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Does Meat Improve Climbing Performance?

Meat is an efficient source of protein and is a complete protein that stimulates muscle repair and supports ligaments and tendons, which we climbers depend on for finger health and strength.

Marisa Michael, MSc, RDN, CSSD is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and author of Nutrition for Climbers: Fuel for the Send. She serves on the USA Climbing medical committee and has a private practice in Portland, Oregon. Find her online at or on Instagram @realnutritiondietitian for nutrition consultations, workshops, and writing services

You eat meat. Maybe you don’t fall into the bacon-laden, bowel-stressing carnivore diet category of extreme meat-eating, and maybe Arby’s “We have the meats” slogan doesn’t quite resonate with you, but you’re just a classic omnivore who eats a variety of food, including meat. Is there a better kind of meat for health and climbing performance? How much do you need to eat?

Meat can fit nicely into many diets, even into a plant-based diet—most people eat more plants than animal flesh, even if it is a regular staple of their meals. Anecdotally, some people have tried being vegan or vegetarian and found they feel better, perform better, and are more satiated with meat.

(Explore vegan and vegetarianism for climbers)

How much meat? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 recommends differing amounts of meat intake based on overall calorie intake. The weekly intake of meat, fish, eggs, and poultry is 34 ounces for those consuming 2,000 calories daily, and up to 43 ounces weekly for those at the 3,000-calorie level. Keep in mind, these are guidelines for the general, non-athletic population.

How much protein? Climbers need more protein. How much depends on current training loads and goals. To understand how much overall protein you may need, first find your weight in kilograms. Take your weight in pounds and divide by 2.2, then multiply according to the following recommendations.

General recreational climber: 1-1.6 grams x your weight in kgs = protein per day

Strength training/power/strength phase + climbing: 1.8-2.2 grams x weight = protein per day

Endurance athlete + climber: 1.2-1.8 grams x weight = protein per day

Injured (soft tissue) climber: 1.6-2.5 grams x weight = protein per day

Of this total amount of protein you eat each day, some of it can be meat. How much depends on your own preferences (my own clinical opinion is that you can exceed the Dietary Guidelines to meet your increased needs due to athletic pursuits). Consult with a dietitian to decide what is best for you.

Benefits to meat: There are some good reasons to include meat in your. Meat is a more bioavailable and efficient source of protein compared to plants, meaning your body can absorb and utilize it better. It’s also a complete protein, with all amino acids—helpful for stimulating muscle protein synthesis and repair, as well as supporting ligaments and tendons, which we climbers depend on so much for finger health and strength.

Meat also contains creatine, which aids in powerful movements and can extend time to fatigue. Carnosine, also in meat, is important for muscle function. Many micronutrients are found in meat, such as iron, zinc, vitamin B12, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin B6.

Types of meat

  • Poultry: Usually lean, versatile for many types of cuisines. A solid choice for any omnivore.
  • Fish: Anti-inflammatory due to its omega-3 fatty acids (particularly salmon, tuna, and trout), fish is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Many people feel it is more ethical and environmentally friendly. Shelf-stable tuna pouches are a nice crag snack.
  • Red meat (beef, pork, lamb, wild game): Sometimes gets a bad rap, but if it is a whole, fresh, unprocessed cut of meat, it is likely healthful. Red meat is a reliable source of iron and other trace minerals. Its association with cardiovascular disease and cancer is complex, as it is based on studies where they lump red meat with processed meat, as well as base conclusions on observational data and correlations (read: not very clear-cut data).
  • Processed meats (jerky, deli meat, sausage, bacon, etc.): Associated with higher risk of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer but may be confounded by other variables (lifestyle, exercise, genetics, socioeconomic status, plant food intake). It’s wise to limit how much processed meat you consume. However, it can be useful for outdoor crag trips to have an accessible, non-perishable source of protein (jerky, pepperoni sticks, etc.). As long as it fits in a healthful diet pattern with plenty of fruits and vegetables, limited processed meat is likely not a concern.