How to Fuel A Long Hike: Mt. St. Helens

Marisa Michael on the edge of the crater on Mt. St. Helens

What to bring on the Mt. St. Helens hike (or any long day hike)

For successful outdoor adventurers, it’s super important to fuel and hydrate properly. Just a week prior to hiking Mt. St. Helens, someone had to be rescued due to dehydration on the mountain. Don’t let this be your mistake! With a good fueling and hydration plan, you can feel great and prevent mishaps and injuries.

Mt. St. Helens hike elevation gain and distance

Here’s the breakdown for the Mt. St. Helens hike:

10 miles round-trip (although we took more like 11 miles). Five miles up and back. It is a 4500 ft elevation gain over five miles, so pretty steep! No real switchbacks–just straight up!

The first ~2.5 miles is a nice forested path with gradual elevation gain. Then you get into an open boulder field where there is nothing but huge boulders to scramble up and pick your way through for about 1.5-2 miles. This was my favorite part of the hike–it was a lot of fun to just climb!

From this open boulder field up to the summit, there is no set trail to follow, which is why some people end up doing longer than five miles up. As you pick your way up the mountain, people take different routes and it can add some length to your hike.

After the boulder field, there is about one mile or so of just scree–loose gravel and ash that is really tough to work your way up. Your feet slide down with each step. Trekking poles were invaluable at this point. I saw some hikers without them and can’t imagine how they did it. The poles helped make quicker progress and transfer weight off the legs a bit.

The summit greats you with a killer view of the inside of a volcanic crater. There’s a massive glacier inside. It was quite surreal to be at the top of a volcano! The guide at the top said the crater was about 1800 feet down to the bottom–you can apparently fit the Sears tower (Willis tower) inside it! It was amazing to imagine the sheer power and force that created the massive explosion and mudslide 40 years ago.

View at the top. So freaking rad. Mt. Rainer is in the distance.

Recommended gear for hiking Mt. St. Helens

Bring the essentials and be prepared for an emergency.

Layers of clothing for weather changes

Emergency first aid kit, headlamp, whistle, etc.

Trekking poles

Gloves are useful for scrambling up boulders–saves the skin on your hands from getting shredded

Gaiters to keep the scree out of your hiking boots

Plenty of food and water (keep reading!)

Crampons may be necessary depending on what time of year. In August there was no snow on the “trail.”

Hat

Sunglasses

Sunscreen

TP and shovel

Food to bring on Mt. St. Helens hike

Here’s what I brought with me:

Peanut butter-filled pretzels

A couple Chewy Quaker granola bars

Apple

Skratch Labs chews and bars

Protein shake (drank in the morning for my breakfast)

Swedish Fish (a lifesaver!)

Nuun electrolytes in my hydration bladders

Chex mix (salty!)

Trail mix

MORE IDEAS:

Tuna or salmon pouch

Jerky

Dry cereal

Applesauce pouches

Chips

Dried fruit

Fruit leather

Bars (Kind, Picky, Rx, Perfect, etc.)

Gu

Honey Stinger Waffle

All the goodies!

How to fuel: At higher altitudes, your body needs additional carbohydrates. A mix of carbs and protein are needed almost constantly to prevent bonking and stay energized. I kept some snacks in my pocket and ate almost regularly. Aim for about 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour, and about 200-300 calories per hour as tolerated. (Check out this post I wrote about nutrition and hydration for high altitude for more information).

This was easy to do by reaching into my pocket every 5-10 minutes and eating a peanut butter-filled pretzel, a Skratch labs chew (really nice texture and not too sweet), or some Swedish Fish. One of my hiking buddies didn’t fuel regularly and started to bonk. We had to stop so he could eat a bunch of Swedish Fish, which got his blood sugar up and he was able to continue without issues.

We sat down at the top of the crater and had a more substantial lunch. I took this opportunity to get some salt in me with more pretzels and some Chex mix, as well as more calories and protein. I felt well-fueled and my stomach tolerated everything great.

How much water to bring for Mt. St. Helens

For high altitude climbs, you need more hydration. You lose more fluid through sweat and respiration than at lower altitudes. In addition, this particular day was warm (around 70 degrees) and the hike was in exposed sun for most of the time.

Aim for minimum of eight ounces or 240 mL per hour. I sipped regularly about every 10 minutes through my hydration pack. If you bonk from low blood sugar, it takes about 20-30 minutes to recover. If you become dehydrated, it can take several hours to recover. This is why hydration is crucial to a successful hike.

Just plain water won’t do the trick. Electrolytes are important to re-hydrate properly. With just water, you will dilute electrolytes in your blood, which is not effective for hydrating. Instead it can lead to hyponatremia, which is a serious condition. Perfect Hydration for Athletes goes into a lot more detail about when to choose sports drinks, water, or electrolytes, and how to develop a personalized hydration plan for any situation.

I ended up bringing four liters of water with me, and used about 3.25 liters. I was glad I had the full four liters, as I may have needed it if I had started to feel a bit dehydrated. It’s always smart to bring extra fluids in case you are on the mountain longer than planned, you need to share with a hiking buddy, or conditions are not as you anticipated.

I made the mistake of not putting added salt into my hydration pack. I know that I’m a salty sweater (I have salt crusties on my face and clothing after I sweat a lot), but figured the salt in my food would be adequate. It wasn’t. By the end of the hike I had a headache (and for the remainder of the night and into the next morning), which was likely because I didn’t replace the lost salt.

The Nuun tablets have 300 mg of salt in them, and I used two tabs per two liters (I should have used four). Which means there was only 600 mg per two-liter bladder. This could be enough if you’re not a salty sweater, but it wasn’t enough for me. Some people lose 1500-3000 mg of salt per liter of sweat! If you know you’re a salty sweater, add additional salt to your electrolytes, or choose an electrolyte brand with ample sodium (like The Right Stuff).

If you’re planning on doing any long day hike, be sure to hydrate and fuel right to feel energized and great throughout the hike! Final tip: try tart cherry juice for muscle soreness. I was sore the next day and was wishing I had used it!

For longer backpacking trips, I recommend checking out Gourmet Hiking and Backcountry Foodie. Both have great recipes and tips for fueling multi-day adventures.

My hiking boots have seen better days. The sole started peeling off during the hike. I was praying they would hold up until the end, which they did!

~This is general information only and not personalized nutrition advice. Always consult with your healthcare professional before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change. This post may contain affiliate links.

Want to learn more? You gotta read our book, Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send! It’s packed full of tons of useful and actionable nutrition and hydration tips!

And be sure to sign up for our monthly newsletter, chock full of nutrition tips for busy people.

Q&A with Shaina Savoy

Welcome to this Q&A! We wanted to take a different approach for this blog post, so we did an interview with Shaina Savoy, who is a rockstar climber (in my humble opinion), nutritionist-in-the-making, and overall interesting person. She does all the social media content for TrainingBeta as well. She was kind enough to take some time out of her day to answer a few questions for this blog. I hope you enjoy! ~Marisa Michael

Shaina on Movin on up, 5.13b at Sunset Alley.
Photo credit Jonathan Siegrist.

Marisa: What is your current project you’re working on?

Shaina: Currently, my project is school! My boyfriend and I live in Vegas, and left July 2nd to escape the heat and do some climbing in Colorado. I’ve sent a couple routes that were lower-hanging fruit, and it has been super fun!

Unfortunately, he got too much air at the bike park the other week, crashed, and tore his AC ligament. So, we’re hanging out at his parents’ house in Boulder while he’s in recovery mode and I’m taking advantage of the free WIFI and comfortable home environment to buckle down on some work. We’re hoping he’s recovered enough to head to the east coast in October.

We just purchased a Four Wheel Camper slide-in for our truck, and we’re REALLY excited to put it to use for the season! We will hit up Rumney, the Red, the New, Chattanooga and then see my family in Atlanta for Christmas. I’m hoping to put down some 13b’s & c’s while we’re out there! 


Marisa: What made you interested in studying nutrition?

Shaina: A career in nutrition interested me for a couple reasons. In high school I struggled with disordered eating. I was very uneducated about nutrition and how our bodies functioned, and I thought I was just trying to be ‘healthy’.

Furthermore, I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for almost 10 years now. In the beginning, I was a super unhealthy vegetarian. Again, stemming from a general lack of knowledge and education about food/health. Funny enough, I started following nutrition-related Instagram accounts, and began to learn more and more about how different foods nourish my body. This sparked a desire to treat my body with care, respect, and abundance, rather than negligence and deprivation. Thus began the journey to be kinder to my body and heal my relationship with food.

When I began climbing, I noticed how fatigued and weak I felt on the days I wasn’t nourishing myself enough or the right way. When I started projecting harder routes, I could just tell energetically when I hadn’t properly nourished my body. Those days I performed horribly. On the days that I fed and nourished my body, I performed SO much better, my energy levels were amazing, my mood was better, and my mental clarity improved significantly. It’s amazing to know and experience how functioning in a well-fed & nourished body feels, and I want other people to know what that feels like too.

Whether they are a victim of disordered eating, or they don’t know how to nourish their bodies, or if they have health conditions preventing them from feeling their best — I want everybody to live in health & happiness, because that’s what they deserve, and that’s what their bodies deserve. Our bodies love us more than anything or anyone, and they work so hard to help us succeed, thrive, and flourish. They only want the best for us, and it’s time we all want the best for our bodies).

Sometimes I feel like I have too many thoughts surrounding how food, body image, and disordered eating relates to climbing. Haha! There is a lot to unpack here. As I mentioned above, I’ve had my battles with disordered eating, and in all honestly, sometimes I still struggle with negative body image. I wasn’t climbing for very long until I began dating Jonathan, who is a full-time professional climber, and climbing with other pros because of him. I think one of my first times truly sport climbing outside was with Jonathan and Alex Honnold! I was projecting a 5.12a while they were sending 5.14s. So you can imagine how that might have skewed my perception of rock climbing.

Jonathan and I have this conversation a LOT when I’m hard on myself about my climbing performance. While I attribute climbing with people who send much harder than me with success in my own performance because I have learned so much from climbing with those who are stronger than me, I’ve definitely battled with comparison and negative thoughts about how my body relates to my performance. I grew up as a soccer player and that seemed to shape my body quite a bit early on, so I’ve never felt like I really fit the ‘climber body’ mold, per se. There is definitely a sort of climber-body elitism that exists within our sport, whether people like to admit it or not.

We talk about weight frequently, almost casually, and we often let that dictate how we’re going to perform that day before we even touch the wall. I feel like a lot of us climbers take this sport/hobby SO seriously, and we all seemingly really care about our performance, so it can feel hard not to fall victim to the comparison game or treat our bodies as though they are this empty, inferior vessel only worthy of kindness when we succeed or we’re at our thinnest.

When I learned that when I nourished my body and gave it REST to recover (I think over-exercising & rest/recovery play a huge part and are VERY under-represented in this narrative), I would find more success in climbing, and this helped propel a positive body image and desire to let go of the narrative that thinness is the key to success in climbing. It’s just not the truth.

We are self-sabotaging our health AND our performance when we aren’t caring for and nourishing our bodies! I’ve seen this topic being talked about a little more openly over social media, but I still don’t think it’s getting the light it deserves. Re-writing the narrative that thinness = climbing success is long-overdue… I really appreciate the resources you have made available on this topic, and the topic of intuitive eating and emotional eating. They are invaluable.

I will also mention that the book “The Body is Not an Apology” was completely life changing for me. It has nothing to do with climbing or performance. However, it’s the only book I’ve read that has made a long-lasting impact on how I perceive my body and the bodies around me. Highly recommend.


Marisa: Where do you see the sport of climbing in the next five years?

Shaina: I’m not entirely sure to be honest. Things have proven to be less predictable than I thought lately! My hope is that the sport we love so much can grow in a way that caters to the inclusion, equity and success of more Black, Indigenous and other people of color, as well as our LGBTQ community.

I hope that we can continue to uproot and dismantle all of the racist/oppressive behaviors we have perpetuated in our community and create a welcoming environment for everyone across all intersections. We need to commit to creating a SAFE outdoor space that is accessible for every member of our community.

This revolution is going to take a lot of time and work, but my hope is that everyone remains committed in this fight and that in five years, we’ve made some successful, impactful strides that result in lifelong changes.

Marisa: What is your favorite crag snack, or pre- or post-climbing food?

Shaina: I love this question because I LOVE talking about food so I’m going to list all three! My favorite crag snack in the world is a baked Japanese sweet potato. The ones with the purple-ish skin and white flesh. They seriously taste like cake. For a pre-climbing breakfast, I love a thick stack of vegan pancakes with banana, almond butter, hemp seeds, and maple syrup. For a post-climbing meal, I honestly just love a grain bowl with tempeh, a bunch of different veggies, and a delicious sauce of some sort! My current favorite is a forbidden rice bowl with a miso dressing! YUM.

Check out our book Nutrition for Climbers for more ideas on climbing food and so much more!

Have a nutrition topic idea or question? Submit it here!

Please enter your email, so we can follow up with you.

5 Tips for Climbing With Kids

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.

Kaila and her family on a climbing adventure with lots of snacks

~This is general information only and not personalized advice. Each child and family is different. Be sure to follow all safety rules.

Protein for Climbers

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?

What are good food sources of protein?

Amino Acids

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
  • not available.
  • Proteins carry fuel sources into the cell for energy production so the body can keep pushing. Pushing real good.
  • Protein is essential for injury recovery.

Signs you aren’t getting enough protein


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
  • Jerky or summer sausage
  • Nut butter and crackers
  • Protein bars
  • See our whole post on crag snack ideas!


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.

Want more information? Our book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send has everything you need to know!

Nutrition for Injury Recovery in Climbers

Injury is a word that will make any athlete cringe. For tips and tricks to prevent injury, check our other post on nutrition for injury prevention.

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 in rebuilding 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.
  • Check out our other blog post for foods that promote muscle strength and recovery.

Nutrition for Bone Injury

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.

Be sure to check out our book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send–it’s got a whole section on nutrition for injury prevention and recovery!

~This is general information only and not intended to be nutrition advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider before undergoing any dietary or lifestyle change.

Creatine for Climbers

Should you use creatine for climbing?

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

Read our other blog post for more information on creatine, including how it works, how to use it, and references.

~This is general information only and not nutrition advice. Always consult your healthcare provider before undergoing any diet, lifestyle, medication, or supplement changes.

Want to learn more? Check out our course on nutrition for climbers and supplements for sports performance.

And be sure to check out our new book, Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send. There’s a whole chapter on supplements!

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for nutrition content delivered straight to your inbox!

Foods to promote muscle strength and recovery

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

Fruit: Pineapple, nectarines, kiwi, apples, oranges, clementines, grapes, pears, berries

Whole-grains: oats, 100% whole grain breads, brown rice

Starchy Veggies: potatoes, peas, corn

Non-starchy Veggies: greens, peppers, mushrooms, cabbage, kale, celery, carrots, brussels, broccoli, onions, beets and more!

Omega 3 fatty acids: fish, nuts, seeds, avocados, olives

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).

Check out this article on beets and athletic performance for a more in-depth look https://www.realnutritionllc.com/2020/04/14/beets-for-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.

Want more information? Get the book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send

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

Nutrition for Injury Prevention in Climbers

Photo by Brook Anderson on Unsplash

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.

For tips and tricks to maximize nutrition for injury recovery and foods for muscle strength and recovery are found in our other blog posts!

This article was written by Kaila Dickey

Learn more about how to crush your nutrition in the book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send

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

Tart Cherry Juice for Climbers

Created by Lindsay Opie, RDN

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).

Learn more about how to crush your nutrition in the book Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send

Vegan Diets for Rock Climbers: Is it Right for You?

Written by Jenna Moore, RD, CSSD

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:

  • Lentils
  • Almonds
  • Edamame and other soy products
  • Hemp seeds
  • Peas
  • 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:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Other B vitamins
  • Omega 3s
  • Vitamin D

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.

https://ams.eatright.org/eweb/DynamicPage.aspx?Site=CDRNEW&WebKey=9C7B0E5D-E7BB-464D-9B09-ECAD3DCA1D6C

For more comprehensive information on a vegan or vegetarian diet for climbers, check out the book Nutrition for Climbers ).

Vegan 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

(719) 684-5754

Instagram @jennamoorerd

Facebook @jennamoorerd

Twitter @jennamoorerd

Sources

  1. 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.
  2. Fuhrman J., Ferreri D. Fueling the Vegetarian (Vegan) Athlete. American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition & Ergogenic Aids.2010;9(4):233-241.
  3. Venderley A., Campbell W. Vegetarian Diets: Nutritional Considerations for Athletes. Journal of Sports MedicineI.2006;36(4):293-305.
  4. 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.