Climbing is a test of endurance. But as much as it can be a battle of wills and determination, it's also limited by how long your body can safely stay working. There are a lot of habits you can build to be in healthy climbing condition – regular exercise, healthy nutrition for climbers, and goals to keep you motivated – and some of those decisions will impact you daily or even hourly. Whether you're climbing one of Origin's walls, on a day trip to Las Vegas, or going on a longer backpacking trek, how to keep yourself well hydrated is one of the most important decisions you can make.
We all receive our daily amount of water (about a gallon if you're rock climbing pretty steadily throughout the day) through different sources, mainly water itself, other drinks, and foods. Food contributes 20% of your water requirement, but should the remaining 80% come from just plain water? Or should it come from sports drinks?
Sports drinks are a popular beverage for climbers and athletes. Over their history, they've become well-known for two main benefits:
Electrolytes help balance your blood's pH levels and optimize (when sports drinks are taken in moderation) hydration. We need those electrolytes dearly when climbing and exerting hard, consistent effort, and it's that exercise that can diminish our electrolytes. So, in the midst of exercise, sports drinks may help keep you climbing for longer than water alone.
Most people don't look forward to the taste of water until they're already thirsty, and at that point, dehydration is already a risk. But because sports drinks are sweeter and come in different flavors, people tend to drink them before actually registering thirst; this proactive hydration is perfect for staying safe and comfortable while climbing.
However, these benefits aren't the end of the argument. The downsides to sports drinks have become almost as well-known as the drinks themselves. For example, most are filled with sugar, citric acid, and corn syrup – low or zero calorie versions have artificial sweeteners, which carry their dangers. On the other hand, there are benefits to fast sugars when used in moderation. Sugar can aid performance during periods of prolonged, intense exercise. Along with sodium, sugar is required to maintain fuel in the tank during periods of excessive sweating. According to Skratch Labs, a manufacturer of performance foods, “The bottom line is that consuming an excess of sugar isn’t good for you if you’re not active. But, if you’re working hard and sweating, a bit of sugar will improve your performance significantly.”
Sports drinks also come in plastic bottles that expose us to BPA and, since these aren't our personal, refillable water bottles, are more likely to end up discarded somewhere in nature. Our bodies also don't need sports drinks like a regular source of hydration. Sometimes we need electrolytic increases, but sometimes that salt and sugar are just unneeded salt and sugar.
Our recommendation? Carry mostly water and maybe a hydration mix, such as Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix that can be mixed with water in your bottle. This is much more environmentally sound, and you mix more or less of the powder depending on your exertion level. Some enterprising athletes and recipe wizards have also started making their healthy alternatives to sports drinks that give the same boost. But at the end of the day (and the beginning, and consistently throughout), the important thing is to stay hydrated – and to keep climbing!
Want to make sure you are prepared for the toughest climbing challenges? Check out our Group Fitness class.
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