The Top 3 Nutrition Mistakes Climbers Make At The Crag

The Top 3 Nutrition Mistakes Climbers Make At The Crag

01.       Avoid Meals Before Climbing To Be “Light”

While a large meal immediately prior to exercise can make anyone feel sluggish, appropriately timing your food intake around exercise can improve your performance, especially if you’re climbing at your limit. Explosive moves are considered anaerobic activity, and thus require quick fuel (carbs) to fire optimally. Appropriately timed food intake will ensure you have enough blood sugar and stored sugar in your muscle and liver to keep you firing on all cylinders.

The further out from exercise your meal is, the more food, fiber, and fat you can tolerate. Ideally, aim for your standard sized meal 3-4 hours prior to exercise. You might be able to tolerate a standard meal a couple hours before exercise if it’s a shorter, easier effort. So, experiment with what works for you.

  • 3-4 Hours Before: Oatmeal sweetened with maple syrup, topped with milk or yogurt, mixed nuts/seeds, and fruit
  • 2-3 Hours Before: Can likely tolerate the above meal depending on exercise intensity and duration.
  • 1-2 Hours Before: Oatmeal sweetened with maple syrup, topped with milk, sprinkle of mixed nuts/seeds or omitted, and fruit.Or: Toast with small amount of peanut butter with jam + banana
  • 30 min – 1 Hour: Toast with jam or Banana

02.       Packing Minimal Food

This echoes mistake #1. It’s possible to make up for the missed calories once you’re done climbing for the day, but if you’re out for six plus hours, your climbing time likely over-laps with a standard meal time, and skipping it or greatly minimizing your food intake might cause fatigue, which in turn may worsen your form, which can increase injury risk. Regular under-fueling can actually reduce coordination, concentration, and muscle strength, which are obviously important for rock climbing, especially if you have sketchy fall potential while leading or bouldering.

  • The amount of food needed depends on your effort for the day; easy, relaxing vs high volume/endurance days vs projecting will dictate how much and what kinds of the foods are optimal.
  • Higher volume days and hard projecting days should include more carb rich foods than easy, relaxed climbing.
  • If hot, pack shelf-stable convenience foods like protein bars, nut butter sandwich, fruit, crackers, jerky, smoothie pouches, etc.
  • If cold, opt for a thermos filled with a hearty soup.
  • If whole foods make you feel too full, try incorporating liquid calories like sports beverage or smoothie-like pouches.
  • When meal planning groceries for the week, include some easily-packable foods to the list to avoid the last-minute store run before your day (or weekend) trip.

03.       Packing More Beer Than Water

Don’t worry, I’m not trying to take away your send beer! However, due to the diuretic effect of alcohol, it’s important to drink adequate fluid— besides beer. A single beer with a lower ABV isn’t going to send you spiraling into dehydration, but a few or more beers can definitely make an impact. Alcohol impairs the metabolic process during exercise, decreasing the use of glucose (sugar) by our skeletal muscles, which is essential for optimal athletic performance. If you’ve got a hefty approach and warm temps, you’re likely sweating quite a bit. The average sweat rate for active folks is 1 L fluid/hour. If you’re leisurely climbing well below your limit without a lot of physical exertion in moderate temperatures, then you’re likely sweating less and require less fluid. However, it is certainly something to keep in mind to appropriately replace the fluid you lose throughout the day. You want to avoid more than 2% weight loss during activity (16 oz water = one pound). We also lose quite a bit of salt through sweat, so adequate sodium replacement is also important for hydration, especially in warm temperatures.

  • Bladders are more space-efficient in your climbing pack than metal/plastic bottles.
  • Aim for salty snacks like pretzels, salted nuts, or popcorn for sweaty days.
  • Aim for sports beverage (with or without calories) if you have difficulties drinking enough water to stay hydrated.

As everyone’s needs are individualized, it’s important to tune into your body and see how you feel. Checking in with yourself is so important with determining what works best for you. These are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you notice a difference in your climbing or mental state when minimally fueled versus adequately nourished?
  • Have you identified any foods that feel problematic before working out and foods that make you feel really good?
  • What’s really at the root of not wanting to eat anything before or during climbing? Is it simply time/effort involved or are there deeply rooted preconceived notions about eating around exercise and feeling heavy/fat?
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