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.

A Dietitian’s Guide to Collagen for Climbers

Collagen seems to be a really popular topic right now. I keep seeing climbers post on social media questions like,” Do I need collagen? It seems useful. Will it really help?”

What are the claims around collagen supplementation?

There are a lot of claims around collagen, ranging from improving skin, hair, and nail health, to helping prevent tendon injury, to improving bone density and joint pain. For the purpose of this blog post, we’ll focus on what collagen may be able to do for climbers. Sure, you may want luxurious hair, but what about skin healing and tendon/ligament health? That’s probably more important to you as a climber.

What is collagen?

Collagen is an abundant protein in your body. It is part of the structure of bones, muscles, skins, tendons, and ligaments. In theory, if you supplement with collagen, it may help with tendon and ligament health. Here’s a nice quick read on collagen supplement basics. And here’s a really beautiful and comprehensive read on collagen for injury prevention.

Collagen (a common brand is Vital Proteins ) is made up of bovine (cow) hide (they also have a marine version). Some is made of skin, bones, and fish scales. Clearly, this is not a vegan or vegetarian product!

The structure of a tendon is made up of a triple helix composed three amino acids: hydroxyproline, proline, and glycine. The uniqueness of collagen supplement seems to be that these three amino acids in high amounts are possibly useful for soft tissue health when you orally supplement.

It could be potentially be tough to get these amino acids in the right amounts just through diet, especially if your tendons are injured and may have increased need. Dietary sources of glycine include meat, fish, dairy products, egg whites, bone broth, and chicken and pork skin. Your body also makes its own glycine.

Is all the collagen hype backed by research? Read on, my friends.

What is the current research around collagen for athletes?

We’ve got a little bit! It seems that the hype, marketing, and products are way beyond the actual research. What we do have is promising, but much more is needed.

Collagen may benefit athletes by:

  • Strengthening or thickening tendons and ligaments
  • Decreasing knee pain in one study
  • Possibly decrease injury rate
  • Potential for aiding in skin wound healing

What other nutrients are important for tendon health?

Vitamin C is important. It aids in collagen synthesis. Meaning, if your body is trying to build up collagen in your soft tissue, it needs vitamin C to do it. Current research suggests taking vitamin C with collagen (recommendations range from about 15-500 g). Food sources of vitamin C include oranges, strawberries, peppers, broccoli, potatoes, and more.

Copper is also an important nutrient for collagen synthesis. It helps build the collagen structure in your body. If you are not deficient, there is no additional advantage to adding more copper. It’s only useful if you were already deficient and then corrected that deficiency. Food sources of copper include shellfish, seeds, nuts, wheat bran, and chocolate (Heck yeah!).

Overall adequate calorie intake is also really important. If you are dieting, going through an eating disorder, or even inadvertently not eating enough, your tissue health can be compromised. Your body needs enough energy in the form of food/calories in order to fuel your workouts and recover, rebuild, and repair after the workout. Collagen supplements may not do much if your body is struggling to get enough overall calories.

Other nutrients important for general injury treatment and prevention:

  • Vitamin A
  • Zinc
  • Glutamine
  • Arginine
  • Glucosamine
  • Vitamin D
  • Calcium

So you can see that narrowly focusing on just collagen may not be the best thing for your overall tendon health. A food-first philosophy will help you get a wide range of nutrients to keep your body healthy. In general, eating high-quality protein (lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, dairy), whole grains, nuts & seeds, fruits & vegetables, and legumes is a great way to get the nutrients your body needs.

How much collagen do you need to take to see results?

Most research shows you need to take around 10-20 g per day, along with the vitamin C (doses in the research vary–probably around 50g is adequate). This may need to be done for at least 12 weeks consistently to see any results. Take it 30-60 minutes before your training or physical therapy session. The loading stimulus of the workout helps strengthen tendons.

I’ve seen some food products where they add collagen (marketing hype much?) and it’s not even a therapeutic dose. Like this Skinny Pop popcorn (face palm). Similarly, I’ve seen a lot of influencers and well-meaning nutritionists create recipes using collagen powder, like collagen energy bites, cookies, muffins, and pancakes. But if you only use one scoop of collagen (10 g) for the whole recipe, you’re not getting the adequate dose of collagen to do anything meaningful for your tendons.

And no, do not mix your pricey PhysiVantage collagen supplement (which includes vitamin C) with hot coffee as they suggest. Heat destroys vitamin C. So you paid a premium for vitamin C to be added to your collagen, and then you just obliterated it.

What collagen product should I use?

There are a few of them out there! Using a hydrolyzed collagen is recommended, since it dissolves nicely into liquids and smoothies, and it also is already broken down for easy absorption.

I recommend only using products that are NSF Certified or Informed Choice certified. This means they have been third-party tested for contaminants. Supplements are notorious for being contaminated with banned substances, heavy metals, and more.

Some NSF Certified collagen products:

  • Bubs Naturals ($43 for 20 oz, or $2.15 per oz)
  • BioSteel ($24 for 7 oz, or $3.42 per oz)
  • Gnarly Collagen Pro ($45 for 16 oz, or $2.80 per oz)
  • Klean Athlete ($37.60 for 12 oz, or 3.13 per oz)
  • Vital Proteins ($25 for 10 oz: $2.50 per oz on their website. Costco sells it for $36 for 24 oz, which is $1.50 per oz.)

PhysiVantage, which I am including because I see a lot of questions about this product, is a popular collagen supplement marketed toward climbers, is $45 for 16 oz, or $2.81 per ounce. It is not third-party tested. It claims to be “supercharged” because it has added vitamin C, tryptophan and leucine, making it a complete protein. However, if you’re already eating a nicely balanced diet, you’ll be getting these amino acids and vitamin C from other sources. It’s not necessary to spend extra money to get this collagen supplement.

Not only is collagen research in its infancy, with limited studies (and the studies themselves having only about 10 subjects), but it’s a stretch to say you need to add amino acids to collagen. There are no studies examining if the Gnarly or PhysiVantage product is superior (or equal to, or inferior to) collagen or whey or anything else. There’s no research on it period. Full stop. Their claims about its (potential) efficacy stem from plain collagen research, not collagen with amino acids, vitamins, or minerals added to it.

It’s difficult to tell from the PhysiVantage supplement label how much leucine it contains. Leucine, a key amino acid involved with signaling muscle protein synthesis, is well-researched as a useful component for muscle strength, rebuilding, and repair. It is found in high-quality whey protein powders. A dose of around 2 grams of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) is good. Two grams of just leucine–comparable to what’s in whey–is even better. PhysiVantage has 1.6 g of BCAAs + tryptophan (according to the label), so that’s not great.

Gnarly Collagen Pro, which is also heavily marketed toward climbers, has vitamin C and zinc added to it. Worth noting is that long-term zinc supplementation may cause anemia and copper deficiency. It can also interact with some medications, including antibiotics and diuretics.

I wouldn’t recommend taking a product long-term that has a mineral added unless you know you are deficient and/or unable to get it from the diet. Also, this line on their packaging made me chuckle, “Pasture-raised peptides.” What is that even supposed to mean? As if a bunch of peptide molecules are happily hanging out in a green pasture under blue skies, frolicking about. Marketing madness at its finest. I do give Gnarly credit for being NSF Certified for Sport. Nice touch.

Look at the cute peptides in that pasture! Quick, take a picture!

Here’s a breakthrough idea: YOU DON’T HAVE TO USE A SUPPLEMENT THAT IS MARKETED JUST TOWARD CLIMBERS! Look at that price list above. If you’re going to use collagen, pick the one that is third-party tested and the cheapest. Hint: It’s not Gnarly or PhysiVantage.

If you want a complete protein, eat food. It comes with not only all those wonderful amino acids, but also flavor, fats, carbohydrate, fiber, antioxidants, phytochemicals and other nutrients useful for health.

  • Two eggs have about 2.7 g BCAAs (cost ~$0.50)
  • 3 oz cooked chicken breast have about 4.87 g BCAAs (cost ~$0.50)
  • 16 oz milk has about 3.3 g BCAAs (cost ~$0.50)

If you need a protein powder (there’s a lot of reasons you may want one), use whey if you are not vegan. This is the gold standard and has a tremendous amount of research backing it up. If you are vegan, use a protein blend. And check out this article on vegan nutrition for climbers while you’re at it.

If you want a protein powder for traditional muscle recovery and building, don’t use collagen (nope, not even the “supercharged” stuff). If you want a supplement that MAY help with soft tissue health, you can TRY collagen if you have the budget for it. Be sure to take it with vitamin C before a workout at the correct dose for at least 12 weeks. Otherwise, just eat food!

Do yourself a favor and download the free NSF Certified for Sport app. Nope, I have no affiliation with them, I just think it’s a great app. Use it for any supplement you use and make sure it’s safe and clean. Especially if you’re a competitive athlete subject to doping tests, you NEVER want to use something that isn’t third-party tested for anti-doping standards.

I actually don’t have an affiliation with any supplement company, which is why I am able to write this post. You’re welcome!

Is there a less pricey alternative to collagen?

Good ol’ plain gelatin. Yes, it’s true. You can mix two small packets of unflavored gelatin with Gatorade or anything else and drink before training (gives you around ~15 g). Add in a vitamin C gummy and you’re good to go. You can also try homemade gummies (you would need to eat a 1/2 recipe to get the right dose of gelatin).

Two unflavored gelatin packets cost about $0.85.

Are there any vegan collagen products?

Er, maybe. Scientists are starting to create collagen from genetically modified yeast and bacteria. This obviously hasn’t been researched in an athletic population or compared against actual collagen in peer-reviewed studies looking at outcomes in soft tissue health.

There are a lot of vegan “collagen booster” products out there. These are mostly vitamins, minerals, and various plant “blends.” None of these are the real deal, and would likely not help in any way. The vitamins and minerals would only potentially be beneficial if you are already deficient in that nutrient. And if that’s the case, just supplement with that isolated nutrient, not a blend.

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

Want to know more? Check out our courses on climbing nutrition and supplements!

And we have a comprehensive book on all things climbing nutrition. Seriously, the cost of the book is less than a jug of collagen.

References and further reading

How to pick a protein powder

Protein powders: whey, vegan, collagen, and BCAAs explained

We Do Science Podcast, where Keith Baar (the OG collagen researcher) lays out the current science

Healthline: Nice summary on collagen

Nutrition for the prevention and treatment of injuries in track and field athletes

Dietary supplements for health, adaptation, and recovery in athletes

24-Week study on the use of collagen hydrolysate as a dietary supplement in athletes with activity-related joint pain

Effects of different vitamin C-enriched collagen derivatives on collagen synthesis

Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments

Vitamin C–enriched gelatin supplementation before intermittent activity augments collagen synthesis

Tips for Climbers with Diabetes

Fending off a blood sugar low while on the send

            Scenario: The favorite part of your day has finally arrived. You are at the gym standing below a route that crushed you last time instead of the other way around. But with renewed spirit you have regained strength, composure, and found more mental grit to make another attempt. As you stand  below the monstrosity visualizing the crux that defeated you, a familiar nervousness shimmers through your body like goosebumps; your fingers begin to tremble, but you ignore it because this is your time to conquer the project. With your eyes transfixed on the route your arms and neck start projecting the movements up the slab.

Crimp rock with the right hand, left foot into the crack, huge slope rocks for the next three movements with an explosive dynamic move to the jug rocks with both hands.  Then come the rocks the width of your fingernails that swallowed you whole the last attempt you made, but not today. You have rested as much as your busy lifestyle will allow, hydrated when you remember and refueled properly, except for skipping a few meals here and there. A quick energy bar and glass of milk in the late afternoon will have to suffice you told yourself. Dismissing the thought your body trails onward and upward reaching the final rock.

As the visualization ends your nervousness and shaky hands are accompanied by an increased heart rate and a slightly dizzy feeling. Your forehead and neck have drops of perspiration that were not there after warm-up. A wash of fatigue suddenly grips your legs, spine, neck, and arms. You feel “off” and know something is not right. Your climbing buddy notices a ghostly paleness to your face and suggests sitting down on the crash mats for a bit. 

The glazed-over look in your eyes and confused voice have made him realize something is amiss. In the back of your mind you remember the doctor mentioning something about frequently checking your blood glucose with a new machine, and watching for hypo’s (whatever that means…) and carrying around that expensive glucagon shot thing that you can never remember to grab on your way out the door.

            But thankfully it’s not a secret and your climbing partner knows you are a newly diagnosed diabetic. He has family members with the condition and has a well-trained eye for signs/symptoms of a hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic episode.  Knowing your typical lifestyle and lack of recent compliance to carbohydrate counting and blood glucose monitoring, he knows you need sugar . . . fast.  Reacting quickly, he rushes over to the vending machine and gets a packet of gummies and a regular soda.  He instructs you to drink half the soda and eat the gummies. Leaving you with another climber he goes in search of your backpack to find the blood glucose monitor you never use.  “It’s time to check your sugar levels, brah”, and after another pause says, “all the time.” In the fogginess of the moment, as your head hangs down, all you can muster is, “Dude, I never even made it on the wall.”

Defeat. Setback. Failure. If you have ever experienced a hypoglycemic episode during an exercise session these thoughts and feelings may seem familiar to you.

Ways to manage a low blood sugar episode

Know how to implement the Rule of 15 when hypoglycemic symptoms occur.

AS SOON AS SYMPTOMS APPEAR:

1: If possible, check blood glucose.

2: Eat/drink 15 grams of fast acting carbohydrate wait 15 minutes.

3: Recheck blood glucose, if below 70 mg/dl eat another 15 grams of fast acting   carbohydrate and wait 15 minutes.

4: Recheck blood glucose, if below 70 mg/dl, call 911.

What foods have 15 grams of fast-acting carbohydrate?

  • 3-4 glucose tablets
  • 4-6 oz juice
  • 4-6 oz regular soda
  • Fun size packet of Skittles
  • 4 Starburst
  • 1 packet fruit snacks or gummies
  • 1 small box of raisins

Make a diabetes emergency “Go Bag”

Take it everywhere you go. Include the following:

According to the American Diabetes Association, there are over 1.4 million new cases of diabetes each year (3). If you happen to be newly diagnosed it is imperative to seek counseling from a registered dietitian (RD) or certified diabetes educator (CDCES); treatment is individually based. Every diabetic has unique blood glucose patterns and a RD/CDE will be able to recommend the correct total daily dose of insulin, configure your insulin sensitivity factor, structure meal plans with adequate carbohydrate to fuel your exercise regimen, and educate you on the signs and symptoms of hypo/hyperglycemia.

Taking steps to properly care for yourself can be lifesaving and get you back to crushing projects in no time at all. Long gone will be the days when becoming weak in the knees from looking up at the crag is caused by low blood sugar, next time it will be because the challenge ahead is daunting and intimidating.

We all know how the story ends for the motivated climber, the rush of adrenaline kicks in and the call to, “climb on” rings tried and true.  However, this time the equipment to traverse is not just the rope, harness, chalk bag, and carabiner; it includes your “Go Bag” too.

Works Cited:

  1. Brooks, M. (2016). Blood glucose monitoring. [Powerpoint slides].Retrieved from https://mediacast.ttu.edu/Mediasite/Play/decf596f0b2748b8ae5f750848e1da791d
  2.  Brooks, M. (2016). Acute complications. [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from https://mediacast.ttu.edu/Mediasite/Play/ff4cdf0ec3724bd48ce0ba88de248ec11d
  3. Brooks, M. (2016). Disease process and macronutrient metabolism. [Powerpoint slides]. Retrieved from https://mediacast.ttu.edu/Mediasite/Play/71bee02b44e246c7a12bd98b34ab0e4b1d

Written by Lindsay Opie RD, LD

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

Hydration for climbers

Hydration is important for climbing performance

Climbing is as much about having a brain as it is about having a bicep. A fluid loss of >2% of your body weight can impair thinking hindering your brain’s ability to keep it together . We can all think back to a time where we lost our cool on a climb and coped by yelling at our belayer. (You mean you haven’t done that? Just me? Oh…)

How do you prevent dehydration when climbing so you can stay mentally sharp and safe?

At minimum, drink eight ounces (1 cup, ~240 milliliters) of water per hour while climbing. Extreme temperatures, your rate of sweat loss, elevation and the level of activity can all influence your total fluid needs. More extreme conditions mean you need more fluid.

Should I use electrolytes?

Hydration is more than just replenishing fluid loss. When we sweat our body loses sodium, magnesium, potassium, calcium and chloride in addition to water. These are essential for proper fluid balance. Your body relies on electrolytes for important functions like blood pressure regulation and muscle contraction – this includes your heart.

Sports drinks typically have electrolytes already in them, hence the name electrolyte sports drink! A quick skim of the nutrition label can confirm that sodium, potassium and others are present. Coconut water is commonly treated as the rehydration fluid, but coconut water is too low in sodium to rehydrate you properly.

We lose more sodium in our sweat than any other electrolyte. The low sodium content of coconut water may not recoup your salt losses. Although a delicious beverage, it might not be an ideal recovery drink.

Plain ol’ water is great, but if fluid losses are excessive you need to add salt. Too much water without enough salt could have negative effects on the body ranging from dizziness to severe heart complications. If your clothes have white salt stains after they’ve dried, this could indicate you are losing a boat load of salt in your sweat .

Proper hydration is a skill. Hydration has to be a component of your day, not something you do after the fact when your lips are chapped and you would kill for a glass of water.

How much should I drink?

Before you head out, aim to drink 10-20 ounces an hour depending on your body weight. Add salt to your eggs, potatoes, salad, sandwich, etc to boost your sodium intake.

  • 100 pounds: 10 ounces every hour with sodium
  • 150 pounds: 15 ounces every hour with sodium
  • 200 pounds: 20 ounces every hour with sodium

During exercise your fluid intake is dependent on your sweat losses. It may be worth weighing yourself some time to see on average how much water loss you experience during an hour of activity. Remember extreme heat, altitude and other factors could exacerbate losses. A very general rule of thumb:

  • 8-20 ounces an hour
  • Consider marking your water bottle every 8 ounces so you have a quick visual of whether or not you have met your fluid mark

After exercise replenish sweat losses: 16-24 ounces for every pound lost.

  • Divide that amount out over time, so you aren’t chugging 32 ounces in a sitting. That sounds terrible. Eight to 20 ounces an hour is manageable, more than that might lead you to feel nauseated or full. Too much of a good thing, isn’t a good thing. When you can’t properly fuel your body because you are overflowing with fluids you could wind up  energy deficient.

The wrap up

Drink fluids my friends. Add salt to your food if you aren’t a fan of electrolyte sports drinks. Take a peek at a nutritional label of your favorite rehydration formula to ensure there are adequate levels of sodium present. We lose more sodium than anything else through sweating and sodium is an important molecule in our bodies! If you struggle to drink enough water, label a water bottle every 8 ounces and drink down at least one line per hour. Always have your water bottle within your line of sight. These strategies can help to make sure you drink enough to hydrate your body and mind.

~This article written by Kaila Dickey

Thomas T, Erdman K, Burke L. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and Athletic Performance. JAND. 2016; (116)3: 501-528. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.12.006

Learn more about hydration, fueling, and every other nutrition tip for climbers in this book, Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send.
Learn all about how to crush it and prevent dehydration in this on-demand course, Perfect Hydration for Athletes.
Learn about climbing nutrition and hydration in this on-demand course!

5 Tips for Nutrition and Hydration for High Altitude

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

It’s any climber’s worst nightmare: getting altitude sickness on the big trip you’ve been training for. Months of planning fall apart when you can’t get your body to adjust to the altitude!

How do you avoid altitude sickness? It’s not always a guarantee that everything will be ok, but with a few savvy hydration and nutrition hacks, you will set yourself up for the best trip possible.

Having a nutrition and hydration plan are key to any high altitude adventure. If you don’t have a strategy, you may find yourself fatigued, injured, or sick.

First, how is “high altitude” defined? It depends on whom you ask, but usually it is around the following:

  • Lower altitude: 1000-2000 meters (3280-6561 feet)
  • Moderate altitude: 2000-3000 meters (6561-9842 feet)
  • High altitude: 3000-5000 meters (9842-16404 feet)
  • Extreme altitude: >5000 meters (>16404 feet)

What happens to the body at high altitude?

A few things can happen! The air is thinner, meaning the oxygen molecules are spread farther apart than at sea level. This means you may feel a bit short of breath for every inhale. You’re simply getting less oxygen per breath that you’re used to–especially if you live at lower altitude and are going up to high altitude.

Since iron is involved with delivering oxygen to tissues in your body (lungs, heart, muscles), it’s important to have adequate iron stores.

Tip 1: Get your iron levels checked about 6 weeks before your trip

Make an appointment with your doctor to get a full iron panel. They’ll know what that means! It usually includes:

  • Serum iron
  • Total iron binding capacity
  • Ferritin stores
  • Transferrin saturation

If any deficiencies are detected, your doctor can recommend a correct dose and form of iron to take. It’s not a good idea to just take iron supplements on your own, especially if you don’t even know if you are deficient or anemic.

Food sources of iron that are good to include in your diet include:

  • Shellfish
  • Spinach
  • Lentils
  • Beef
  • Quinoa
  • Turkey
  • Tofu
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fortified breakfast cereal

Cooking in a cast iron skillet and eating foods with vitamin C help iron absorption as well (citrus foods and berries are common sources of vitamin C).

Tip 2: You need enough calories at high altitude

Alpinists and climbers that spend a lot of time at high altitude sometimes unintentionally lose weight. This can be due to a number of reasons, including the fact that your body is under stress and uses more calories, you may not have access to as much food as usual, and you are working harder than usual due to your outdoor activities. Appetite is sometimes decreased in higher altitudes, which also makes it difficult to get enough food.

To combat unintentional weight loss and make sure you’re well-fueled, try eating high calorie foods, (trail mix, nut butters, fluids with calories, protein bars, chocolate, ghee) adding fat (oils, butters, sauces, gravies) to foods, and packing more food than you think you will need.

Read How to Fuel a Long Hike

Eating the right foods (carbohydrates and calories) can help with altitude sickness!

Tip 3: You need enough fluids at high altitude

A good hydration strategy is key to successful high altitude trips! Your body needs more fluids because not only is it stressed, but the air is usually more arid (less moisture). With each breath, you lose some moisture from your body. Sweating, respiration (breathing), and urinary losses are all greater at high altitude.

There is about a 3% decrease in exercise capacity for every 300 meters above 1500 meters. That can add up to a big difference as you ascend!

Overall blood volume may decrease, which is a bad thing for your exercise performance. With each heart beat, your body is pumping less blood and less oxygen throughout your body. This can lead to fatigue and failed sends.

Always pack more water than you think you need, and/or bring along a water filter if your route has water nearby. Research shows that people are more prone to drink adequate amounts if the water is flavored. Enhance your fluids by using Gatorade or an electrolyte mix, such as Nuun or Skratch Labs.

Electrolytes are also crucial to hydrate properly. You lose sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium in sweat. If you’re only drinking water and not replacing electrolytes, you’re setting yourself up for dehydration or over-hydration. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, and headaches.

Aim for at least 3-5 liters per day (13-21 8-oz cups). Don’t rely on thirst, as this can be unreliable in extreme conditions. Drink at regular intervals every 20-30 minutes to stay ahead of the hydration game. If you become dehydrated, it can take hours or even a full day to recover. Don’t let this happen to you! For an amazing and useful course, check out our Perfect Hydration for Athletes on-demand course!

Tip 4: Eat enough carbohydrates for high altitude adventures

Carbs are king when it comes to climbing! At high altitude, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline kick in. This is a stress hormone that demands more carbohydrates. In addition, the work you are doing to climb or hike is also using carbohydrates.

Fuel regularly by eating every 20-30 minutes. Eat a few bites of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as:

  • Sports gummies and chews
  • Fruit snacks
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit leather
  • Crackers, chips, pretzels
  • Sports drinks with carbs
  • Gu or gels
  • Swedish Fish or Sour Patch Kids
  • Bagels

If your blood sugar drops, you may feel weak, shaky, dizzy, fatigued, or have a headache. Luckily, with some carbohydrates in your body, you can recover from low blood sugar within about 20-30 minutes. Take a rest and eat some food. Aim for about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of activity.

You may also want to try beet juice, powder, or shots. There is some evidence that suggests the nitrate in beets (which converts to nitric oxide in your body) may help at high altitudes. Nitric oxide opens up blood vessels to allow for more blood flow and oxygenation.

Tip 5: Always bring more food and water than you think you will need!

You never know when your trip will take longer than planned, conditions on the mountain may change, or someone around you may need some food or fluids. Be prepared for any situation.

Remember, carbs and fluids are your friend! With the right fueling and hydration plan, you’ll have a successful trip and feel amazing and energized while climbing!

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

Like this article? Be sure to Pin it! And check out our comprehensive guide, Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send.

References/further reading

Nutrition recommendations for high altitude training

Kechikan, D. (2011). Optimizing nutrition for performance at altitude. Journal of Special Operations Medicine, 11, 12-17.

Ladd E, Shea KM, Bagley P, Auerbach PS, Pirrotta E, Wang E, Lipman GS. (2016). Hydration status as a predictor of high-altitude mountaineering performance. Cureus, 8(12): e918.

Ross M, Martin DT. (2015) Altitude, cold and heat. In Burke L and Deakin V (eds) Clinical Sports Nutrition (5th). Sydney, Australia, McGraw Hill, pp767-791

Intuitive Eating for Athletes

By Jessica Bahling, RDN

Follow her on Instagram

While intuitive eating has become an ever rising concept in the nutrition field, I often come across the myth that this approach could not work in the athletic population due to the strict dietary guidelines athletes often face. As a dietitian with a passion for the non-diet approach and performance nutrition, I decided to dig a little deeper to explore the idea of merging the two. Before we dive into how we can unify these nutrition philosophies, we first need to understand what intuitive eating is.

Intuitive Eating Explained

While it is hard to explain intuitive eating “in a nutshell”, the founders describe it as “a self-care eating framework, which integrates instinct, emotion, and rational thought”. In other words, intuitive eating is an approach to eating that honors your health by listening to the messages your body sends to meet physical and psychological needs; essentially encouraging you to be the expert of your own body. An intuitive approach is not focused on weight, calorie goals, or any other external rules that may dictate how we choose to eat and firmly rejects any kind of diet mentality. So, let’s explore how this could apply to athletes!

How Dieting Affects Athletes

As I mentioned above, athletes are often faced with strict, rigid, dietary guidelines to improve performance and/or physical appearance. Oftentimes, however, this can lead to the athlete taking in inadequate energy to meet the needs of their sport and tends to lead to obsessive, unhealthy thoughts around food. While athletes may not be engaging in dieting behaviors specifically for appearance reasons, we still often see restrictive diets with the goal of improved performance, improved health, or improved physical appearance for judgement based sports. What many athletes don’t realize until it’s too late is what dieting really gives them:

  • Increased anxiety/depression
  • Decreased performance and recovery
  • Increased injury
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Suppressed immunity

Due to those strict guidelines, it may seem as though the flexible approach of intuitive eating could not tie into performance nutrition. However, because athletes are at a much higher risk of eating disorders and disordered eating, intuitive eating may be the perfect approach to combat this.

Merging Intuitive Eating and Performance Nutrition

To fully understand how this approach can be applied to athletes, I think it is most helpful to go through each principal of Intuitive Eating.

  1. Reject the Diet Mentality

As I mentioned above, engaging in diet behaviors can have detrimental effects on both performance and overall physical and mental health. It is important to note that to be fully engaged in intuitive eating, one must fully give up any kind of dieting and weight-focused goals. In the process of rejecting the diet mentality, one needs to trust their body to know what is best and understand why strict, rigid, restrictive diets cause more harm than good.

  1. Honor Your Hunger

For the general population, this principle is just what it sounds like-listening to your hunger and keeping your body biologically fed. For athletes, this one can get kind of tricky. When performing in a physically demanding sport, you may feel hungry A LOT, in which case it is extremely important to listen and respond  to those cues. On the other hand, many athletes might also find themselves with a suppressed appetite, particularly post exercise. In this case, you may have to get more curious about those hunger cues and listen for the more subtle signals such as:

  • Thinking about food
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Fogginess
  • Moodiness
  • Headaches
  • Poor performance/energy in training
  1. Make Peace With Food

For both athletes and the general public, food rules can be super common as a result of dieting/diet culture. In order to fully be able to listen to your body and adequately fuel yourself, one needs to first neutralize all foods and remove any type of good/bad label or morality. When we are still restricting certain foods, it will lead to feelings of deprivation, resulting in intense cravings and often bingeing, further convincing us that we cannot “trust ourselves” with these foods. When you are able to view all foods as morally equal, that food loses its power and you are able to eat it when you want without shame, guilt, or urges to overeat. 

  1. Challenge The Food Police

Diet culture can often convince athletes that they need to be fearful of certain foods or food groups. Along with making peace with food, you need to actively challenge the “food police” voice in your head that tells you what you can or can’t eat and instead listen to the signals your body is giving you.

  1. Feel Your Fullness

Again, this one is about as it sounds. It is important to listen to the signals your body sends to tell you it is finished eating. In order to do this, however, your body needs to trust that it will be given the food it needs and desires consistently. Athletes often can find themselves eating to the point of overly full from eating excessively large meals due to inadequate fueling during the day. It is important to focus on adequate intake before and after training to avoid getting overly hungry and overeating at meal times.

  1. Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Along with eating enough, it is super important to eat foods that are satisfying both physically and mentally. When you allow yourself to eat what you really want, when you want it, your body will be truly satisfied after meals and be able to eat just the right amount before it tells you it has had enough. When trying to restrict cravings, you will likely find yourself still wanting to eat even when physically full, because your brain and body are not actually satisfied.

  1. Honor Feelings Without Food

While I do not consider emotional eating to be inherently bad, as athletes you can find yourself under a lot of stress and anxiety, sometimes leading to lack of appetite and sometimes leading to eating as a coping mechanism. It is important to reduce the shame and guilt around emotional eating and work with a professional to discover other coping skills to manage those feelings aside from food. It can be helpful to get curious about why you are turning to food. If food is helping, great! If you are using food to numb or ignore the problem, you may want to explore ways to better cope and get to the root of the problem.

  1. Respect your Body

This one can be tough, especially for athletes. Respecting your body means accepting your genetic blueprint. It means trusting that when you are eating and moving in a way that promotes health and performance, your body will naturally settle at the weight that feels best for it and where it can optimally perform. Often, athletes can fall into the trap of thinking a smaller body is a healthier, better performing body (although, we can see this isn’t true by looking at the effects of dieting on athletes). By respecting your body’s natural, set point weight as well as the natural diversity of all bodies, it takes away a lot of the stress and pressure to need to control it and frees up so much brain space to focus on more important things in your life.

  1. Exercise-Feel the Difference

For athletes, the concept of joyful movement looks a little different. While you may need to stick to a training regime, it is still important to be able to listen to your body and know when to dial it back or take a rest day. I firmly believe that athletes can and should still move in a way that is intuitive by allowing flexibility in their training to listen to what their bodies need. Rigidity and inability to rest are warning signs that your relationship with your sport may be becoming disordered. Work on exploring why you enjoy your sport as well as recognizing your identity outside of it. Even as athletes, your sport and training should be an enjoyable experience, not adding stress to your life.

  1. Honor Your Health With Gentle Nutrition

This is where your nutrition knowledge comes into play. As athletes, it is necessary to be getting enough of what you need and at the right times. This principle involves pulling in your knowledge of the macro and micro nutrients to make sure you are getting everything you need pre, during, and post training while also including a wide variety of all foods (including fun foods!).

Key Points to Intuitive Eating

Athletes are often told they need to be extremely rigid in both their eating and training habits, counting every calorie or macro and giving 100% in training every day. In truth, this mindset is what puts athletes at a higher risk for eating disorders and disordered eating. This diet mindset and chronic restriction can lead to decreased performance, higher rates or injury, and increased rates of anxiety and depression. Intuitive eating can and should be applied to performance nutrition to teach athletes how to listen to their bodies messages, respect their set weight, and allow flexibility in their eating habits to reduce the obsessive and unhealthy relationships with food.

More resources you might like:

A comprehensive, on-demand, self-paced course! Get the tools and resources you need to ditch dieting forever without guilt and shame.
Nutrition for Climbers book!

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

Do you need to be light to climb better?

Weight and climbing: A science-based approach to kill a long-lived myth

By Dr. Gudmund Grønhaug

Let’s face it: climbers often have some issues with weight and body composition is heavily debated amongst climbers from all around the globe.

For this article, I’m going to try to convince you that all you thought you knew about weight, eating and climbing is wrong!

About me

Who am I to tell you this?

I’m a 47-year-old climber from Norway. I’ve been climbing in the range of 5.13b-5.14b for the past 20 years with around 100 ascents of those grades. Last year I did 8A/+ in Fontainebleau alongside FA of bolted climbs up to 5.14a. But what is more important is that I have been working with research for a decade, and have a PhD in chronic injuries in climbing. Keep reading to learn more about the relationship of injuries, level of climbing performance and body mass index (BMI).

In my PhD research, I presented a study named “Lean and mean? Associations of level of performance, chronic injuries and BMI in sport climbing” (https://bmjopensem.bmj.com/content/5/1/e000437)

As the title suggests, I wanted to see if I could find any scientific proof that being lighter (low BMI) resulted in higher levels of performance and if the heavier (high BMI) had more injuries.

What is body mass index (BMI)?

Ok, so first a few words about BMI.


As we all know, BMI has its limitations regarding prediction of distribution of fat free body mass and percentage of body fat. Used on individual level BMI is useless. Still, this is not a study on individual percentage of body fat. This study used BMI as a tool to understand more about climbers and performance. BMI with all its flaws and problems still is a valid tool in epidemiological studies regarding weight and height.

You do not need to be lighter to be a better climber

Although it may sound counterintuitive; in the study I could not find any associations between BMI, injuries and level of performance.

How can that be?

It has been “known” for ages that being lean and even skinny makes a better climber, right?

As for most topics the reality is a bit more complex than what is shown at first glance. We’ll get to that after a closer look into the science regarding BMI and injuries in climbing.

In a recent systematic review on the influence of BMI on injuries in various sports, there were contradicting and inconclusive findings. It was suggested that BMI alone could not be used to predict onset of an injury, but paired with other variables such as gender, site of injury, training state or separating acute and chronic injuries, BMI may be a strong predictor.

However, a systematic review on athletes from various sports concluded that those with a lower BMI was more prone to injuries regardless of fitness level.

In climbing, the association of BMI, body weight and injuries in climbing varies. Four of the papers concluded that there was no relationship between BMI and climbing injuries. Only one found a relationship. However, neither of the two papers that used body weight alone (instead of BMI) reported a relationship between body weight and injuries in climbing.

So, to sum it up: if we keep to the science, there does not seem to be a connection between BMI and injuries in climbing.

Still, there is a long way to go from research on injuries to levels of performance in the same sport.


Usually what we researchers do is to take our results and compare them with other similar research. Since my research is the first to look at this possible connection of BMI and level of performance in climbing, I have no one to compare my results with. So therefore; the next part is trying to explain why it is perfectly logical that there are no relationship and why you should have that chocolate bar or that extra portion of dinner to get better at climbing!

If we lived in a vacuum, then it would without doubt be beneficial to shave off 10-15 pounds and go climbing. This way we could get strong quickly, or in other words, increase our strength-to-weight ratio.

Should you lose weight to climb better?


It’s commonly thought that it is easier to get a few pounds lighter than a proportionately stronger.

What almost all climbers fail to remember, or what they do not want to think about, is that this gains in strength/weight loss is in a vacuum or for an extremely limited period of time.

Why?

As climbers we rely on our body weight as a training tool as well as a tool for performance. As a training tool our body weight is what we use all the time; for climbing, calisthenics, gymnastics, TRX, running….. As for all other kinds of training our body adapts to the training load we are using while training. A climber at 75kg is training and thus adapting to the load of 75 kg. A climber at 80kg is training and adapting to a higher load, but still is using his bodyweight.


So what happens when you reduce the weight? Well, the raining load decreases. It’s just the same as doing bench presses with a lighter rack. Of course it is easier in the start, that’s a no-brainer. But after a month or two the body has readapted and the relative strength is back to where it was 5 kg ago, just with less fuel in the tank.

All progression in training is depending on a few key elements; training load, training intensity, how often the training is repeated and restitution.

In climbing, using our body weight for training, all of these are more or less affected by how much and what we eat:

Training loads in climbing is our body weight and is heavily dependent on what we eat.

Training intensity is depending on how much fuel you have in the tank and how hard you are able to push yourself while training. If you are on some kind of weight-reduction diet or are under-eating because you fear how much weight you might gain, then you have less fuel in the tank to push yourself while you are training.

How often the training is repeated is depending on both how much you are able to push yourself to go train, but also the quality of life in general, rate of restitution, injuries and sickness and quality of sleep. It is proven beyond any doubt that those who under eat, or are on some kind of weight loss diet are having more sick days of work, more injuries (both acute and overuse), needs more time to heal from injuries, have a lower quality of life and lower sleep quality (that is affecting all of the other parameters as well).

Rate of restitution is depending on how much fuel you got in the tank. A body with a small “storage” of energy will repair minor damages gained while training faster than a body with an energy deficiency. Restitution/recovery might be the most important part of training, and having enough fuel in the tank to restitute fast makes it possible to train more often and harder.

So, all in all, having that extra meal, that chocolate bar or simply just enjoying what you eat and making sure you live a happy life will probably make you a both a better climber and a happier person!

Learn more about nutrition for injury prevention

Learn more about nutrition for injury recovery

Learn more about nutrition for muscle strength and recovery

Learn more about the drawbacks to losing too much weight

Stay healthy, train hard and go smash those numbers!

~Edited by Marisa Michael

~Editor’s note: For more on this topic, see my article in Gym Climber Magazine “Is light weight the right weight?”

~This is general information only and not intended to be medical advice. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.

References

Backe S, Ericson L, Janson S, et al. Rock climbing injury rates and assoiciated risk factors in a general climbing population. Scand J Med Sci Sports 2009(19):850-56. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2008.00851.x

van Middelkoop M, Bruens M, L;, Coert J, H;, et al. Incidence and risk factors for upper extremety climbing injuries in indoor climbers. Int J Sports Med 2015;36:837-42. doi: 10.1055/s-0035-1547224

Josephsen G, Shinneman S, Tamayo-Sarver J, et al. Injuries in bouldering: A prospective study. Wilderness & environmental medicine 2007;18:271-80.

Schlegel C, Büchler U, Kriemler S. Finger injuries of young elite rock climbers. Schweizerische zeitschrift für sportsmedizin und sporttraumatologie 2002;50(1):7-10.

Neuhof A, Hening F, F;, Schöffl I, et al. Injury risk evaluation in sport clmbing. Int J Sports Med 2011;32:794-800. doi: 10.1055-s-0031-1279723-1.jpg

Amoako A, O;, Nassim A, Keller C. Body Mass Index as a Predictor of Injuries in Athletics. Current Sports Medicine Reports: 2017;16(4):256-62. doi: 10.1249/JSR.0000000000000383

Jones B, H;, Hauret K, G;, Dye S, K:, et al. Impact of physical fitness and body composition on injury risk among active young adults: A study of Army trainees. J Sci Med Sport 2017;20:S17-S22. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2017.09.015

Want to know more? You need the must-have book, Nutrition for Climbers!

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!

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