The Appropriate and Effective Nutrition For Climbers

The Appropriate and Effective Nutrition For Climbers

When it comes to a full body workout, there is nothing like climbing. Most people who start climbing are hooked immediately, but there is little out there regarding the best nutrition for this type of exercise. That is because it is such a unique sport.

Climbing Nutrition states, "While other sports have rapid muscle contract-relax cycles, where the muscle gets to relax at regular intervals, climbers often spend long chunks of time contracting their muscles before allowing them to rest." This kind of intensity requires the right kind of fuel for the endurance it takes to finish a climb.

Food as fuel, rather than entertainment

Often, when the terms nutrition and diet are casually thrown around causing most people to immediately think boring, bland food. That is true in some cases; however, as an athlete, one must be aware that it is critical to fuel your body with the appropriate nutrients to boost performance to its optimum level. While many athletes are aware of a variety of nutritional theories, there is a great deal of conflicting information on the topic (as such, you should consult a dietician before jumping into any major dietary overhaul). However, we would like to present some information that applies to most athletes, and those embarking on a new training program, that can be considered as you make your dietary choices.

Climbing is particularly unique about nutrition. Take the following idea into perspective - it is impossible to solve every single mathematical equation the same way; similarly, one cannot expect to adhere to the same diet and training regiment for strength, speed, endurance, etc. In other words, the same training method a sprinter would follow might prove very ineffective when faced with the challenge of climbing. Climbing demands endurance. A tremendous amount of cardiovascular as well as muscular stamina is a must. Besides the arduous training that a climber will need to maintain, a decent and intelligent diet is mandatory. 

Before Climbing

Nutrition before your workout is critical. This is where you lay the groundwork for muscle support. Eating a meal that is based on lean proteins and nutrient-dense carbohydrates is an excellent way to prepare for the next day's climb. Foods like chicken, beans and fresh fruit will help your muscles fuel up for the event.

The morning of the big climb is just as important. Eggs, yogurt, and complex carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes, whole grain bread, and steel-cut oats are all easy for the body to digest, and will make your digestive system happy as you set off on your climb.

It depends on your body and your taste. Experiment with foods within these guidelines and determine what works best for you. Some foods that work well for some climbers such as kale or tofu may be difficult for others to digest. Generally, for a climbing day, moderate levels of fat, protein and more or complex carbohydrates will supply the energy needed and refuel after a send.

Here are some goals to consider for pre-climbing nutrition:

Supply the blood with iron
It is widely known that there is a negative correlation between elevation above sea level and the amount of oxygen present. This means, as one goes higher, and higher, the oxygen available for consumption decreases more and more.

From a training perspective, the human body can and will adapt to that change. However, from a nutritional viewpoint, one would need foods that will supply the red blood cells and accommodate that shortage of oxygen, and such meals would naturally be high in iron. These can easily be found in lean protein sources such as beef, eggs, fish, etc. For those who do not consume meat, it is also found in tofu as well as in various nuts and legumes.

Learn more about Iron in your diet here.

Good fat sources

The high altitudes that a climber sometimes is required to adapt to are energy demanding; therefore, besides efficiently supplying the blood with iron, the body has to have a sustaining backup fuel source. Fats are often what the body relies on after exhausting its primary energy sources. Good fats found in items such as avocados, olive oil, almonds as well as other nuts.

Not only will these fats provide that extra energy and make you feel full, but they are also actually essential. Some key vitamins and minerals are only soluble in fat. That means that without fat your body will be deficient in certain areas.

Some pre-climb snack suggestions from
A peanut butter and banana or PBJ sandwich
Greek yogurt with berries
Oatmeal with low-fat milk and fruit
Apple and peanut or almond butter
Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts)


During your climb, make sure to consume snacks that are easy to carry and provide fast energy. Some of these suggestions can even be carried on multi-pitch routes.


Smaller meals throughout the day will help to maintain a consistent level of energy. Dried fruit, although probably too high in sugar for casual snacking outside of athletic pursuits, is great for long approaches and long days at the crag. Items like dates are packed with fructose and fiber are easily packed. Again nuts are an excellent source of energy, are perfect pack food, and last a long time without spoilage.

Recipe idea - check out these whole wheat date bars. They would pack well and give you the quick sugars needed for immediate energy as well as complex carbohydrates for sustained energy.

Other ideas that are easy to pack are whole grain bagels, pita, and bags of whole grain cereal as these tend to travel well in your pack.

Drink up!

Water is essential, and that fact cannot be neglected. The advantages that one obtains from water goes far beyond the world of athletics. Simply, water is life. It has its overall benefit over the entire body. It is not just for athletes, as water facilitates other bodily processes and aids all systems. It supplies oxygen to the muscles, which in turn prevents lactic acid build-up. There is never any harm in consuming the proper amount of water.


You have done it, and now your body needs to recover. The best mix for this would be a meal that contains lean protein such as chicken or fish as well as carbohydrates sourced from low-medium glycemic fruits and vegetables. Feel free to indulge some hearty chili or stir fry with shrimp. You have earned it.

Recipe idea - Pesto Chicken Salad Pitas

Whether or not you consider yourself an athlete, the world of nutrition is one that is worth exploring. The vast benefits that one can obtain are priceless and cannot be neglected. A climber cannot ignore the challenges and the obstacles that the body will have to overcome. With that sense of awareness, actively consider your dietary lifestyle and consider making small changes such as eliminating soda, drinking more water, and focusing on consuming lean protein coupled with slow-digesting carbohydrates from whole fruits and veggies.

Over time, this will have a significant impact on your focus, clarity, and physical ability. Food is fuel. While it certainly tastes good and can be entertaining, we should be more concerned with its impact on our capacity to train. Supply the body with everything that it will need to get through its next mountain, whether figuratively or literally.


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