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Can Nutrition Help Minimize the Risk of Injury?

How you fuel is an important factor in how you build and repair muscles, produce energy for peak performance, and even maintain mental acuity for sending.

As climbers, we’re extremely focused on our finger strength, tendon health, and maintaining the right mindset for sending. It can be easy to overlook our nutrition as a performance factor. However, how we fuel is an important factor in how we build and repair muscles, produce energy for peak performance, and even maintain mental acuity for sending.  

Photo: Savannah Cummins

Nutrition 101 

Before we jump into the deep end, it’s important to know the basics. First, every person needs adequate daily energy through the form of calories. Caloric requirements vary by gender, height, and weight. Plus, an increased training load, intensity, or duration will increase caloric needs. 

Macronutrients, or macros for short, play a key role in meeting our daily caloric needs. The three main macros include carbs, protein, and fat. All three are needed for a balanced nutrition plan. As athletes, we need to consume enough macros to support our performance, especially as it relates to metabolism, brain health, immunity, hormone balance, and muscle mass. 

Protein

  • Muscle synthesis and repair 
  • Eggs, almonds, chicken breast, greek yogurt, oats, milk, tofu, edamame
  • Supplement your meals with Gnarly Whey or Gnarly Vegan

One of the main issues I hear from my clients is that it’s difficult to get enough protein in their diet,” said Boulder-based Gnarly Nutrition athlete and strength coach, Joslynn Corredor. “Most clients have a hard time hitting the amount of protein that they should be consuming for their bodies. Gnarly products make this easier to do.” 

Fat

  • Cell integrity, sex hormone synthesis, joint structure, fuel for workouts
  • Avocado, chia seeds, dark chocolate, fish, flax seeds, nut butter

Carbs

  • Gut health, glycogen stores, fuel for the brain, heart, kidneys, and central nervous system
  • Whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains 
  • During an activity, Gnarly Fuel2O can also provide calories in liquid form 

Micronutrients, like vitamin D, iron, and magnesium, are vitamins and minerals our bodies need in smaller amounts. They’re essential for metabolic processes related to our general health and aspects to performance, including energy metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, and antioxidant functionality. Gnarly Performance Greens contain effective doses of a wide variety of micronutrients, plus it’s easy to mix with your morning, pre- or post-workout smoothie and other recipes

Nutrition strategies to reduce injury risk

Photo: Tim Behuniak

Nutrition for injury prevention isn’t a fancy diet for high-intensity training or professional climbers, only; it’s simply a way of eating to support fitness and long-term health goals. The big overarching theme is to make sure your caloric needs are met with a balanced distribution of macros and micronutrients.

Much like physical training, the best way to approach nutrition is with a solid plan. This takes the guesswork out of the process and ensures you’re meeting all your requirements and goals. This may look like three meals a day, or five smaller meals, but regardless of the approach that works best for you, maintaining a regular eating schedule ensures consistency for your body and mind, and helps maintain muscle mass, mental acuity, and stabilizes blood sugar. 

“The best thing you can do nutritionally for injury prevention is to eat enough calories,” said New Mexico-based Certified Nutrition Specialist Caitlin Holmes. “We need consistent energy coming in to support life, but also to push our limits. If we don’t consume enough energy, we won’t have the physical, mental, or emotional capacity to do more work. Feeding the body with the tools it needs to perform will minimize injury risk.” 

Adding variety to your meals is another great strategy, and helps you attain proper micronutrient consumption. Eating broccoli or spinach every day is wonderful. But if these are the only veggies consumed all the time, eating could get boring and your body will be ingesting the same types of nutrients day in and day out. Try adding root vegetables, fruits, and a variety of color and diversity of food groups to increase micronutrient dosage and to make your meals exciting. 

Nutrient timing can also play into your overall nutrition strategy for injury prevention. This is the easiest way to boost performance while also increasing calories, which will help prevent an energy deficit. By prioritizing nutrient-dense snacks in and around your training period, you’re fueling your body with what it needs to perform, which minimizes injury risk. Adopting a protein-rich snack or protein shake before bed is also a useful technique. This helps prevent muscle protein degradation while you’re sleeping, and can also help prevent muscle soreness the next day. 

Photo: Ben Neilson

Finally, hydration is key. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “The water content of musculoskeletal tissues appears to be a major driver of stress-strain and failure properties in collagens forming the backbone of ligaments and tendons.” Gnarly CPO/COO Shannon O’Grady, Ph.D.’s translation: “Dehydration can actually increase hydration risk, which is why electrolyte products – like Gnarly Hydrate – can help prevent ligament and tendon strain.”

While there is no one-size-fits-all meal plan for every single person, it’s important to note that any extreme diet program, or exclusion of any one food group, is not healthy. When you exclude major food groups, you’re omitting major micronutrient or macronutrient sources. Specific dieting plans should be reserved for only extreme circumstances, and you should consult your doctor or personal nutritionist before trying one. 

Nutrition as a rehab tool 

Sometimes injuries are simply unavoidable. If you are already injured, the most important thing to remember is to not restrict calories. When you are injured, you actually need more nutrients and calories because your body is working to heal itself, which requires increased energy metabolism and output. 

“Whether it’s intentional or not, calorie deficits can lead to mental and physical fatigue, muscle wasting, nutrient deficiencies, hormone imbalances, weakened bones, digestive problems, neurological disorders, etcetera. Under-fueling should be avoided, especially during peak training and performance seasons when energy demands are highest,” said Holmes. “If an injury does occur, avoid calorie deficits during rehab. Calorie restriction while rehabbing an existing injury can actually lengthen recovery time.”

During injury, your immune system is activated. The consumption of high-quality proteins that contain large amounts of leucine (the amino acid most responsible for turning on muscle repair and synthesis) will help prevent wasting of the immune system while resting. Eggs, dairy products, soy, and meat are high in leucine. Gnarly Nutrition BCAAs contain 5 grams of vegan branched chain amino acids in a 2:1:1 ratio (2.5g leucine, 1.25g isoleucine, 1.25g valine) and can help with leucine intake, too. 

Photo: Savannah Cummins

“Gnarly Nutrition BCAAs are easy to drink, absorbed quickly, and a great way to boost BCAA intake if high quality protein consumption and/or timing is sub-optimal. Examples where BCAA supplementation may be helpful include generally low (<1.6g protein/kg body mass) protein intake, fasted training, vegan diets, and aging athletes.” – Shannon O’Grady, Ph.D.

Similar to injury prevention, consuming consistent, wholesome, well-balanced meals high in a variety of colors and food groups will ensure your micronutrient intake is met. Finally, staying hydrated helps ensure your body can actually deliver all of these nutrients to the injury location, so inflammation is decreased, and the injury is healed. 

Photo: Ben Neilson

Connecting the dots 

As athletes, our main goals should be to increase performance, prevent injury, and maintain our long-term health. In order to reduce injury risk and improve recovery, we need to eat! More importantly, the foods we consume need to be nutrient dense. 

To help stay on track, we can break our overall approach into long-term and short-term goals.

Short-term goals:

  • Consume a consistent diet rich in variety.
    • Eat colors of the rainbow to ensure micronutrient requirements are met.
      • Beets, carrots, onions, eggplant, bananas, apples, peppers, blueberries
  • Avoid energy deficits.
  • Maintain daily hydration.
  • Take rest days.
  • Time your nutrient intake.
    • Pre-workout 
      • Carb focused
      • Low fat, low fiber
      • Foods you can tolerate
      • Include fluids, and potentially caffeine, with drinks like Gnarly Pre 
    • During workout
      • Constant hydration
      • Electrolyte drinks, like Gnarly Hydrate 
      • Calories for exercise over one hour, like those found in Gnarly Fuel₂O
    • Post-workout 

Long-term goals: 

  • Meet energy demands.
  • Consume adequate protein.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Maintain overall health.
  • Maintain weight and body composition.

Overall, nobody – and no body –  is the same. It’s important that we listen to our bodies and maintain a wholesome diet to help avoid injury and bounce back quicker during rehab, so that we can create lifelong memories in the vertical world. 

Learn more about Gnarly Nutrition.