Big Wall Nutrition with Amity Warme

By Amity Warme

Instagram @amity.warme

Editor’s note: If you haven’t heard of Amity Warme yet, here’s a brief intro: She has an impressive tick list of Yosemite sends, in addition to being a registered dietitian with a master’s in sports nutrition. I met Amity when she approached me asking if I could be a preceptor for part of her dietetic internship. She is an amazing athlete and thoughtful dietitian. She was kind enough to write up this blog post on her own time. Please enjoy partaking from her wealth of knowledge!

Disclosure: All products listed in the post are not sponsored by Marisa Michael, Real Nutrition, LLC or this blog. Amity wanted to include them so climbers can have information to source products. Amity is sponsored by some products. This is for general nutrition information only, and not medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare professional before undergoing any diet or lifestyle change.

photo credit Tyler Karow

Marisa: How do prep you food for a big wall climb?

Amity: First, I plan out the number of days that we will be on the wall, then account for breakfast, lunch/ day snacks, and dinner for each of those days. As I’m packing, I lay out all my meals and snacks and separate them by day. Life on a big wall is already logistically complicated, so the more food prep I can do beforehand, the easier it makes things on the wall. I’ll group, bag, and label each day’s worth of food so that it is easy to find in the haul bag and portion out when on the wall. There is no way to refrigerate things up there so that means mostly dehydrated or freeze dried meals for breakfast and dinner and lots of energy bars, trail mix, and other easily portable snack foods that provide both carbs and protein. Additionally, space and weight are at a premium, so maximizing energy density is important. 

Marisa: Do you have certain foods you always bring or always avoid? Why? 

Amity: Yep! I have found some go-to’s that work really well for me. I tend to rely on these things because I know they will provide good energy, help with recovery for back to back days, and not cause gastrointestinal distress while on the wall. I’m always trying to dial things in though, and I think my fueling strategy gets better with each big wall mission I do!

Always bring:

  • Pre-made oatmeal packs with my favorite fixings
  • Dried fruit (my favorite are figs!)
  • A salty nut or seed (my favorite are pumpkin seeds!)
  • My favorite quick energy bar (EnduroBites)
  • Dinner with high protein and carbs

Avoid bringing: 

  • In my day to day life on the ground, I love eating tons of fresh fruits and vegetables but those things just aren’t realistic in a big wall setting. I always crave a crunchy, juicy apple when I’m up there for days on end eating nothing but dried food so sometimes I’ll sneak in 1-2 but for the most part fresh produce is what I miss the most up there and am always eager to eat when I get down. 

Marisa: Do you have a certain fueling and hydration schedule when climbing? What does a typical day look like on the wall?

Amity: My fueling and hydration schedule is not super rigid when I’m on the wall because it is dictated by the climbing schedule which can vary quite a bit day to day depending on conditions, which pitches we are trying that day, how many pitches, etc. So the timing can vary, but generally speaking, a typical day would look like:

Breakfast: usually pretty early because you tend to wake up with the sun up there

  • Oatmeal with protein powder, dried fruit, chia seeds, and cinnamon
  • Coffee 

Snacking throughout the day: I generally don’t eat a full ‘lunch’ because I am on the move pretty much all day and it works better for me to just be really consistent about munching on something between every pitch. A long, involved pitch plus hauling up to a couple hundred pounds of supplies up after you uses a ton of energy so I try to eat something between every pitch. Some typical options include:

  • Bagel
  • Bars (EnduroBites, protein bar, RX bars)
  • Dried fruit (figs, dates, mango, apricots, etc)
  • Nut butter packets
  • Something salty like pretzels or nuts/seeds

Dinner: I aim to get at least 25 grams of protein and 75-100 grams of carbs to help me refuel and recover in order to perform at a high level again the next day. This could be a homemade combo or one of many prepackaged options.

  • RightOnTrek packaged dinners worked really well for me on my most recent climb. The cooking method with this brand makes them easier to digest than many packaged, dehydrated meals, they met my macronutrient criteria that I aim for, and they tasted great.  We split four portions between three people to make sure we were all getting enough!

Dessert: a couple bites of chocolate is a tasty way to cap off the evening

Marisa: How do you know how much food to bring?

Amity: Underfueling on a big wall climb is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make. You set yourself up for so much more success if you bring enough food. It is super easy to underestimate the amount of food you need when you are up there for multiple days in a row because when you are on the ground packing, it looks like a TON of food to haul. The energy expenditure while big wall climbing is extreme though!! Of course, the climbing itself takes a lot of energy, but then you add hauling a couple hundred pounds of gear plus exposure to the elements and additional psychological stress. All this adds up to massive energy expenditure! And each day compounds on the previous day so if you are rationing food straight away, you are just setting yourself up to be in a massive calorie deficit that will have a hugely detrimental effect on your performance, attitude, and decision making skills. My fueling strategies have improved with each big wall I’ve done, but mostly this just means bringing much more food than I used to! 

Photo credit Connor Warme

Marisa: Do you use electrolytes when doing big wall climbing?

Amity: I do use electrolytes! A lot of the time up there I am exposed to the sun and other elements. Plus I am almost constantly in motion so I end up losing a lot of fluid and electrolytes through sweat. 

The typical water allocation is 1 gallon per person per day. This includes enough water for drinking plus cooking breakfasts and dinners. Logistically this is important because of the amount of weight it adds up to. Of course, you are hauling all your water up from the ground with you so, for example, on my most recent big wall climb, we hauled 175 lbs of water because we were planning for 7-8 days for 3 people (myself, my climbing partner, and a videographer). 

Staying hydrated is super important though and I think an electrolyte can help maintain proper hydration levels. My favorite to bring on a big wall is LMNT because it contains a high amount of sodium (and other electrolytes) and because the single serve packets are really convenient up there. It’s nice to have a little packet versus trying to scoop from a big container when you’re on the wall – again, convenience is everything on the wall. I like that LMNT isn’t syrupy sweet like some electrolytes are because I get tired of sweet flavored bars and things while on the wall. LMNT doesn’t have the carb content that many sports drinks do, but I make up for that by just eating more carbs throughout the day instead of drinking them. 

Photo credit Connor Warme

Want more climbing nutrition information? Check out Amity’s other blog post on multi-pitch climbing nutrition and her website Amitywarme.com if you’d like to work one-on-one with her to optimize your climbing nutrition.

More resources: Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send!

Guide to eating disorders/disordered eating in climbers

As a climber, you train hard. Many climbers want to eat right to be the best they can be. But sometimes eating healthy can lead to eating disorders. Find out what you need to know about disordered eating, how to prevent it, and how to identify eating disorders and seek out help. For more, check out our disordered eating resource page.

What is disordered eating?

Disordered eating refers to a group of behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs around food. These behaviors can drive a climber to have decreased mental and physical health. This includes behaviors like following a very strict diet, trying to eat “clean” or “perfect” (as with orthorexia), and trying to control body weight, shape, or appearance.

Eating disorders are a mental illness, not a choice. If someone is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get proper treatment right away. Putting it off can lead to serious medical issues. Sometimes even long-term consequences happen, such as lost bone density, stunted growth, and infertility as an adult. 

What is an eating disorder?

An eating disorder is a certain set of behaviors that meets guidelines for being officially diagnosed. Common types include:

  • Anorexia nervosa: An intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. This leads to restriction of food and calories. It is accompanied by a disturbance in body image.
  • Bulimia nervosa: Binge eating along with trying to “purge” the food out of the body by vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise. This is done in order to prevent weight gain. 
  • Binge eating disorder: Recurring episodes of binge eating where it is more than a normal amount and it feels out of control. It happens at least once per week for three months.
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorder: This is when there is disordered eating present, but it may occur less often, or not quite fit into another eating disorder category.

What are some signs of eating disorders/disordered eating?

If you, a teammate, or friend is suffering from an eating disorder, they may show some common signs, such as:

  • Being preoccupied with food, dieting, or calories
  • Cutting out certain foods or whole food groups
  • Comments or concern with body image, size, and shape
  • Being uncomfortable eating around others, or refusing to eat with people (like going out to eat as a team after a comp)
  • Weight loss
  • Not making progress even though they are training hard
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent injury or illness
  • Sleeping problems
  • Digestive issues, like cramping, bloating, and constipation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Moodiness, depression, or irritability
  • Lost period (females)

But, I thought to climb better I need to be thin? What if I am trying to lose weight for climbing performance?

This is a common idea in climbing. Luckily, you don’t have to lose weight to climb better! While it’s true that a high strength-to-weight ratio is good for climbing, this is only a small part of climbing ability. Research shows that things like strength, flexibility, endurance, climbing skills, and experience help people become better climbers–not weight loss! In fact, weight loss attempts may trigger disordered eating.

In fact, if you eat enough to match your climbing and training load, you’ll set yourself up to be stronger, climb better, and prevent injury down the road.

Current climbing research suggests that weight is only a tiny factor in performance, and weight, height, and BMI are largely irrelevant to climbing performance. Lattice Training also has gathered data on their own clients, which show that BMI doesn’t really predict or impact climbing performance to the extent many people think it may.

What should I do if I think someone I know might have an eating disorder?

First, recognize that eating disorders are not a choice, and they can strike anyone of any age or body shape. They are an illness that needs proper treatment, support, and compassion. 

You can approach your friend with love and concern, and help them get the right treatment they need.

You can contact your country’s eating disorder organization, or a local eating disorder treatment center for more information. 

You can practice what you are going to say, and set aside a private time to talk with them. Voice your concerns, such as “I noticed that you are skipping snack break at practice.” Or “I am worried about how you are doing extra exercising beyond our training.” Expect that they will not react well. Usually eating disorder thoughts are persistent and loud to the person experiencing them, and their reality is distorted. It’s important to be firm and help them get professional help. Offer to accompany them to a doctor appointment, or support them in other ways.

With awareness, support, and compassion, you can keep your athletes safe and foster a good relationship with food and body. 

More climbing nutrition resources for you!

I conduct training workshops for teams, coaches, parents, and other climbing professionals. Past clients include USA Climbing, SportRock, Seattle Bouldering Project, Mesa Rim Reno, and more. Contact me for more information! dietitian@realnutritionrdn.com

The Athlete’s Guide to Your Healthy Self is a 56-page downloadable guide with journaling prompts, infographics, and resources to help your relationship with food, body, and sport. It is for athletes, parents of youth athletes, coaches, and anyone working with athletes.

The OG book on all things climbing nutrition, this book is a must-have for any climber.

How many calories does climbing burn?

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

There could be a number of reasons:

You want to fuel your climbing session appropriately

You’re just curious–you like numbers and data

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

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

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

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

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

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

General rock climbing is 8 METS.

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

Weight in kilograms x METs x hours exercises. 

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

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

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

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

Variables that determine calories burned while climbing

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

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

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

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

Download our free REDs tracking tool and free climbing fueling guides for more information!

Download your free REDs tracking sheet!

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

Selected references

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An interview with Mattias Strand, climbing researcher

Find Mattias Strand at www.transkulturelltcentrum.se

What one researcher thinks about climbing and eating disorders

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

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

What made you interested in doing this research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How long did it take you to conduct this research?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I know if I have Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (REDs)?

Who is at risk for developing REDs?

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

Can you recover from REDs?

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

Is REDs serious?

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

How do I know if I have REDs?

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

For more resources on REDs:

RED-S.com

RED-S in climbers

11 things that impact your climbing besides your weight

The difference between eating for sports performance and disordered eating

My article in Climbing Magazine about RED-S

My interview on Training Beta Podcast about RED-S

Nutrition for Multi-Pitch Climbing with Amity Warme

By Amity Warme (Instagram @amity.warme)

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

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

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

The night before:

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

The morning of:

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

Throughout the day:

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

After the adventure:

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

11 things that impact your climbing besides weight

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

Nope nope nope. Not really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more resources:

This is an excellent documentary about climbers and eating disorders
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thtDQJGrO5s
A 56-page PDF for coaches and athletes on REDs, disordered eating, and how to improve your relationship with food, body, and sport
Free downloadable climbing fueling guides!

What Kyra Condie ate to fuel her Olympic climbing debut

Kyra Condie’s Instagram post after competing in the Olympics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Macronutrients for Climbers

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

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

Energy

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

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

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

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

Carbohydrate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food sources: Main food sources of carbohydrate include:

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

Recommended intake

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

Protein

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

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

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

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

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

Food sources:

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

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

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

Recommended intake:

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

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

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

Fat

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

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

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

Food sources:

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

Recommended intake

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

Alcohol

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

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

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

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

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

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.