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What to Eat to Crush Your Climbing Day

You train, buy the best gear, stay stoked and try to give yourself every advantage on the rock or in the gym, but you run out of energy part way through. You aren't eating the right foods.

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Joe is working a tricky boulder problem during a comp. He’s already climbed a couple rounds and did well. But now he’s falling on easy moves. He feels weak. He feels shaky. Figuring out the beta seems impossible—his brain just isn’t working right. He’s getting tired.

Joe is experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar because he didn’t eat enough. Some symptoms include:

  •     Feeling weak, shaky, or dizzy
  •     Feeling irritable or angry
  •     Difficulty concentrating
  •     Fatigue

Is there something Joe could have done to prevent this? Aside from proper training and conditioning, the answer lies in your nutrition.

30-60 Minutes Before you Climb

If you have 30-60 minutes before you climb, eat foods that contain quick-digesting carbohydrates. Foods like:

  •       1 oz. pretzels
  •       1 white mini-bagel
  •       1 piece of fruit—apples, bananas, oranges, etc.
  •       ¼ c dried fruit
  •       8 oz. sports drink
  •       2 sheets graham crackers
  •       8 oz. chocolate milk
  •       1 packet sports gels (like Gu)
  •       1 packet sports gummies and chews

Carbohydrates give you quick energy for climbing. They are digested rapidly and taken up into your bloodstream and into your cells.

If you’re less than 60 minutes away from your turn to climb, avoid foods with more than 10 grams of protein, 4 grams of fat, or 5 grams of fiber. Protein, fat, and fiber all slow down digestion. If you eat foods with too much fiber, fat, and protein, the food won’t be digested quickly enough to help you during the climb. You may be left with a heavy stomach and not enough fuel getting to your muscles. I’ve never met anyone who likes to climb on a full stomach!


 2 Hours Before You Climb

If you know you will be in isolation: Pack snacks and water or a sports drink in your gym bag. Know yourself—do you get bored in iso and eat when you’re not hungry? Try to avoid eating out of boredom—it will just make you have a full stomach when you don’t need it. Instead, create a plan for what you’ll do during iso to keep you occupied. Take a nap, meditate, goof off with teammates, or warm up. Don’t eat if you’re not hungry! If you’re the kind of person that loses your appetite when you are nervous (or forgets to eat), have a plan to eat quick-digesting carbs (see list above) about 30-60 minutes before you will be climbing. Set a timer or ask your coach or teammate to remind you to eat. Use deep breathing to help calm your nerves.

If you have two to four hours before you climb, your body has some time to digest food. This means you can add a little protein, fat, and fiber, such as:

  •     Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with chocolate milk or protein shake
  •     Tuna wrap with cheese and a side of fruit and yogurt
  •     Oatmeal with milk or almond milk, bananas, and walnuts
  •     Fruit smoothie and a protein bar
  •     Trail mix and an apple
  •     Jerky
  •     String cheese
  •     Nut butter pouches

These types of foods give you longer-lasting energy and are slower to digest. Eating them a few hours before you climb will help you start your comp fueled and ready to go.

 Have a hydration plan: Hydration can play a key role in climbing performance. Some symptoms of dehydration include:

  •     Lightheadedness, shakiness, or dizziness
  •     Difficulty concentrating or confusion
  •     Dark urine
  •     Fatigue or lethargy
  •     Nausea

In general, climbers need about eight ounces of fluid (either water or a sports drink) per hour of climbing. If you are competing in hot or humid weather, you may need more. You’ll need electrolytes if your comp is at a higher altitude than you are used to, it is hot or humid, or you sweat a lot. You can use a sports drink with electrolytes, or electrolyte tabs dissolved in water. Experiment during training to see what works best for you. Remember, nothing new on comp day