Fuel Up


Photo by Ben Fullerton

Any serious climber knows the intense stress of a sun-up to sun-down climb. To maintain flexibility, power, balance, and muscular endurance, you need good nutrition and hydration before and during your climb. Making smart food and drink choices can help you move quicker, tame those screaming muscles, and achieve better mental focus (read: less risk of injury). Here’s how to fuel the machine.

The Night Before the Climb

If you’re preparing for a full day of climbing, you’ll benefit from a dinner largely based on nutrient- rich carbohydrate foods, such as whole grains, beans, and fruits. This will help assure that your muscle glycogen— the primary fuel source for intense exercise—is fully stocked. Roughly 65 percent of the meal’s calories should be derived from carbs. Also include some lean protein, such as chicken breast or tofu, and healthy fats including avocado or olive oil.

Eat this:

  • Black bean burgers topped with guacamole with a side of quinoa

  • Whole wheat pasta with ground, grass-fed beef, red sauce, and salad

  • Chicken and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice

In the Morning

Before gearing up, eat a 400-calorie breakfast made up of mostly easy-to-digest carbs, about one to two hours before your climb. Also, guzzle down two cups of liquid (yep, coffee counts!). To avoid a stomach that cries foul as you climb, avoid a breakfast very rich in fiber, fat, or protein that causes your meal to pass through the digestive system quickly and makes you wish you were closer to a toilet.

Eat this:

  • Oatmeal with blueberries, honey, and walnuts

  • Pancakes with maple syrup and sliced strawberries

  • Yogurt with granola and dried fruit

During the Climb

Hours of climbing will deplete your muscle fuel stores. To keep from bonking, plan on scarfing down 30 to 60 grams of fastburning carbs for every hour of activity. Choose grub that is compact and easy to schlep on a long climb. A climber shouldn’t subsist on bars alone, so to maintain stamina during a long day, pack some other food as well.

Eat this:

  • Wraps with honey and sliced banana

  • Dried fruit such as apricots, figs, and dates

  • Crackers with apple butter or almond butter

  • Whole-food energy bars with at least 50 percent of calories from carbohydrates (tip: 1 gram of carbs equals 4 calories)

Liquid Assets

Dehydration causes lethargy and messes with concentration and timing. Performance can be sapped with just two percent loss of body weight through fluid loss. Sipping water or a sports drink every 10 to 15 minutes is recommended, with the goal of downing at least eight ounces every 30 minutes. (For an eight-hour day, that's a gallon of liquid— too much to carry on most climbs, but that's the goal!) If it's hot, spike your aqua with electrolytes.

After the Climb

Your body is primed to start the recovery process as soon as your big day ends. A supercharged recovery meal should contain a good mix of carbohydrates and protein in a ratio of about 3-to-1; carbs and protein work together to replenish spent energy stores and repair weary muscle tissue. Shoot for roughly 0.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight, plus 20 to 25 grams of protein, as soon as possible following an exhausting climb. Aid rehydration by drinking at least 2 cups of liquid such as water, a sports drink, coconut water, or even milk.

Eat this:

  • Scrambled egg wraps with salsa and a fruit salad

  • Recovery shake: Blend milk, Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, and honey

  • Bean and meat chili with crusty bread