” I hope I am explaining well how problematic this is. Please stop judging others for their food choices. Eyes on your own plate.

Implying that a child needs to have every food choice be healthy is teaching the child rigidity in food choices, which is a hallmark of eating disorder behavior. Every food choice does not and should not be healthy.

Identifying a child as overweight is not appropriate. Many children gain weight during puberty–which is natural, normal, and appropriate. A child may appear overweight or “fluffy” for a time, and then grow taller. Any coach who thinks they can identify “overweight” or “underweight” is mistaken. No coach should be lumping children into these categories. Growth charts, family body types, and health history all need to be considered–which is far outside the scope of practice of a coach.

Overweight children need to be screened for binge eating disorder (which was described in the first part of “Out of the Shadows”), because the “overweight” may be due to bingeing, which can happen with controlling parents who do not let kids make their own food choices. Are you starting to see why this recommendation in “Out of the Shadows” is inappropriate? The article talks about binge eating disorder, and then says you must ask overweight children if all their food choices are healthy. And yet if their parents/coach are demanding that all their food choices are healthy, the child may be bingeing in secret, causing them to gain weight, and perpetuating the eating disorder cycle.

Categorizing people based on outward appearance is missing the point. Eating disorders come in all body shapes and sizes. An “underweight” child or an “overweight” child may equally be suffering from an eating disorder. Asking an “overweight” child if all their food choices is healthy is assuming they do not have an eating disorder, and likewise will reinforce the eating disorder if it is present. YOU DON’T KNOW IF SOMEONE HAS AN EATING DISORDER JUST BY LOOKING AT THEM. Asking children different nutrition questions based on their weight and body size is inappropriate. They all need to eat adequately to fuel their growth and sporting activities, as well as have flexibility and joy in food choices. Instead, you can encourage the whole team to fuel and hydrate before, during, and after practice without dispensing discriminating nutrition advice based on body size.

Next paragraphs:

  • “Processed foods” is a broad and nonspecific, non-helpful term. Baby carrots are processed. So are steel cut oats. Also, what? No one can eat processed foods ever? Again, this is promoting rigidity in eating, which is a key sign of an eating disorder.
  • Not only that, but highly processed foods such as sports drinks, gummies, and white bagels have loads of evidence to support their use in enhancing sports performance. Sports drinks are specifically formulated to deliver electrolytes and quickly-digesting carbohydrates to fuel and hydrate during exercise. They are not problematic when used in the context of sports performance, and are actually quite helpful to avoid bonking and dehydration.
  • Cooking from scratch and needing to know “exactly what you are eating” is disordered eating. Plain and simple. Perfect textbook example of someone suffering from anorexia or orthorexia. Please, guys, do not promote orthorexia in an eating disorder article. This is gross.
  • Very active children may need more than just a snack. They may need big meals, multiple times per day. Teach them to honor their hunger, not to follow arbitrary diet rules to just have a “little snack” to “tide you over” before the next meal.
  • Nuts, dates, or fruit pre-climbing may be fine for some people, or may cause gastrointestinal issues for others. Generally something lower in protein, fat, and fiber than nuts is useful for a pre-workout snack (again, this is backed by a large body of scientific evidence).

On to the next paragraphs:

Ok, again, lots to these paragraphs. Let’s break it down.

  • Body composition has very little to do with eating behaviors, especially in adolescents. Also body composition will not tell a coach anything about their bone density status or menstrual status. This is not the way you assess either of these things. Yes, bone mineral density can be measured by a DEXA machine, which also measures body composition, but they didn’t state that here and didn’t explain the difference between these two measurements.
  • Coaches shouldn’t measure body composition for a number of reasons: It’s outside their scope of practice, it doesn’t affect how they coach (or at least it shouldn’t! Coaches need to teach skills, flexibility, endurance, strength–body composition is irrelevant), they are not trained measure accurately, (unless they are ISAK certified), they do not have access to growth charts, and they should not be collecting this sensitive medical data, and they likely don’t store the data according to patient privacy laws. As a side note, I am curious what type of coach would want to take on this medical burden in the first place. It seems like it would be overwhelming and opening them up to liability. They are not trained in this, nor do they know how to manage these medical data.
  • Measuring for bone density and blood “functioning” (whatever the heck that means) is FAR, FAR outside the scope of practice as a coach. This should be done with a medical professional who has specific training in how to interpret the results, which labs to order, and what to do in the event of an abnormal result. No coach should ever be looking at labs. This is practicing medicine without a license. Again, it doesn’t affect how they need to coach, and they are at risk for breaching patient privacy medical information laws (HIPAA in the US) if they collect and store this information.
  • If a coach tries to monitor labs, body composition, or any other medical measurement, and then recommend interventions, this may considered practicing without a license in many states in the US. Even a coach giving nutrition advice is violating the law in some states. Unless the coach is licensed to practice nutrition in states that require it, the coach should not be giving nutrition advice.
  • Adolescent athletes should not be measured or weighed regularly by their trainers. Frankly, neither should adults. Trainers should train, that is it. An eating disorder is a mental illness. You cannot recognize an eating disorder by height and weight. Weight is a private medical measurement that does not and should not be collected by a trainer or coach. And again, it tells the coach nothing about how to train the athlete. It does inform safe belay practices, but this can be done without taking a specific weight. If a kid is smaller than another kid they are belaying, just anchor them into the floor. That’s it.
  • In order to keep athletes safe, you can implement an annual screening protocol where they need to get a sports physical by their doctor before training or competing. Leave the measurements, screening, and labs to the doctors. All the coach needs to know is if the doctor medically cleared the athlete for training. This protects both the coach, the climbing facility, and the climber from liability.
  • I’ve worked with Eugen Burtscher as a co-author on our research on IFSC licensed female athletes exploring the prevalence of amenorrhea and disordered eating. The IFSC does not say coaches should intervene when a BMI or weight is low (as this article implies). It simply says you need to check BMI to ensure they qualify for competition. A certified professional, such as an athletic trainer or physician should do this, not the coach ( in my opinion). If there is a problematic BMI, the climber should be referred to a sports physician and sports dietitian.

The coach should never assist in a weight loss program. NEVER. NEVER. NEVER. Even if the coach has some nutrition training, this is still wildly inappropriate. Coaches are not trained to do this type of intervention. If they are attempting it, harm will most likely occur, particularly in adolescents. It is not appropriate or necessary for adolescents to lose weight in the vast majority of cases. If an adolescent does need to lose weight, this should be managed by a pediatric dietitian and pediatrician. Again, the coach may be violating the law if they attempt this.

A coach does not have the skills and tools to do this. I, as a dietitian of 20

years with numerous degrees and certifications do not have the tools to do this. I get potential clients that ask me to do this, and I refer out to others that have the specialty pediatric training.

Coaches CAN and SHOULD participate in helping the climber develop a training and exercise program, because that is precisely what coaches do!

This may be a good time for a sidebar: The Dunning-Kruger effect

This is where a person has a little bit of knowledge, and then thinks they are an expert. This is “Mt. Stupid” on this graphic. This is the case with a lot of people. You read one article on a topic, think you know a lot, and then start telling other people about your knowledge. The problem is, your actual knowledge is very low but your confidence is high. I see this over and over again with coaches, physical therapists, and doctors who have a little bit of knowledge or training in nutrition, but it is so little that they really don’t know what they’re talking about, and end up dispensing bad nutrition advice. Dunning-Kruger effect. Happens to everyone. Image credit

Ok back to the breakdown: Burrows is wrong that protein has the least amount of calories per macronutrient. Protein ties with carbohydrate at four grams per calorie. But again, this article misses the point. If you really want to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. Thankfully, this article didn’t talk about that, because discussing weight loss in an eating disorder article is certainly not appropriate, as many eating disorders are triggered by weight loss attempts.

If they are making recommendations for a kid, which it sounds like they have been, then telling them to eat large quantities of vegetables, paired with protein, is not supported in the scientific literature. Kids and adults alike need carbohydrates, more than what is offered in vegetables. Active people need an increased amount to fuel their sport. In addition, fiber and protein are very filling. An adolescent could sit down and eat a plateful of chicken and vegetables and walk away feeling stuffed, but they are not getting adequate calories if they are too full. This puts them at risk for relative energy deficiency in sport.

It’s also not ok to tell someone that eating a “more healthy diet will improve their performance.” Because diet is only a teeny, tiny part of performance, and “more” healthy is subjective (Where did their diet start out? Already pretty healthy? Is “more” healthy now an eating disorder?). This statement lacks nuance and is not appropriate.

Ok we’re at the end. Thanks for sticking with me. I hope this opened up your eyes a bit to the dangerous things we may say that do harm when we don’t intend to. Again, this is not to shame anyone, this is to provide useful information and reframe the messaging we receive around weight and climbing performance.

Some thoughts for how to not cause harm:

  • Try to have weight-neutral conversations with fellow climbers
  • Do not give unsolicited advice about their climbing performance relating to weight (see this excellent article in Climbing Magazine by Caroline Wickes to see how this can be a bad idea)
  • Do not comment on others’ food choices
  • Stay within your own scope of practice
  • If you suspect a problem, refer to a competent medical professional trained in eating disorders.
  • National Eating Disorder Association hotline: 1-800-931-2237

For more information:

a 56-page fillable PDF chock full of information on eating disorders, journaling prompts, tips for athletes, coaches, parents, and more.

TRAINING WORKSHOP FOR COACHES: Eating disorders and RED-S. I conduct this course for individuals, groups, and organizations on an appointment basis. Contact me to schedule at

Click here to learn about this book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send

Article in Gym Climber about weight and climbing ability

Article in Climbing Magazine about RED-S

My published research on adolescent dietary intake and risk for ED

My podcast interview on TrainingBeta on ED and RED-S

Blog post about losing weight and climbing, risk for RED-S

Dr. Lanae Joubert’s published research on prevalence of ED in elite climbers

Dr. Kate Bennet’s interview on climbing and eating disorders on the TrainingBeta podcast

Caroline Wickes on climbing and eating disorders on the Power Company podcast

Micronutrients for Athletes

I often get the question, “Should I take a multivitamin?” The answer is, it depends! It’s best to only take a vitamin or mineral supplement if you have a known deficiency. You can get tested at your doctor to see if you are deficient, and get recommendations on if you need to take anything, what to take, what form to take it in, and how much to take. Taking a vitamin or mineral supplement as “insurance” or “just in case” is not recommended. At best, it can result in wasted money and really “expensive pee,” because your body will just excrete out water-soluble vitamins it doesn’t need. At worst, you could end up with a toxicity or negative health outcomes.

Also consider if someone is recommending that you take a supplement, vitamin, or mineral—do they have an incentive for you to take it? Are they selling it? Or do they get a percentage of the sale? If so, don’t do it. If you truly need a supplement, you can get it from neutral third-parties. Multi-level marketing often sells questionable products and there is nothing you can only get from MLM that you couldn’t get at a normal store that you would actually NEED.

Also be sure your supplement is clean from contaminants by looking for the NSF Certified for Sport, Informed Choice, or USP labels.

Micronutrients do not provide energy but play an important role in health and the way your body functions. There are many micronutrients, but we picked out the most common ones and made this reference chart for you. Keep in mind, it doesn’t list every single function, nor every single food source (that would be impossible!).

Recommended intake is set for most adults age 18 and up based on guidelines from the United States. You may need a different amount based on your health history. Always check with your doctor before taking any vitamin, mineral, or supplement.

MicronutrientWhat it doesFood sourcesRecommended intake per dayImplications for sports performance
IronCarries oxygen to tissues, helps with metabolism and cell functionMeat, seafood, nuts, beans, dark leafy vegetables, fortified cereals and breadsMales 8 mg, Females 18 mgIf deficient, may feel weak, fatigued
CalciumBone health and strength, nerve conduction, enzyme and hormone function, muscle contractionDairy products, fish with edible bones (sardines), kale, broccoli, fortified soy and cereal products1000 mg,Supports bone health and may help prevent injury
ZincHelps with numerous cell functions, immunity, growth in childrenFortified cereals, meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, dairy productsMales 8 mg, Females 11 mgIs lost in sweat; needs to be replaced with diet after heavy sweating
MagnesiumEnzyme reactions, muscle contraction, blood pressure regulation, bone healthMeat, poultry, eggs, fruit, leafy green vegetables, fortified cerealsMales 420 mg, Females 320 mgIs lost in sweat; needs to be replaced with diet after heavy sweating. If deficient, may affect ability to metabolize food for energy in the cell.
PotassiumHeart beat, nerve conduction, blood pressure regulationMeat, milk, fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains4.7 gIs lost in sweat; needs to be replaced with diet after heavy sweating. If low, affects heart rate.
Vitamin AImmunity, vision, eye health, skin health, bone growthLiver, milk, eggs, leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, squash, cantaloupeMales 900 mcg Retinal Activity Equivalents (RAE), Females 700 mcg RAEMay help with skin healing when wounded.
Vitamin EAntioxidant, immunity, cell functionVegetable oils, nuts, spinach, broccoli, fortified foods (often used as a preservative)15 mgNone known
Vitamin DNerve function, muscle function, bone health, immunityFortified foods, fatty fish, egg yolks, mushrooms. Also synthesized in your skin when in the sun15 mcgAdequate status may help with muscle contraction, mood, and bone health
Vitamin KBlood clotting, bone healthGreen leafy vegetables, vegetable oil, meat, cheese, eggs, soybeansMales 120 mcg, Females 90 mcgNone known
Vitamin CAntioxidant, iron absorption, immunity, skin healthCitrus fruits, bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, cantaloupeMales 90 mg, Females 75 mgMay help with wound healing. May help reduce or prevent respiratory tract infections in a physiologically stressed athlete.
Vitamin B 6Enzyme reactions, metabolism, immunity, fetal brain developmentPoultry, fish, potatoes, fruit, legumes, soy products, bananas, watermelon1.3 mgNone known.
Vitamin B 12Nerve and cell function, DNA productionLiver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, nutritional yeast, fortified cereal2.4 mcgNone known.
RiboflavinCell function, energy metabolismEggs, meat, milk, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, fortified cerealMales 1.3 mg, Females 1.1 mgNone known.
ThiamineEnergy metabolism, nerve functionMeat, fish, pork, whole grains, fortified cerealMales 1.2 mg, Females 1.1 mgNone known.
NiacinEnergy metabolism, cell functionMeat, fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, whole grains, fortified cerealMales 16 mg Niacin Equivalents (NE), Females 14 mg NENone known.
BiotinEnergy metabolism, skin/hair/nail healthMeat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli30 mcgNone known.
FolateCell metabolism, DNA productionLiver, fortified cereal, leafy green vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, peas400 mcgNone known.
~This is general information only and not health or nutrition advice. Always consult with your healthcare professional before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.

Nutrition Tips for Para Climbers/Adaptive Climbers

Nutrition tips for competition and recovery: Adapt your nutrition strategy to match your climbing style. For example, if you spend more time in static holds, more sustained movement (rather than dynos and quick, intense movements), or more endurance-style climbing, fuel your body to match those needs.

A short climbing session may need just 30-60 grams of carbohydrate before the session. A longer session with more endurance climbing would benefit from eating protein along with the carbohydrates, as this is more slowly digested, giving you longer-lasting energy.

Those with spinal cord dysfunction may experience decreased muscle mass below the level of the lesion, and a reduced resting energy expenditure. This simply means you may need less calories overall on rest days.

Some athletes with spasticity or other movement disorders can actually have increased energy needs since the muscles are firing much more often. It’s often difficult to estimate energy needs and expenditure for para-athletes. If you need specialized help with fueling your climbing, seek out professional help from your doctor and dietitian.

Temperature Regulation: Difficulty regulating body temperature is common with neurologic impairment. The impairment can affect the ability to shiver or sweat in the affected body regions. In addition, certain medications used for some movement disorders can cause you to be more susceptible to overheating. Please ask your doctor about any side effects in temperature regulation. 

In warm temperatures you need to ensure you are hydrating adequately. In general, about eight ounces of fluid per hour in normal climbing conditions is enough. You may need more if you are climbing in more extreme conditions, such as high altitude, heat, humidity, or extreme cold. Using cold, icy beverages in the heat can help lower your body temperature. Knowing your own personal sweat rate and bowel schedule can help you plan for a successful climbing session. When environmental temperatures are cool, try dressing in layers or using hot beverages to stay warm.

Skin: Climbers with adaptive equipment, such as a wheelchair or prosthesis, need to pay special attention to their skin health. Areas of skin that don’t have normal feeling are at increased risk of pressure and rubbing injuries.  If repeated skin breakdown is an issue, work with your doctor, equipment provider, or a professional prosthesis/orthotist to ensure you get the right equipment and the right fit for your body. 

Athletes need to eat and hydrate adequately to support skin health. If your skin is prone to breakdown and pressure sores, ask your doctor or dietitian about nutrition for skin healing and preventing skin breakdown. Some supplements, such as vitamin C and zinc, may be appropriate on a short-term basis. 

Bone Health: Para climbers may be at risk for decreased bone density due to decreased ability to perform weigh-bearing exercises in some athletes. Adequate overall calories and protein are important, as well as calcium and vitamin D. Ask your doctor before taking any supplements.

Recommended daily intake of calcium:

  • Children 9-18 years old need 1300mg daily
  • Adults 19-70 years old need 1000mg daily

Recommended daily intake of vitamin D:

  • Children 0-18 years old need 400-600IU
  • Adults 19-70 years old need 600IU

Want to learn more? Get the book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send!

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