Per­for­mance Climb­ing Nu­tri­tion


Step 1: Eat Bal­anced Meals

Eat­ing bal­anced meals and snacks will sta­bi­lize your en­ergy at a high level, even out your ap­petite, and pre­vent mid­day crashes. Balancing meals and snacks means that ev­ery time you eat, you’re in­gest­ing some form of car­bo­hy­drates, protein, and fat.

Car­bo­hy­drates: Th­ese are your body’s main fuel source—the gas that gets the car run­ning. Carbs break down in your di­ges­tive tract to glu­cose, your body’s most read­ily avail­able fuel, which then passes into your blood to fire cel­lu­lar ac­tiv­ity. How quickly you ab­sorb glu­cose de­pends on the type of carb you eat. Both types come in re­fined (pro­cessed) and un­re­fined (whole) forms. Un­re­fined sim­ple and com­plex car­bo­hy­drates are best: The eas­i­est way to know how a car­bo­hy­drate is go­ing to act is to eat it in its nat­u­ral, un­re­fined state, as Mother Na­ture in­tended.

• Sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates: Th­ese are the quick­est source of fuel and the most eas­ily di­gested. Be­cause of this, your blood sugar will spike and crash rapidly. A sim­ple carb is like try­ing to keep a bon­fire go­ing all night with news­pa­per, leav­ing you with short bursts of flames. Some ex­am­ples of un­re­fined sim­ple carbs in­clude honey, mo­lasses, and maple syrup, while re­fined sim­ple carbs in­clude cane sugar and high-fruc­tose corn syrup.

• Com­plex car­bo­hy­drates: Th­ese have a car­bo­hy­drate struc­ture that is harder to break down and usu­ally present with fiber; there­fore, they’re slower to di­gest, giv­ing a steady, more grad­u­ally in­creased and de­creased sup­ply of glu­cose to the blood. Com­plex car­bo­hy­drates are a slow-burn­ing log that gives off bet­ter heat and re­quires less main­te­nance. Some ex­am­ples of un­re­fined com­plex carbs in­clude most veg­eta­bles, legumes, nuts, and seeds, while re­fined com­plex carbs of­ten come in the form of breads, pasta, and baked goods.

Protein: The protein struc­ture is a chain of amino acids that your body breaks down and uses for dif­fer­ent func­tions. The main func­tion of protein in climb­ing is to aid in re­build­ing mus­cle tis­sue af­ter ex­er­cise. So, if car­bo­hy­drates are the gas for the car, protein is the me­chanic re­pair­ing and re­build­ing dam­aged parts at a pit stop. An­i­mal pro­teins such as meat, poul­try, eggs, and cheese are the best for re­pair­ing mus­cle tis­sues. Veg­e­tar­ian pro­teins such as tem­peh, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds can also pro­vide ad­e­quate re­pair­ing power if eaten to­gether in a di­verse diet.

Fat: The main func­tion of fat is to slow di­ges­tion, to keep you full and con­trol the rate at which you use your car­bo­hy­drate fuel. If carbs are the gas and protein is the me­chanic, then fat is the brake pedal. Eat­ing fat will slow down the di­ges­tion of both sim­ple and com­plex car­bo­hy­drates. Some ex­am­ples of good fats in­clude avo­cado, nuts, olives, co­conut, and but­ter.

Step 2: Ra­tios of Car­bo­hy­drates, Pro­teins, and Fats

Know­ing the dif­fer­ent roles that car­bo­hy­drates, protein, and fat play al­lows climbers to cus­tom­ize food to our spe­cific needs. In a pri­mar­ily strength-fo­cused sport like climb­ing, higher-protein and lower-carb food choices work best for rest days or light climb­ing days, since you’ll need more me­chan­ics on duty to re­pair mus­cles af­ter ex­er­cise and less im­me­di­ate en­ergy. As your in­ten­sity level in­creases, so will your car­bo­hy­drate re­quire­ment.

The ra­tio in the pie chart above as­sumes

you’re tak­ing in enough calo­ries for your weight and ac­tiv­ity level. To fig­ure out how much you should be eat­ing, try this test: Af­ter din­ner, wait 15 to 20 min­utes be­fore go­ing back for sec­onds to give your brain time to catch up with your stom­ach. If you’re still hun­gry af­ter the wait time, pro­ceed; if not, then you’ve eaten enough. If you can go four to five hours be­fore get­ting hun­gry, then you’re get­ting enough calo­ries. If you get hun­gry be­fore then, ask your­self: Was there too much or too lit­tle protein, car­bo­hy­drates, or fat? Did I eat enough?

Step 3: Com­bin­ing Ra­tios and Tim­ing, Across Dis­ci­plines

Tim­ing and food ra­tios al­low climbers to fine­tune and ma­nip­u­late food for op­ti­mal per­for­mance. If carbs are the gas, protein is the me­chanic, and fat is the pedals, tim­ing is how you up­grade your mini-van to a sports car.

For any climb­ing day, start off with a meal that in­cludes 40 per­cent com­plex carbs, 35 per­cent protein, and 25 per­cent fat. Then, within 45 min­utes af­ter you fin­ish climb­ing for the day, eat a snack or meal with the ra­tio of 30 per­cent sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates, 60 per­cent protein, and 10 per­cent fat. This ra­tio will change based on the type and in­ten­sity of your climb­ing. Be­low, we’ve given ra­tios and sam­ple meals and snacks for each climb­ing dis­ci­pline. (Note: As you climb, right be­fore or af­ter a pitch or prob­lem is the per­fect time for un­re­fined sim­ple car­bo­hy­drates. When ex­er­cis­ing, your body can take in more fuel and use those quick-act­ing sim­ple carbs for a power boost. They are also a good way to quickly re­fill your glyco­gen stores post-climb­ing, which aids with re­cov­ery.)


If you need fuel to send, have a snack that is 50 per­cent sim­ple carbs, 30 per­cent protein, and 20 per­cent fat. Af­ter climb­ing, stop for a re­cov­ery lunch that is 30 per­cent sim­ple carbs, 60 per­cent protein, and 10 per­cent fat. Drink wa­ter to stay hydrated all day long.


To help clip the chains, have a snack that is 60 per­cent sim­ple carbs, 25 per­cent protein, and 15 per­cent fat. When you’re done climb­ing, stop for a re­cov­ery meal that is 40 per­cent sim­ple carbs, 50 per­cent protein, and 10 per­cent fat. Drink wa­ter to stay hydrated all day long.


Start your day with a big­ger meal that in­cor­po­rates the nor­mal ra­tios. As you climb, have small, easy-to-di­gest snacks that are 70 per­cent sim­ple carbs, 20 per­cent protein, and 10 per­cent fat. When you’ve re­turned to the car, stop for a re­cov­ery meal that is 60 per­cent sim­ple carbs, 30 per­cent protein, and 10 per­cent fat. Drink a home­made elec­trolyte bev­er­age to stay hydrated all day long.

The goal of strate­gic eat­ing is to make climb­ing nu­tri­tion ac­tion­able so that you can fo­cus on the real goal, which is get­ting the most en­joy­ment out of do­ing what you love. So eat bal­anced meals, in­cor­po­rate ra­tios, and time your sim­ple carbs around ex­er­cise. If you feel great, you’ll climb bet­ter on a more con­sis­tent ba­sis and can re­cover quickly, which means more pitches, prob­lems, and sends.

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