One of my favorite things about climbing, besides learning never to give up and that you can overcome challenges, is learning how important it is to care for your body. Before I started climbing, I used to think that just being a certain weight was important. Now I understand that optimum body composition and nutrition equals athletic performance, not how much you weigh. I encourage you to learn as much as possible to see if eating healthy helps you climb better! It definitely can’t hurt to try.
Here are a few things I've learned about climbing nutrition
What to eat before climbing
Immediately before climbing a little carb like an apple can give you an extra boost. But, for breakfast, I like to eat a balanced meal with complex carbs and lean protein to give me lasting energy and the necessary amino acids for muscle support. Flax seeds are also a great addition to breakfast, perhaps on top of oatmeal to provide your body with essential fatty acids.
What to eat after climbing
After climbing you need a balanced meal with complex carbs to replenish your glycogen stores that were used during exercise. Fruits, grains, etc. are all good. Your body also needs protein to rebuild muscle and prevent injury.
Whether your source is vegan, vegetarian, or lean meats or eggs, just make sure it’s a complete protein source and get between 20-30 grams in your post-climbing meal depending on your weight and activity level. You can use Google to find a calculator to learn how much protein you need daily.
That was a big lesson for me. I wasn’t consuming enough before climbing. Protein makes your body strong and less likely to be injured. Again, here a moderate (not excessive) amount of healthy fat is also essential. Avocado, olive oil, and almonds are excellent sources of healthy fats.
What to eat on cheat days
Ok, so I don’t have many cheat days. I feel if you can eat healthy 80% of the time you can have whatever you want on other occasions. There is nothing I can’t eat. If I want some pizza or gelato, I can have it because most of the time I’m eating healthy whole foods.
Energy Density vs. Nutrition Density
Many vegetables are low in calories and high in nutrition. I love the WHFoods site (link) because it provides nutrition information such as nutrition density per calorie for whole foods. I have often found that if you read about any fruit or veggie and its health benefits, you’ll likely want to start eating more nutritious fresh foods.
Moreover, when you learn about the concept of eating nutrient dense foods, your dietary choices start to reflect the idea of fueling your body rather than eating for entertainment. The good news is that nutrient dense foods needn’t necessarily disappoint your taste buds. There are plenty of ingredients that will blow you away that also happen to be healthy.
Tasty foods that make you feel powerful (Nutrient dense)
Definitely fresh produce. If I eat one or two per day, I feel ok, but when I start to have fresh fruits and veggies with every meal I start
to feel amazing! If I slip and forget, I notice the difference. Try it! It might not work for everyone, but makes a huge difference for me, which is why I’m motivated to share.
Foods that make you feel slow (Energy dense)
I feel slow after too heavy of a meal or too much sugar at once. If I eat a big breakfast like French toast with maple syrup, I won’t feel as good as oatmeal, eggs, and a couple of fruits. That is because these foods are energy dense, but lack the nutrient density of their healthier counterparts.
Other examples of energy dense foods are starches like pasta, alcohol (sorry), and sugary foods. They will give you quick energy because of the impact on your blood sugar, but leave you feeling sluggish and weak.
On a separate note, besides nutrition, I encourage all climbers to look up strengthening exercises in addition to climbing in order to prevent injury. Preventing injury is also a component of being healthy and climbing well.
I am so glad I learned that lesson early in life and learned how much of a difference healthy eating can make. I hope that this article inspires some more people to try a healthy lifestyle too.
Harmony is a Butora Ambassador. Keep up with her on Instagram @harmonycalhoun