What and when you eat plays a crucial role in how well you perform on the wall.
By Abi Cotler
We’ve all been there. You finish a climbing session less than impressed with yourself. This time, you showed up, brought your “A” game, and did everything the same as the last few times you climbed so well. But for some reason, you seem to climb heavy and down a few grades this time. “I guess it’s just not my day,” you comment after continually struggling through your routes, looking like a cat trying to get out of a bathtub. “We all have them,” your partner tells you sympathetically.
But maybe you aren’t satisfied with that. Maybe you want to know exactly which factors could have affected your poor performance. If you’ve ever considered food (and you probably have), you’d be onto something. Research on sports performance has long shown that how and what we eat before and after exercise can radically change the way we perform.
It can be tricky, though; you don’t want to eat so much that you feel too heavy pulling yourself up the wall, but you also want to avoid that total power-down mode you hit when you suddenly go from a little peckish to ravenous and weak—zero to 60—often as quickly as in-between moves.
So, let’s look at what you can do before and after climbing to be sure you eat in the best possible way for a stellar performance every time.
Staying healthy on a daily basis is a foundational part of optimal eating for better climbing. Avid climber and clinical dietitian at UC Davis Health System, Melinda Gong, RD, suggests, “When off the rock, it’s a good idea to follow a healthy, balanced meal plan. Based on the 2015 dietary guidelines, it’s recommended to follow a meal pattern rich with lean proteins (chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, 97% lean ground beef, legumes, tofu), whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and breads) and heart healthy fats (nuts, avocado, oils), and to avoid excess added sugars such as table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even honey.”
Before You Climb
Gong suggests a small snack that has some carbs for energy and some protein before your workout (try for about about 30 minutes beforehand, but even eating it just before climbing will help). She says something as simple as a protein bar or PB&J sandwich would work.
“A yogurt with some fresh fruit is also a great option,” says Gong. “That could provide enough energy to climb for a few hours without overloading the stomach, which is not a great feeling when wearing that harness!”
For a tasty alternative to bars, which can often be loaded with sugar, try fellow Mesa Rim climber/yoga instructor and holistic health coach, Jenna Carpenter’s Energy Protein Ball recipe.
What and when you eat after you climb is important for healthy muscles and recovery. Most studies suggest that in terms of muscle regeneration, the sooner you eat after working out, the better, and generally, food should be eaten no more than 30-45 mins after you’re done. You don’t necessarily need to eat a lot; this depends on how many calories out of your total daily allotment you’ve already had that day. But, like before your session, what you eat is also really important and protein seems to be the key here.
Says Gong, “After a strenuous workout, it’s best to help rebuild muscles by eating some lean protein. The amount of protein needed isn’t as much as people think, though. About 3 ounces of meat or tofu is all it takes to help rebuild muscles. Studies show that eating the protein after a workout versus before helps with muscle regeneration.”
Out on the Rock
When out on the rock all day, it’s a good idea to snack on healthy carbs to provide you with energy and have some protein-rich snacks such as nuts available. Nuts are a good source of heart-healthy fats as well. Gong recommends trail mix without any added sugars, or energy bars that don’t contain lots of chocolate or sugar coatings. Also, fresh fruit is refreshing, thirst-quenching, and full of vitamins and minerals to help give you the energy needed to keep going.
“Don’t forget to stay hydrated,” Gong reminds us. “If out all day, it’s a great idea to have some water with electrolytes. The electrolyte tablets that can be added to water are a great idea; they have few calories, but have the needed electrolytes to help your body perform at its peak.”