Archive for the ‘Diet’ Category

Loosing weight for alpine routes

There are several of ways to do this…

  1. Train right
  2. Watch what you eat
  3. Take only the gear your really need on a route
  4. Take the lightest gear you can afford

What’s a real shame is most people seem to want to buy more lightweight “stuff” rather than work at what they have. A shiny new $150 climbing harness or a month of CrossFit?

Colin Haley’s article on equipment for alpine climbing is well worth a read however. Colin really knows what he’s talking about. Check it out.

How to suck at CrossFit

Or… How a load of M&Ms can cost you over a minute of your life.

  1. Work late.
  2. Get up early.
  3. Spend the entire day from nine until six in meetings with no chance to eat right.
  4. Live off coffee and M&Ms for most of the day.
  5. Make sure a few of the meetings are “awkward” just to get you nice and stressed.
  6. Show up late and miss the warm up.

I can pretty much guarantee that half way through the second run on Helen* you’ll feel like I did. Shite. I thought I was going to have to sit down and quit – luckily I’m way pig headed so I finished just about. 10 minutes and change – slightly over a minute worse than my best time. Lost forever.

Pity because I’ve actually been making pretty good progress on the whole Paleo Diet thing over the last week or two – more on that later.

“You are what you eat”

* Helen: 3 x (400m run, 21 x 56lb kettle ball swings, 12 x pullup)

The Paleo Diet for Athletes

A while back I was recommended The Zone diet by Barry Sears. I can’t say I was that taken with it. The Zone book did get me thinking and reading up on some of the more recent thinking about diet in general.

The thing that really stood out was this book, largely because it focuses on the requirements of endurance athletics, not people trying to loose weight. Endurance events have vastly different requirements in terms of fueling and this book has lots of good information on how to eat before, during and after long workouts.

It’s the paleo diet; high fat, high protein, with a focus on lower GI carbs. That means no dairy and no breads or grains. The paleo diet focuses on nutritious, unprocessed foods with low glycemic index, as such it’s a lower carb diet but not of the excessive “Atkins” variety. However it’s been modified to take into account the carb intake required for endurance activities. Essentially you get to break a lot of the paleo “rules” around your exercise to fuel and then replace the energy expended.

In short this is a diet and exercise book that makes sense and is actually designed for athletes in training, as opposed to couch potatoes trying to loose weight. Well worth a read in my opinion.

Fueling on Fat For the Long Run

I found an interesting article on fueling long distance runs on fat and training fat metabolism.

Fuel on Fat For the Long Run” on

Basecamp Food: Breakfast Burritos

The first posts on food were how to take as little as possible on an alpine route. This is about how to stuff your face at basecamp. There are two fun parts to a climbing trip; the bit where you actually get to climb something and the other bit – when you sit around, eat, read, watch the weather and talk BS about the routes you’re going to climb.

One of my big time climbing partners, Simeon, is a bit of a “foodie”. He’s the sort of person who knows stuff about what wine goes with what food, how to make his own pasta and what the hell truffle oil is. You get the idea. Me, I’m in the “there are three foods; protein, carbs and fat” camp. Shopping for expedition food can be a little entertaining at times.

Where Simeon really comes into his own is at basecamp… This is one of his top efforts from our last Yukon trip.

Breakfast Burritos

A couple of eggs or egg beaters*
Tomato paste
Cayenne pepper
Dried onions
Oil, margarine or butter
Flour tortillas

Making the hot sauce: Boil up the onions in a little water. Drain off most of the excess. Add the pepper and tomato paste and heat.

Fry the eggs in the fat and soften the tortillas by laying them over the top of the frying pan. Assembly the eggs with hot sauce in a tortilla and you’re set!

* According to Simeon eggs taste better. According to Ade egg beaters are easier to fly in and he can’t really tell the difference.

Food and

So Graham commented on having two diets, a climbing diet and a training diet. Which I guess is pretty much what I do – in that I don’t eat a 70/15/15 diet on a daily basis.

I actually spent most of the weekend thinking about food. Surfing the web, reading the Zone book and checking up on stuff. Someone on the CrossFit nutrition forum recommended as a good way to track what you eat. It’s a great site! Completely free and lets you track your food intake and activity (to give an approximate value for calorific requirements). You can also set goals for specific things like daily saturated fat consumption.

With the idea that you can’t get somewhere until you know where you’re starting from I’m going to try tracking everything on FitDay and see what I really eat. I suspect that it’s not quite what I think. Of course the Heisenberg Principle applies… the act of measurement will change the result – but in this case hopefully for the better.

Climbing Food Part 2

So after today’s CrossFit Workout of the Day I was discussing diet with Michael – co-owner, coach and, this morning, the guy who got me through a 5000m row in under twenty minutes. He’d been reading my original post on climbing food and his take on it was that it was carb heavy. As a proponent of The Zone Diet (40, 30, 30) he meant really carb heavy. I’d been meaning to do some more thinking about this before my next trip and this prompted me to make a start.

Firstly here’s the breakdown of what we took last time.

Item Carb (g) Protein (g) Fat (g)
Pre climb “meal”
2 Nature Valley granola bars 58 8 14
During climbing
2 PowerBars 90 18 5
6 Gummy bears 13 0 0
3 Hard candies 13 0 1
2 Gu or Hammer Gel 50 0 0
Cytomax, dry power for 1 quart 40 0 0
Post Climb Recovery
Teas 0 0 0
1 PowerBar Protein Plus bar 38 23 6
1 Lipton Instant soup 9 2 2
1/2 Alpine Aire meal 66 13 2
Total weight (g) 402 74 30

This breaks down into the following by energy intake.

Item Carb Protein Fat
Pre climb “meal”
Total calories (kCal) 232 32 126
Breakdown 59% 8% 32%
During Climbing
Total calories (kCal) 824 72 54
Breakdown 86% 7% 5%
Post Climb Recovery
Total calories (kCal) 452 152 90
Breakdown 65% 22% 13%
Total calories (kCal) 1508 296 270
Breakdown 72% 14% 13%

Interestingly on a more recent trip Stuart and I ate pretty much the same menu minus the Alpine Aire meal due to fuel limitations. I also had a much thinner sleeping bag to save weight. This worked fine for three days but it literally took me a day to warm up after we got back.

By any measure the above is high in carbs and low in fat and protein. Improving this would be easy if it were not for the following contraints:

  • Can’t weigh any more than about 500g per person per day.
  • Fat isn’t metabolised as effectively at altitude and may worsen AMS symptoms (see references). This suggests that a high fat diet, while calorifically benificial may have other disadvantages. In addition most climbers, including me, find fatty food hard to eat at altitude.
  • Must be paletable and easily consumed in cold temperatures with little preparation or cooking.
  • Items eaten during the day must be tolerated when eaten during exercise.

For example, given none of the above I would plan on consuming 2300 carbohydrate calories in the first few hours after exercise and about 800 kCal in protein just for recovery. I’d also eat a big chunk of fatty food prior to sleep to give my body fuel to generate heat during the night. Unfortunately that represents more than I’m willing to carry in total.

However it should be possible to replace some carbs with fat and protein which should get better balance and, by increasing highly calorific fat, have the nice side effect of upping the total number of calories. More fat should help with aiding use of the fat metabolic pathways and a bit more protein will reduce muscle canabalism by the body. I’m also going to try and replace some of the psychological foods, like gummies, with something more useful.

The other big issue is hydration and this time, like last time, we’re going to try and do a better job, maybe by taking slightly more fuel to allow for a midday brew stop – time allowing. On our last trip we drank only 2l of water during a typical climbing day of ten hours or more and an additional total of 2-3l before and after climbing.

Part 3 should include a new eating and hydration plan.

Useful Links:

High Altitude Nutrition
DIET–Scientific American Article
Endurance Athlete’s Guide to Success
Endurance Sports Nutrition, Suzanne Girard Eberle
Gym Jones – Knowledge

See also links in my original blog.

Climbing Food

Here are some general notes on food largely based on a trip I did last year when we climbed a route in the Elias Range in Southern Alaska. These are some baseline observations. I think I can improve on this food significantly next time around.

But first here are some basic rules I use for what goes into my pack:

  • Take food you like. Yes, I really happen to like PowerBars. I’ve gone to the trouble of trying lots of flavors and figuring out which ones I can eat and which ones taste like crap.
  • Try it at home first. If you can’t eat it at sea level in your nice warm kitchen then what’s it going to be like on the hill?
  • Some food is psychological, I like to eat gummies at the end of the day and look forward to that Protein Plus bar. To me it’s worth carrying a few because their value isn’t just in the calories.
  • When you’re not climbing you should be eating or sleeping. Take lots of good food to eat at basecamp so you can be well fed and well rested before the route. I’ll add another post of basecamp food sometime in the future.

On this trip we applied the Twight packing algorithm to the max and left pretty much everything behind. Here’s a list of what we ate each day. The route wasn’t short enough (7000′) and we weren’t fit enough to do it single push style so taking a bunch of bars and gels wasn’t an option.

Item kCal Weight (g)
2 Nature Valley granola bars 360 84
2 PowerBars 460 130
1 PowerBar Protein Plus bar 300 78
6 Gummy bears 40 20
3 Hard candies 70 20
2 Gu or Hammer Gel 200 64
Cytomax, dry power for 1 quart 285 75
Teas 0 20
1 Lipton Instant soup 68 17
1/2 Alpine Aire meal 330 85
Total 2113 573

This works out at 360 kCal for each 100g in dry food weight. For comparison 573g of fat would contain 5157 kCal and the same amount of carbohydrate or protein would contain 2292 kCal. So this is pretty close to the best possible amount of energy for a carbohydrate/protein diet.

Really high calorie foods like cashew nuts and salami have values around 600 KCal per 100g but these are fatty foods, which are harder to metabolise at altitude. Anything much fattier than that will be inedible. If you’ve found a way to consume and digest lard at then please let me know.

In the end we spun the five days worth of food out to six which wasn’t that hard seeing as we hadn’t been able to cook a meal one night. I think I came back with a couple of Gus and half an Alpine Aire (we’d split one in anticipation of another bad weather day).

According to CalorieLab I could have been burning anything from 600 to 1,400 kCal an hour. That would leave me at least six thousand calories short for each day. 3,500 kCal is roughly equivalent to loosing or adding a pound in weight. So over six days I’d expect to loose twelve pounds, which is pretty much how it turned out.

How could this be improved? Take less food overall? Maybe. For shorter trips you can definitely take a lot less and just accept that you’re going to be burning fat and muscle as fuel. I’m not sure this scales to longer trips. As it was the lack of calories started to grind us down by the time we hit the summit. Or try and carry food with a better or more useful energy to weight ratio and a high carbohydrate content.

Hopefully the weather will improve here and I’ll get to put some ideas into practice and report on my findings and a new food list.

Useful Links:

Calorie and fluid replacement during alpine mountain climbing
Nutritional Advice for Military Operations in a High Altitude Environment
Hammer Nutrition – free article downloads
Gym Jones – Knowledge – Fat