Lose Weight Safely

Shed pounds the right way to maximize redpoint success

Shed pounds the right way to maximize redpoint success.

As high-end sport climbing emerged in the 1980s, another climbing trend also surfaced—and no, we don’t mean the bright pink, tiger-print Lycra that littered the pages of Climbing mags of yesteryear. Body weight became a huge factor in the sport; some climbers were unhealthy about it and developed serious eating disorders. Detrimental practices persist, and losing weight when you’re already fit is controversial in the climbing community. But naysayers can’t deny the benefits of dropping excess fat to climb harder. One 5.14 climber once told us that his secret was losing five pounds before sending. However, climbers should approach diet changes with caution. Here’s how to lose weight the right way.


  • Go slow. David Weber, ranger and lead medic in Denali National Park, recommends losing no more than one pound per week. If your goal is five pounds, take five weeks to do it. “Losing weight too quickly is unhealthy,” he says. “Dropping pounds while keeping strength is hard.” Many nutritionists and trainers focus on exchanging fat for lean muscle while maintaining a similar overall weight.
  • Up your cross- and strength-training. Cardio is obviously beneficial, and strength-training will build muscle that not only makes you stronger, but also helps burn more calories—even at rest.
  • Tweak your eating habits. Eric Hörst, author of Training for Climbing, advises against restricting calories, but instead suggests “nutritional surveillance.” Make simple improvements on what you normally consume to drop a couple of pounds. Increase intake of lean meats, fruits, and vegetables; avoid fried foods, refined or added sugar, saturated and trans fats, and empty carbs like soda. See more ideas at right. ‘
  • Stay hydrated. Drink one liter of water per hour (any more and your body will not absorb it) for maximum hydration. Drinking adequate amounts of water assists your body with digestion, and it helps you feel full so you won’t overeat or snack when you’re idle.
  • Improve your climbing technique. Ultimately, no matter what the number on the scale reads, better technique will increase your climbing performance. Focus on moving swiftly and efficiently on-route: You’ll burn less energy and avoid that massive pump.


  • Don’t crash diet or deprive your body of essential nutrients. Suddenly and dramatically scaling back your caloric intake (e.g., going from 2,000 calories a day to 1,200 or fewer) will create a natural response in your body to burn much-needed muscle instead of fat. Gradually reduce your calories per day, without decreasing your intake so much that you eliminate the fuel your body needs to stay healthy and to maintain energy levels and cognitive focus. Start by cutting out a few hundred gratuitous calories—those nightly overstuffed burritos and tallboy PBRs, for example.
  • Don’t try to lose weight last-minute. This will most likely have a negative impact. “You shouldn’t cram last-minute for an exam, and you shouldn’t cram when tightening up your diet,” Hörst says. “Start a month or more ahead of time.”
  • Don’t restrict your water intake. This causes dehydration, which can lead to electrolyte imbalances, muscle cramping and spasms, and more physical and mental issues. Down the road, it could even cause micro-tears in muscles and ligaments, which will negatively affect your climbing performance and lead to more injury.
  • Don’t binge. This seems obvious, but many people starve themselves and then end up overeating when they sit down to have a meal. Eating smaller meals and healthy snacks throughout the day will increase your metabolism and help shed pounds.









Clif MOJO (190 cal) vs. Clif bar (260 cal)










Monster Rehab (20 cal/16 oz.) vs. Red Bull (220 cal/16 oz.) 








Rolling Rock (120 cal/12 oz.) vs. PBR (152 cal/12 oz.)








Chipotle Bowl (620 cal) vs. Chipotle Burrito (910 cal)





Previous Comments

Loved this article. Common sense, but tips that are forgotten during everyone`s busy lives. Thanks CLIMBING!!

Tim Heinrich - 12/12/2013 6:54:32

A liter of water an hour?? I assume this is a mistake and you meant to say, perhaps, a glass of water an hour. Most people are awake for 16 hours a day and drinking 16 liters of water every day is probably a terrible idea.

Emily - 12/11/2013 7:37:12

Oh no, another generic article about weight loss. Bummer. 1. "Climbers should approach diet change with caution." Really? Why not with excitement or curiosity? How about approaching diet changes with a list of things to try? 2. Discard what "experts" tell you, even if the "expert" is a ranger and medic from Denali. YOU are your own body's expert. Ta-da! 3. "Losing weight too quickly is unhealthy..." and "dropping pounds while keeping strength is hard." Bull and bull. My body lost 20 pounds of fat in 38 days. My sleep was amazing. Many old aches and pains were reduced. I got mega strong. 4. "Tweak your eating habits." Yay! This works! Self-experimentation and finding out what works for you is your job. Is it vegan, paleo, ketogenic, or just cutting alcohol? Who knows? Only you can answer for you. 5. Hydration. Good! 6. Improve climbing technique. Good! 7. 2000 to 1200??? What do those number mean for anyone? Exactly, nothing! Listen to your body. Self-experimentation. I've had 600 calorie days and I've had 4000 calorie days. Go figure out for you. 8. Last minute weight loss? Climbers do this? You mean like wrestlers and mma fighters? If they do; there is still a solid scientific and safe approach. You can read how just about every UFC fighter does it. Is it for me? Nope, I'm never going to dehydrate myself to cut weight. Is it for you? I don't know that answer. That is up to you. 9. Stay hydrated. Yup, good! 10. Binge. Again, there is a right way and a wrong way. Tim Ferriss 4-Hour Body even has a section called, "The Art of The Binge." 11. You could probably eliminate all of the pictured "options" and do wonders for your health. I bet most climbers already know what works for their own bodies. I think climber, by nature, are self-experimenters. But if you are a beginner, or out of shape, there are way better (and more specific) strategies than were presented in this quick article. Hopefully it gets your mind working to start some self-experiments! Happy Health to you!

Jason Clements - 12/11/2013 4:10:19

I can't believe energy drinks like redbull or monster are even mentioned. That toxic garbage has no business being linked to the sports industry...

fwf - 12/10/2013 10:56:11

Hold up. One liter of water per hour? For someone who sleeps 8 hours a day, that's 16 liters, or 4 gallons a day. That's absurd, and actually likely to cause harm. Excessive intake, aside from annoying restroom trips every 15 minutes can actually deplete your body of the vitamins and minerals it needs, not to mention it can lead to cardiac arrest in extreme cases. Healthy intake is roughly half one's weight (lbs) in oz. So a 180lb person should consume 90oz, or 2.66L. Of course this number varies day to day based on activity, and could more than double on a grueling summer day at the crag, but seriously, 1L/hour?

Brendan - 12/09/2013 1:20:24