Do you ever snack while you climb? Well, in most cases you should!
As you know from Part 1 of this nutrition series, properly fueling your body before a climbing session is key for both performance and endurance. But, the effort shouldn’t stop there. Depending on the length of your climbing session, your body will likely need refueling in order to prevent the sudden onset of fatigue. Makes sense right? Your body is a very efficient machine, but it will only work with you if you give it everything it needs to function properly. Climbing requires a lot of energy, so clearly you’ll need to top up your fuel tank if you want to continue conquering on the rock.
In Part 2 of this Rock Climbing Diet series we are going to look at nutrition DURING climbing. If you want to maintain your peak performance level then it’s important that you understand when, why, and what you should be eating.
Let’s start with the why…
Why Should I Eat While I Climb?
If you read Part 1 of this series you’ll know that your primary energy source comes from stored glucose and your secondary energy source comes from stored glycogen. Since you can burn through your secondary energy reserve very quickly, you want to prevent dipping into it as much as possible by refueling your tank with proper snacks and fluids.
But, prolonging your performance and endurance is not the only reason why you should be refueling.
Once your muscles start relying on glycogen for energy, your glycogen levels will deplete very quickly and you’ll notice that your muscles aren’t gaining much strength back, even after a rest. This is a sign that your muscles (basically your forearms) have little energy left to run on and continuing to climb is going to do more bad than good. The extra effort you put into exhausting your fuel tank to this degree won’t result in any climbing improvements. In fact, you’re actually limiting your ability to improve because your muscles will need an extra day or two just to recover, which basically means less climbing time.
Another reason why you should snack while you climb is because it helps your muscles repair and recover from the strenuous work you’re putting them though. Any type of exercise results in muscle damage which then results in a decrease in performance and an increase in fatigue. Since you obviously want to delay fatigue, you need to help your muscles repair and recover during exercise by supplying them with protein.
So, to sum up, here are the reasons why it’s important to refuel DURING climbing:
- Prolong Endurance (Delay Fatigue)
- Maintain Performance
- Prevent Exhausting Secondary Fuel Tank
- Aid Muscle Repair and Recovery
When Should I Eat While I Climb?
Ok, so now that you understand the WHY we can move forward to the WHEN.
If you have properly fueled your tank BEFORE climbing then you shouldn’t need any snacks until after about an hour of climbing.
Notice how I only said snacks, fluids are a different story.
Hydration is one of the most important factors for maintaining peak performance. Make sure you are hydrated before you start climbing, and then once you start, maintain hydration by drinking water about every 15 minutes. Try to drink before you even get the feeling of being thirsty. Since exercise delays the feeling of thirst, by the time you feel it, it’s likely you’re already dehydrated. Also, keep in mind that hotter temperatures dehydrate you faster, so drink according to the conditions.
Snacks come into the picture if you plan on climbing for a longer period of time. Assuming you’ve got sufficient energy stored before climbing, it’s been said that that should be enough to last you about an hour before you need to start snacking to raise your glucose levels again. Obviously, this is just a rough estimate and depends on the amount and difficulty of climbing and the length and quantity of breaks. So, although you have this guideline, it’s important to listen to your body. If you’re starting to feel tired before the hour mark then take a break and grab a snack before you start dip into your secondary storage tank.
It’s best to have small snacks sprinkled throughout your climbing session instead of eating bigger snacks less frequently. If you’re out climbing for the day then taking a break to eat a light meal is also a good idea.
What Should I Eat While I Climb?
Like I said before, fluids are just as important as snacks. Water is a great way to hydrate and is what I personally prefer to drink, however, there are many that prefer sports drinks. My only concern with sports drinks is that many are filled with sugar, which a) is not healthy, and b) will make you crash after the sugar high. That being said, not all sport drinks are like that, you can definitely find some that aren’t loaded with sugar if you prefer that over water.
Also, keep in mind that if it’s hot and you are sweating a lot you are also losing electrolytes. Your cells need electrolytes so that your muscles can function properly. So, if you know you’re going to be sweating a lot then drinking a low sugar sports drink or adding an electrolyte powder to your water is definitely a good idea.
As for snacks, carbohydrates mixed with a bit of protein is best. Simple carbs in particular, like fruit or dried fruit, are great because your body can quickly absorb it and turn it into energy. Protein snacks are pretty easy as well. Nuts or crackers with almond or peanut butter are delicious snacks that are packed with protein.
If you’re out climbing for the day and need a meal, make sure it also has some carbs, a bit of protein if you like, and that it’s light! Last thing you want is to feel heavy and bloated while your trying to climb. Some of my favorite crag meals are lentils, bean salad, and sushi!
As a final note, it’s a good idea to make sure your snacks and meals are easy to eat. Messy foods get all over your hands and give you sticky fingers (and not good sticky 😉 ). Even if you have a sink nearby to wash your hands, that’s just going to soften your skin, which is not ideal for climbing.
Oh, and as a final, final note. Don’t Litter! Bring a garbage bag or pack your food in reusable container.
What are your favorite climbing snacks? Please share them below!